The MIT museum prepares to reopen in Kendall, and goes straight to the revamped science festival

The new MIT museum is set to open in Kendall Square with an “Essential MIT” exhibit. (Photo: Anna Olivella)

The MIT Museum reopens Oct. 2 after a Covid lockdown that merged into a planned shutdown to move to a new home on East Campus, a flagship Kendall Square location in 314 Main Street.

The first preview of the new three-story, eight-gallery space will take place Sept. 23 for the MIT community, followed by a Cambridge Community Day on Oct. 1 to preview residents, the school announced Thursday. For most, this will be the first bout since the coronavirus shuttered public buildings in March 2020; at the start of the pandemic, which should be open for visits last year.

The museum opens daily from October 2 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., leading directly into a revamped Cambridge Science Festival with an opening lineup from October 3-9. The festival, which the museum founded in 2007, is a week of events, demonstrations, workshops and performances that this year includes the free “Borealis”, Swiss artist Dan Acher’s rendering of sky phenomena Nordic, an Oct. 8 merger with Boston Fashion Week; and a science-themed final day, the Great American Carnival with a main stage, halfway stage, side shows and rides.

When all the opening work is done, museum officials note that residents can sign up for free general admission all year.

The ‘Borealis’ art installation will take place over four days during the Cambridge Science Festival in October. (Photo: David Solm/Novatech)

“The opening of the MIT Museum completes the trio of spaces – including the Welcome Center and the two acres of community green space – that form the heart of our campus front door,” said the MIT provost Cynthia Barnhart in a press release.

The news comes shortly after the school announced that it will not destroy most of its closed Covid-era campus. Buildings traditionally open to all will require an MIT ID or other official permission for indefinite access. It is a decision in contradiction with the mission of the director of the museum, John Durant.

“The MIT Museum consciously stands at the interface between a world-renowned research institute and the rest of the world. We plan to “turn MIT inside out” by making what MIT does visible and accessible to everyone. Visitors will see that we are focused on the question: what does all this creativity, research, innovation, intensive teaching and learning mean – and especially, for the wider community of which we are all a part? Durant said.

The exchange at the new MIT museum. (Photo: John Horner/Höweler + Yoon Architecture)

In July, before the decision to close the school campus, he told his news service that “Our job as a museum is to make accessible what MIT does, both the processes and the products… MIT can sometimes seem like a rather austere place. It can be considered the kind of place where only these super smart people are going to do super smart things. We do not want to send this message. We are an open campus, and we want to send a message to people: whoever they are, from whatever background, whatever part of the community, whatever language they speak, wherever they live, they have a warm welcome with us.

Despite the new restrictions, the museum is expected to invite visitors to “participate in ongoing research” and show how science and innovation are shaping society’s future, leaders said. “MIT’s new museum is designed as a place where you can really learn something new. The exhibits present high-level research in an interactive way and meet visitors where they are, whether they are completely new to science or already experts,” said Phillip A. Sharp, professor at the MIT Institute and president of the MIT Museum. Advisory Board.

The museum includes freshly curated exhibits featuring objects from a collection of over a million objects, as well as art and artifact loans, in eight galleries that “spiral through the building and travel from local to global and vice versa”. Durant said. There is an Exchange event and meeting space for public dialogue and conversation; and a hands-on Maker Hub, where the public can experience putting science ideas into practice.

The opening exhibits allow visitors to write poetry with artificial intelligence in a room while considering the impact of AI on the future of nearby work, according to descriptions released Thursday. The galleries include a prototype of Nobel laureate Rainer Weiss’ laser interferometer gravitational-wave observatory, which proved Einstein’s theory of relativity; the NASA-MIT Starshade Rendezvous mission’s star shadow petal designed by Sara Seager to enable exoplanet photography; the 1892 degree of pioneering architect and professor Robert Robinson Taylor, MIT’s first black graduate; the Apollo Guidance Computer (Block II), critical to the success of the Apollo missions; and selected photographs.

The 56,000 square foot designed by Höweler + Yoon Architecture is significantly larger than the previous 12,600 square foot site at 265 Massachusetts Ave., which MIT said in 2019 was reserved for laboratory space. “The building is unique, with a very large footprint, and lends itself to research purposes,” said Sarah Gallop, co-director of the Office of Government and Community Relations at MIT. “There was no thinking beyond that.”

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In other museum news, Ayşin Yoltar-Yıldırım is joining the Harvard Art Museums as the Norma Jean Calderwood Curator of Late Islamic and Indian Art beginning Oct. 3, according to an announcement Thursday by Martha Tedeschi, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of Harvard Art Museums. Ayşin returns to the Harvard Art Museums after serving as Assistant Curator for Islamic and later Indian Art from 2013-2017, and before that, Norma Jean Calderwood Curatorial Fellow 2011-2013. She is now the Hagop Kevorkian Associate Curator of Islamic Art at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

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