Open Source Hardware for Museums, National Parks and Historic Sites
Miriam Langer (with Rianne Trujillo and Becca Sharp)
We did not expect to be awarded the Trailblazer Fellowship. When the call for submissions arrived, I was teaching a class called “Grants, Pitches and Proposals” for my department at New Mexico Highlands University . I had spent years learning how to write successful grants to the small department at my rural, Hispanic-Serviing Institution( HSI). Additional resources for student projects, internships, and travel were always needed, and I thought it was beneficial for our students to get an idea, early on, of how they could support their own work.
The Trailblazer announcement arrived part way through the semester, giving me the opportunity to write the application with my students in real time. I told them that it was likely to be rejected – the community of Open Source Hardware practitioners was a large and highly accomplished one, working across the sciences, architecture, space research and engineering – my team’s work in open source hardware for museums and cultural institutions would probably not merit the same consideration.
Either way – it would be a useful learning experience for the class- writing the proposal, doing the budgets, and specifying timelines would clarify how the requirements and parameters of a funder can help a grantee distill the goals of the work, and consider the time commitment required to achieve them.
What a joy and surprise it was to make it through the three rounds and be granted this generous funding to document the museduino and our work in low-cost, responsive exhibits!
When the Cultural Technology Development Lab’s Museduino project was awarded the Trailblazer’s fellowship for the summer and academic year, the first thing Rianne did was to submit the (long-delayed) documentation for OSHW certification. We were certified in early autumn, and that felt great! Alicia gave us a shoutout on the Trailblazer email list, and I felt like we were on track.
Then the semester got busy, as it does. Accepting this funding meant committing to the goals and deadlines we had agreed upon with Alicia and Lecia. What seems totally manageable when writing a proposal can become a different story when it’s late fall and your academic obligations are converging rapidly.
Rianne was our project lead, and she kept the checklist of deliverables and dates. Becca, our graduate fellow, wrote the first two case studies drafts: The Bradbury Science Museum/Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Los Alamos, NM, and the “Breathtaking” exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Art.
We had proposed to write five case studies out of our many projects – each would be documented with a narrative, code, and schematics. Code and schematics would be posted on github, and the museduino website would be updated with new links and tutorials. The case studies are:
The opportunity to look back at past projects – some of which had been completed as early as 2016, was invaluable. Becca went back through the documentation, then visited the sites in New Mexico to check on their functionality. More joy! Everything was still working and on display and in use.
We called the locations that were too far to visit (Maine and Santa Cruz, CA), and were able to reconnect with our clients from 2016 and 2018 to confirm that the exhibits were functional there as well.
The prestige of being OSHWA Trailblazers Fellows renewed our confidence to commit to this hardware we’d created – when we needed it to do our work. To many, it may seem simple or basic – but for cultural partners at small museums, parks, and historic sites who want responsive, physical (as opposed to only screen-based) exhibits – an open source, modular, low-cost solution is absolutely necessary. Our past partners were thrilled to tell us how well our work had held up, which, to be honest – we had some fear of asking, as several of these locations had been shuttered for up to two years during the pandemic.
We at the CTDL are so grateful for the Trailblazer’s Fellowship award – honored to have been part of such an impressive cohort of academics, thrilled to have been included in the cohort discussions and to feel that representation from a small, rural university was possible. For our case-study partners, it was an opportunity to revisit older projects, discuss what worked well and what could be improved, and for them to see their sites featured in our final documentation.
The work continues – as our fifth and final case study for Los Luceros Historic Site (the wayfinding table developed and built by Becca and Rianne) debuted at the site on October 7th. We’ll be watching visitors do their best to break it (intentionally or not), but it’s modular, inexpensive, open source and ready to last like our other projects!
Miriam, Rianne & Becca
Department of Media Arts & Technology
New Mexico Highlands University
Las Vegas, NM
Find our work on the Cultural Technology Development Lab site
Full documentation of the Museduino