Showcase for ideas

If you want to create something new, dare to be different and learn from your mistakes.
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If you want to create something new, dare to be different and learn from your mistakes.

“Free yourself to withstand rejection and humiliation,” advises Douglas Trumbull, special-effects wizard for “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Star Wars” and “Blade Runner.” A Hollywood legend with a lifetime achievement Oscar, Trumbull now lives and works in the Berkshires.

In the 1800s, novelist Herman Melville lived on Arrowhead Farm in Pittsfield, Mass. He struggled to support his wife and four children, but never stopped writing.

Trumbull and Melville are just two of the Berkshire brains who share their secrets to success in the Feigenbaum Hall of Innovations, a new $1.2 million exhibit space at the Berkshire Museum. The 3,000-square-foot, interactive attraction was the brainchild of museum benefactors Donald S. and Armand V. Feigenbaum, founders of General Systems Co., a world-renowned pioneer in systems management and technology. Although Pittsfield is their hometown, the Feigenbaum brothers graduated from Union College in the 1940s and have a lifelong connection to Schenectady.

Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation

WHERE: The Berkshire Museum, 39 South St., Pittsfield, Mass.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

HOW MUCH: $10 for adults, $5 for ages three to 18, free for children under three.

MORE INFO: (413) 443-7171 or berkshiremuseum.org

“The key message is that you, too, can be an innovator,” says Stuart A. Chase, the museum’s executive director.

In keeping with the museum’s mission of blending art, history and science, Feigenbaum Hall will feature changing exhibits about innovators in science, technology, business, politics, culture and the arts.

The premiere exhibit focuses on 16 people, among them Tom Patti, a contemporary glass artist; Ted Shawn, founder of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival; W.E.B. Dubois, co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and Nancy Graves, one of the first women to have a solo exhibit at the Whitney Museum of Art.

For children and adults, it’s an upbeat, positive ideas laboratory, with text panels and objects that connect the past, present and future. On two wall-sized video screens, today’s creative minds, including the Feigenbaums, talk about the process of innovation, from that first spark of inspiration to the finished product.

“It might take you five minutes to figure an idea, but five years to implement it,” Donald Feigenbaum says on the video.

“Innovation is improvement,” Armand Feigenbaum adds.

Opened in march

The long rectangular space, formerly offices and a coat room, is now divided into sections marked with banners, such as “Motivation,” “Unexpected Outcomes” and “Overcoming Obstacles,” and in each, there is a game or activity, stories and photos about different innovators. Inspirational quotes are posted on every wall.

In “Overcoming Obstacles,” where you’ll find Melville’s story and an 1855 copy of “Moby-Dick,” visitors can untangle colorful wire mazes while seated at a table. In another area, visitors are asked to think of an invention to make a household chore easier, and post that idea on a board.

Feigenbaum Hall of Innovations was unveiled on March 29, when the 105-year-old museum re-opened after three months of construction, the second phase of a $10 million renovation project. The museum now has a new climate-control system that will keep visitors cool in the summer, allow more of the 30,000 objects in the collection to be displayed and make possible loans and exhibits from other museums. The copper roof has been replaced and the Alexander Stirling Calder fountain has been restored.

On Saturday, the museum opened “Native Peoples: Northeast-Northwest,” an exhibit space that for the first time will showcase the museum’s ethnographic collection. It represents 50 American Indian nations, plus Oceanic and African cultures. Coming out of storage for the debut show are 23 historical objects from the Mohican, Iroquois, Haida and Tlingit nations. “Clues to the Ancient World,” which includes CT scans of an Egyptian mummy, and “America Seen: Landscapes from the Berkshire Museum Collection,” also opened on Saturday.

Spotlight on the Berkshires

The Feigenbaum brothers, who were the guests of honor at the March news conference and ribbon-cutting, hope that Feigenbaum Hall will shine a spotlight on the Berkshires and its economic potential.

“It will be a window on the world of what is really happening in the Berkshires,” Donald Feigenbaum said at the event. “The Berkshires need a little more attention. This is a foothold, a launching pad.” In his remarks, Armand Feigenbaum referred to the book “The World Is Flat,” Thomas L. Friedman’s treatise on globalization, observing that “the world has all too few unique places.”

The Feigenbaums believe strongly in an educational system that merges liberal arts and technology, and cited Union College as an example of that kind of curriculum. Since 1996, the college and its Center for Converging Technologies has hosted the annual Feigenbaum Forum, which brings leaders from the academic and business worlds together to discuss current issues and problems.

Armand Feigenbaum graduated from Union in 1942, and Donald Feigenbaum received his electrical engineering degree in 1946. Both men have fond memories of living in a fraternity house at Union Avenue and Gillespie Street, hanging out at Pelop’s restaurant on State Street and going to Proctors when it was a movie house.

Schenectady ties

Before 1968 — when the brothers founded General Systems, an international corporation headquartered in Pittsfield — they both worked for General Electric Corp., and Donald began his GE career in Schenectady.

Today, the Feigenbaums are listed in “Who’s Who in the World” and are regarded as fathers of Total Quality Management (TQM), which revolutionized how organizations can be more effectively managed and improved. They’ve been widely recognized in the Middle East and in Latin America, where last year Argentina and Brazil celebrated “Feigenbaum Recognition Week.”

Their books, published in more than 20 languages, include Armand Feigenbaum’s renowned 1951 volume, “Quality Control, Principles and Practice” and the brothers’ most recent book, “The Power of Management Capital,” published in 2003.

In 1997, Union College renamed its administration building Feigenbaum Hall, in honor of its longtime benefactors, and, in 2003, the brothers received outstanding alumnus awards.

“Schenectady is part of our heritage,” says Armand Feigenbaum. “Schenectady has always been a part of our life.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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