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Clay Center's Gizmo Factory closing

By Judy Hamilton

WANT TO GO?

Clay Center's Gizmo Factory

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 19.

COST: Included in gallery admission of $7.50 adults, $6 children

INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.org

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This story will no doubt cause some cries of surprise and groans of sorrow from children and parents across the Kanawha Valley. The Gizmo Factory, a much-loved 10-year-old gallery, will have its last day at the Clay Center on Jan .19, leaving patrons nine days to visit the beloved basement exhibits.

According to a previous news story about the Clay Center's 10th anniversary, the center has entertained and educated more than 1.5 million visitors from 49 states in 10 years, and, according to the Clay Center's Director of Art and Sciences Education, Lewis Ferguson, "the majority of those visitors have visited the Gizmo Factory."

When the Clay Center opened on July 13, 2003, the Gizmo Factory immediately became a hit with visitors of all ages. It is made up of more than 30 exhibits exploring physical science with a particular emphasis on creativity and engineering; sound, light and color; and energy and magnetism.

According to the Clay Center's website, the Gizmo Factory was "designed to inspire curiosity and experimentation with potential for open-ended experiences with multiple results."

It has succeeded in this mission, as many visitors have made beautiful music by plucking the invisible laser strings of the Laser Harp. They have cast a rainbow of shadows as they explored light with the Colored Shadows exhibit. Families have used their every move to make sounds as they explore Body Music.

Visitors have build their own roller coaster, directed their own motion picture, pressed themselves into the full body pin-screen, thrown a digital ceramic pot and discovered the beauty and power of water after programming the fanciful water fountain.

Clay Center members were assured in January issue of the At the Center newsletter, "Don't worry! Popular Gizmo Factory exhibits will still pop up in the museum from time to time."

Ferguson explained, "The exhibits are not going to go far away. They will be stored in an off-site facility, and various parts will be brought out periodically to the exploratory space at the Clay Center. It's the best of both worlds when you know that some of the old will periodically reappear."

More good news is that the new gallery, STEAMworks will open March 22 in the Gizmo Factory's place. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math. This re-imagined space will provide opportunities for art-science integration through original and traveling exhibits.

The first exhibit will be "RiverWorks Discovery: A Journey of Imagination and Exploration on America's Waterways." Ferguson said, "Our waterways are so important in West Virginia, and we want to showcase that with this exhibit."

The next exhibit will be one developed by the Clay Center's Education and Curatorial departments.

"We are focusing on art and science integration, and by opening STEAMworks, we will be doing that. Our 'Wavelengths: The Art and Science of Color and Light' exhibit won the Excellence in Exhibition Award for an original exhibit recently, and we want to build on that. We have some great ideas," Ferguson said.

"It is 6,500 square feet of fun and learning," he continued. "We listen to our guests and many love the Gizmo Factory, but most of our guests want something new, and this is going to be a big change that will provide many opportunities. We anticipate changing it once or twice a year. If a school visits us once a year, they will be assured of a new experience at each visit. It will keep it fresh for everyone."

"It's really a testament to our staff, and Roto, the designer and producer, that the exhibits have lasted 10 years," Ferguson said as he thought of the more than 1.5 million visitors from 49 states that have been entertained and educated at Gizmo Factory.

Reach Judy E. Hamilton at judy.Hamilton@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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