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A Crude Administrative Ruse


An article by Nathan Cobb in The BostonGlobe two Saturdays ago was recently brought to my attention, and in my usual, presumptuous way, I've decided to comment on its subject in columnar form. After all, the "de-emphasizing"of hacks in exhibition at theMITMuseum is quite a worrisome thought, and the subject hasn't come up elsewhere in The Tech yet.

Several phone calls only confirmed the report: The MITMuseum is planning to decrease the number of - or perhaps completely remove - the hacks currently on display in the museum's "Hall of Hacks."

The question that springs to mind immediately is, "Why?"Hacks make up one of MIT's most salient features, and I've always thought that theHall of Hacks was the museum's greatest draw. Oh, sure, the holograms are wonderful, and I've always been terribly fond of Ganson's kinetic sculptures; the recently-opened Edgerton exhibit definitely deserves kudos, as well. But when Iconvince guests to accompany me to the museum, it is with the Hall of Hacks that I bribe them.

Admittedly, these all are guests familiar with the MITtradition of hacking - thus explaining their affinities for the Hall. Jane Pickering, director of the museum, points out that for those who are uninitiated in MITways, stumbling into the Hall of Hacks can feel like suddenly coming across a large, alienating in-joke.

"You're not quite sure what it's all about,"said Pickering, whenI spoke with her. Thehacks "emphasize the feeling of being an outsider," and Pickering, in her role as new museum director,wants the museum to have a larger position in the future, reaching out more to the community and looking at MIT and its history in a wider way. Since the museum is limited in space, putting things in means taking things out.

Pickering did mention a small gallery of rotating hacks as one suggestion for keeping hacks - she certainly doesn't intend to remove all traces of hacks from the museum. But there is the grappling dilemma of keeping hacks while also dealing with the space issue. Other considerations include moving the hacks to some other, currently unknown location. Creative ideas are encouraged.

Pickering also says that there are, in the museum archives at least, still photographic documentation of the hacks. Besides, she adds, it isn't practical to keep hacks, especially the larger ones.

It feels like my childhood again, with my mother trying to convince me that Ididn't actually need several beds' worth of stuffed animals, despite how significant each and every one of them was to me. A photograph of the entire group would suffice for memory.

And yet there is little substitute for actually standing near and looking into, for instance, the notorious police car that was placed atop the Great Dome in May 1994. Pictures may nostalgically remind one of hacks gone by, but the sharpest pictures in the world will still not convey the mundane pleasures of noticing the pair of fuzzy dice in the police car, or realizing the true post-modern silliness of J. Tetazoo's great work, "No Knife. A study in mixed media earth tones, number three."

I wish that the MITMuseum would continue keeping the Hall of Hacks in its current incarnation, as well as adding to the exhibit (where is aramark-monopoly, anyway?). But it looks as if those plans aren't part of the grandiose future of the museum.

So, if you haven't yet visited the items on exhibit at the Hall of Hacks, I echo Cobb's statement to "come see em while you can."Because if nobody knows what to do with them, or if nobody wants to take care of them, it looks like they're going to go away. And that's a shame.