Ramp I.T. Up! With Skate!, Native American skateboard culture returns to the museum
A few curious onlookers stop to see what we are doing. I hear a “Cool! Can we come back?” With this, I turn to see a young father provide an assuring smile and a pat on his son’s back. It’s about 10:30 in the morning, and we are setting up equipment on the 3rd floor between the Vantage Point exhibition and the Activity Center, now under construction. TV? Check. Game installed? Check. Board calibrated and communicating with the TV? Oh, no, it’s not turning on. Hmmmm, time for fresh batteries? The hunt is on to find a tiny Phillips screwdriver to remove the board's back cover. My colleague walks up at just the right time and pulls out his pocket toolkit. Success! With batteries replaced, the board’s blue light is on. I pick up the remote, press the letter A, and the rock music starts. Now . . . we wait for the testers.
Skateboarding is an indigenous sport. The modern skateboard, or deck, owes its heritage to thepapa he‘e malu(surfboards) andpapahōlua (land sleds) of Native Hawaiians. And did you know that the International Association of Skateboard Companies estimates that nearly 12 million American children participate in skateboarding—more than the number enrolled in Little League Baseball? Skateboarding is also one of the most popular sports on Indian reservations, and the subject of Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America, a highly successful exhibition at NMAI in Washington and New York. So it seemed only fitting to find a way to bring skateboarding—and the wonderful content from Ramp It Up—back to the museum. But how could we do this in a small space? Enter the I.T. (Information Technology) staff and the game Tony Hawk: Shred, here played on a Wii.
At various times during the months of April and May, you may have seen us testing the Shred skateboard experience with visitors. We’ve been checking to see if the public understands the themes and messages and if the interactive can work without regular, direct staff involvement. We’ve been pleased to find the answer to these questions is yes. We’ve enjoyed watching visitors from young children to older adults approach the skateboard. Some people have known exactly how to work the controls, gleefully speeding toward the finish line while their friends or parents offer congratulations for a game well skated. Others have steadfastly tried to complete a run after they electronically ate it, hearing the game's “Oooo!” followed by a sympathetic “Ow!” from the gathered crowd.
On any given test day, we’ll observe the interaction for about two hours or until it seems like a good time to pack up. On this day, it’s now 12:30. I turn off the monitor, collect the cords, remind myself to recharge the batteries, and roll the equipment cart to the staff elevator. I take one last look around and then disappear behind the camouflage doors feeling pretty confident that the test went well.
Want to know more about this activity? I invite you to get amped and check out your 5-0 with a jam session when the Activity Center opens later this year!
—Erin Weinman, I.T. Applications Manager, NMAI
Visitors testing the Skate! activity at the museum, April 29, 2011. Photos by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI.