Let the learning games begin! …at the Bruce Museum

The 2012 summer Olympics begin tomorrow with the spectacle of the opening ceremonies in London, but the games have already begun at the Bruce Museum where an exhibition exploring the artistic, cultural and athletic aspects of the Olympics is on display through Sept. 2.

The concept of the exhibition, developed by the museum’s Director of Education Robin Garr, is a study of ancient Olympic sports and their survival in modern times.

“The idea is to appeal to adults and children and families together,” Ms. Garr said of the family-friendly show.

As an art and science-based museum, the Bruce chose to feature the Olympic Games to “coincide with the excitement people feel about the London Olympics” and as a means of providing a history on how the games became the “extravaganza” they are today from both artistic and scientific points of view, she said.

The central feature of the exhibition is an overview on each of the ancient Olympic sports that are still contested, which include footracing, wrestling, boxing, discus, javelin and long jump. Each sport has its own section containing artifacts pertaining to it as well as art, including Greek ceramics, 19th and 20th Century paintings and sculpture, Ms. Garr explained.

These sections also feature a 20th Century American athlete “that we best thought embodied the ideals of Olympism,” including perfection of the body through athletic pursuit, as well as the spirit of world peace behind the Olympic movement, she said. There is also memorabilia relating to the personal story of each of the athletes, among them Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali.

Other highlights of the exhibition include a section on the international pin trading movement, which is participated in by many Olympic athletes and spectators alike, as well as interactive and virtual zones.

The interactive piece, titled The Games: The Science of Sport, looks at various Olympic sports using live action footage combined with SuperBodies, a 3-D animation and original production from Peace Point Entertainment, illustrating the functions of different parts of the human body, Ms. Garr explained.

The four different virtual sections of the expo, provided by the International Olympic Committee, are centered around ancient and modern heroes, sports’ effect on breaking down cultural boundaries, how Olympic athletes mentally prepare for the games, and a scientific overview of why particular body types coincide with success in particular sports.

A custom-built six-foot mini diorama resembling one of the earliest Greek stadiums is also a draw, featuring more than 1,200 action figure “participants.”

There is no way to determine which aspect of the Olympics exhibition will be the biggest hit, but that was part of the museum’s goal, Ms. Garr said. “We wanted everybody to find something, learn something and sort of walk away with a heightened excitement for the upcoming games,” she said.

The Bruce Museum will also feature a post-Olympics event on Aug. 23 from 3 to 5 called “Meet the Olympians.” Athletes who will have participated in this year’s Olympic Games in both judo and fencing will be at the museum to provide demonstrations of their sports, comment on their experiences and engage in a meet-and-greet with those in attendance.

While most exhibitions of this caliber take between three and five years to assemble, Ms. Garr said the museum worked at “breakneck speed” to produce the Olympics expo in roughly two years, using an eight-person project team to accomplish the feat.

As for future features on the Olympic Games, Ms. Garr said it is unlikely that the museum will produce a similar exhibition any time soon due to the amount of time and resources it takes to put together.

For now, the hard work is done, and Ms. Garr is looking forward to letting others enjoy the exhibition she spearheaded, while she takes a well-deserved break.

For more information on the exhibition and related events, visit brucemuseum.org.


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