New Bakken exhibit hopes to Spark innovation

Bde Maka Ska museum reopens after summer restoration

Children use a computer to create music on the Bakkenspiel, part of the new Spark exhibit at the newly renovated Bakken Museum. Submitted photo

A new exhibit at the recently renovated Bakken Museum explores the cycle of inspiration and innovation between nature, pop culture and technology by allowing visitors to create their own music, movies, images and more.

“We essentially view innovation as a creative process, and a creative process needs inspiration,” said Bakken Museum President and CEO Michael Sanders. “We think of it as a loop.”

Spark, the West Maka Ska museum’s newest exhibit, allows visitors to explore that loop with interactive elements ranging from code breaking in a phone booth to creating unique animated stories.

Established by Medtronic co-founder and the inventor of the pacemaker, Earl Bakken, the Bakken has often explored themes of drawing inventive inspiration from art and nature. The museum’s Frankenstein’s Laboratory exhibit celebrates the film’s impact on a young Earl Bakken.

Spark allows visitors to take a hands-on approach to learning with elements that will entice adults and children alike. Attendees can create their own music on the Bakkenspiel, make colorful art through body movement on the interactive Collaboration Canvas or bring pages of science fiction classics to life using the Magic Book. There are hidden codes throughout the exhibit that constantly change so users can have a new experience even if they visit more than once.

Collaboration Canvas
A group of visitors uses their own body motions to create visual art on the Collaboration Canvas at the Bakken Museum’s newest exhibit, Spark. Submitted photos

Spark seeks to get the wheels turning in the minds of attendees by asking big questions like “How can I drive less?” and “How can I make less trash?”

“It’s all about learning about innovation and how you can be inspired by everything,” said Laura Whittet, the museum’s spokesperson.

The mechanical workings of these exhibits are tucked behind reflective and transparent dichroic window films, which allow visitors to see how their tinkering is impacting their creations.

Planning the new exhibit took over a year, but the actual assembly was done in about a week.

The pandemic makes a conventional exhibit opening impossible, but Spark is available
to the public. Visiting groups are spaced out by 15 minutes and all tickets are reserved in advance with specific arrival times. Crews regularly clean surfaces and sanitizing stations are located throughout the museum.

enlarged Connect 4
A mother and son play enlarged Connect 4 using homemade prostheses at the new Spark exhibit at the Bakken Museum.

“We want people to feel comfortable and safe,” Sanders said.

The Spark exhibit is the first to be unveiled in the Bakken since its recent renovation project, which was completed in July. New features include a redone visitor’s entrance facing Bde Maka Ska that features a striking (bird-safe) glass tower, a new walkway overlooking restored wetland grounds, the 2,000-square-foot gallery space hosting Spark, multiple-use classroom spaces and updated restroom and locker facilities.

“What we tried to do was create maximum flexibility,” said architect Jason Christiaansen, who works with local firm RSP.

The new space came in handy this summer when the Bakken spread its summer camp attendees across the grounds for social-distancing purposes, Whittet said. While the museum has had kids in for camps and after-school programming, and exhibit space has been available to the public, the opening of the Spark exhibit is the first time the museum will be showing off the renovations to the broader public.

“It feels like the culmination of a lot of work,” Sanders said.