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Sunday, October 01, 2017

John Durant plans a new era for the MIT Museum | MIT News

"A new purpose-built museum will be an experimental place for wider conversations" reports Kathryn O'Neill, Senior Writer at MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

“The new museum will be an experimental place," says John Durant, director of the MIT Museum and a faculty member of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. "We are committed to the idea that the MIT Museum can operate along the same principles as the Institute as a whole. We want to try new ideas, test them, and report our findings.”
Photo: Jon Sachs
In the 12 years since John Durant took the helm at the MIT Museum, he has opened up the ground floor to gain street-level visibility, launched the Cambridge Science Festival, and grown attendance from around 50,000 to nearly 150,000 visitors a year.

Now, as he makes plans for a new, purpose-built museum in MIT's burgeoning gateway location in Kendall Square, Durant says he is looking forward to offering the public deeper insights into the research under way at MIT.

"This is the big opportunity for the MIT Museum to be something like what MIT and the public deserve," says Durant, who is both the Mark R. Epstein Director of the MIT Museum and a member of the faculty in MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS). “In our new location, we can anchor and mediate MIT's relationship with the wider community.”

Engaging with the public is more critical than ever today, Durant says, because the value of science and of evidence-based reasoning has been called into question by some segments of society. “We have suddenly plunged into a situation — briefly, I hope — where it's fashionable in some groups to believe that facts can be as you'd like them to be,” he says.

Yet, understanding science is necessary to make informed decisions on issues both private and public — from individual health care to national defense, says Durant, who received his PhD in the history and philosophy of science. “There are a multitude of ways in which science is relevant to our daily lives whether people know it or not,” he says. “Much of public policy has scientific aspects and dimensions.”

The human world at the core of MIT's mission
Durant's faculty home is in the SHASS-based Program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS), whose humanities and social science researchers explore science, technology, and medicine to understand the human challenges at the core of MIT's mission. STS is one of several programs that make SHASS the hub of the Institute’s major initiatives focused on furthering public engagement with science and technology. The school also trains some of the world's finest science journalists via the Graduate Program in Science Writing as well as the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship (KSJ) program. Undark Magazine, KSJ's digital offering published by KSJ Director Deborah Blum, explores ideas and endeavors at the intersection of science with political, cultural, and economic realities.

“Creative expression and the critical examination of ideas in their social and historical contexts are essential to the work of any museum, and particularly to the work of the MIT Museum," says Durant. "This is why we are always looking for ways to incorporate the work of MIT faculty in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. A great example is our forthcoming special exhibition, 'The Enemy."

This exhibition, opening in October, emerges from collaboration between photojournalist Ben Khelifa and Fox Harrell, an MIT faculty member with a joint appointment in Comparative Media Studies and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. "'The Enemy' uses virtual reality technology to stretch visitors' senses as well as their emotional and moral imaginations," Durants says, "and we hope that it will foster more understanding in one of the places where it is most needed — in situations of human conflict.”
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Source: MIT News

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