Game Time! Play: Lighting the Way

Renowned Scottish dramatist James M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, wrote, “The secret of happiness is not in doing what one likes, but in liking what one does.” Taking the notion a step further, 19th-century art critic and social thinker John Ruskin proffered that “mixing enough play with the work” helps ensure that each of our workdays is a happy one.

I believe that the staff at The Strong follows these precepts. Most of us would characterize a good portion of our efforts here not as work, but rather, as serious play. We work (er, play) at The Strong not only because we love what we do, but because we embrace and defend the museum’s mission to explore play and the ways in which it encourages learning, creativity, and discovery and illuminates cultural history.

The museum’s staff is composed of many teams, all simultaneously working and playing together, each person contributing in no small way to the production of playful and meaningful experiences for our guests. Every staff member brings a passion for their individual calling to play in the creation of every new and exciting exhibit.

Play is especially apparent throughout the entire exhibition development, production, and installation process. Such was the case, recently, during the creation of our new Game Time! exhibit. Game Time! began with enlightened, playful, and productive brainstorming to generate an initial concept of what an exhibit about the history of games and puzzles might contain and how it might look. Months of research and label writing, artifact selection and conservation, and exhibit design and fabrication have resulted in more than 4,000 square feet of exhibit space filled a wide array of games and puzzles to examine, experience, and play your way through.

I particularly enjoyed my involvement in one of the final steps of the process: illuminating the end result using both traditional and non-traditional sources of light. Lighting an exhibit requires blending and balancing numerous factors. As the museum’s conservator, I’m especially mindful of the need to protect artifacts from the detrimental impact of light. Exposure to uncontrolled light energy—particularly in the ultraviolet range of the electromagnetic spectrum—will cause irreversible damage to organic materials like the paper, cardboard, and printing inks used in most vintage games and puzzles. It will set in motion invisible chemical reactions that will physically degrade their structures while causing unwanted visible changes such fading and other color shifts. At the same time, I’m also committed to energy efficiency. And I must also consider and respect the exhibit designer’s creativity, and the need for dramatic lighting that establishes a mood and highlights the artifacts to their best advantage.

We employed energy-saving lighting to enhance the experience of Game Time! as guests traverse the exhibit’s winding game board path. At the same time, a state-of-the-art fiber optic lighting system illuminates the light-sensitive artifacts on display in the exhibit’s cases. In comparison to other types of lighting sources, the light transmitted by fiber optics minimizes the potential for irreversible, light-induced damage. The system also saves energy by generating less heat load on the air conditioning, and it preserves the artifacts by switching to lower light levels when no one is in the gallery.

But don’t just take my word for it. Come see for yourself and enjoy the play of light as you play your way through Game Time!; we have lit the way.