New Smithsonian-Affiliated Exhibit Cultivates the Power of Ideas

Kids at spark!Lab

What if I told you that anyone could be an inventor? What would you say?

Some might say, “Oh geez, aren’t inventors, like. . . really, really smart? Don’t they know all about science and engineering and electricity and that kind of stuff? That doesn’t sound like me. . .” Sure, some inventors are scientists, but inventors can also be artists, tinkerers, dreamers, makers, fixers — you name it! The field of invention is deep and wide enough to encompass all the different kinds of brilliance human beings are capable of, and each of us has that spark of brilliance in one way or another.

Actually, inventors do share one trait. They believe in the power of their ideas. But here’s some good news — you can learn to do that! Really, you will be RE-learning it, because we all UN-learned it somewhere along the road from childhood to adulthood. We stopped taking our imaginations seriously. Maybe an adult told you to get your head out of the clouds and join the rest of us in the “real world.” Maybe you experienced failure and thought that was the inevitable result of the creative process, rather than a part of it. Maybe you couldn’t fathom how to make your idea a reality because you never had the chance to practice with the proper tools, materials, and space. Whatever the reason, we stopped thinking our ideas matter.

What is Spark!Lab

Spark!Lab was developed by the Smithsonian Institute’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. It grew out of inventor Jerome Lemelson’s vision to inspire the next generation of inventors. It’s a place where ideas definitely matter and where the staff and environment work together to help the spark of an idea grow to become tomorrow’s world-changing innovation. Combined with an exciting and aesthetic design and build from nationally-recognized exhibition firm SolidLight, it is an experience that we can all be proud of.

Conner Prairie’s Spark!Lab will be the newest in a network of Spark!Labs in museums and learning centers around the world. In bringing Spark!Lab to Conner Prairie, we have forged a like-minded team of creative, caring people from Conner Prairie and the Lemelson Center. We have found ways to merge the expertise of the Smithsonian with our own objects, space, and stories to create an experience that is grounded in years of experience and scholarship, but also unique and flexible.

The Impact of Spark!Lab

In Spark!Lab, guests of all ages engage with intriguing hands-on activities thoughtfully designed and tested by the team at the Smithsonian. The space will feature a rotating suite of ten activities, so no two visits are the same. You can experiment with different ways to clean plastics out of oceans and rivers, like the White River that passes through our property. You can build a kid-sized vehicle prototype to solve the transportation challenges of today and tomorrow. You can play in the vertical wind tunnel, testing and tweaking your aircraft design until it flies just right. Conner Prairie staff, trained by the team at the Lemelson Center, are on hand to deepen and broaden your experience and guide you through the process of invention, a flexible framework based on the Smithsonian’s studies of real-world inventors. You might even find inspiration in the stories of inventors from the past and present or the unique objects on display from Conner Prairie’s collection, some of which have never been displayed before.

Spark!Lab might look like it’s just for kids, but it is for everyone! So don’t be shy, jump right in and see what you come up with. Maybe you will start believing in the power of your ideas again — and maybe the next generation will never stop.

Spark!Lab opens August 13 to the public. Learn more.

Spark!Lab opens to the public August 13, and I hope you will join us to experience it for yourself. I can’t wait to see what you invent!

About the Author

Allison Cosbey is Conner Prairie’s Manager of Exhibit Development. She has over a decade of experience working in museums and has spent most of her career right here at Conner Prairie. In that time, she has worked on a wide variety of projects, from creating engaging, playful experiences to taking deep dives into historical content. Allison has a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from Kenyon College and a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies from Indiana University – Purdue University, Indianapolis. If she’s not at her desk, you can probably find her driving around on a golf cart.