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Museum’s Hall of Hacks Concludes Ten-Year Run

By Rima Arnaout


Years of celebrating MIT’s greatest hacks ended Sunday as the MIT Museum’s Hall of Hacks closed to make room for a new exhibit, Designing Minds: The Making of MIT Scientists and Engineers.

“It wasn’t an easy decision but we made it because for a long time now our visitors, about 80 percent of whom are from outside MIT, were saying they wanted to know about the story of MIT education from 1861 to the present day,” said MIT Museum Director Jane Pickering. “Having made that decision, we have a very small amount of space, and so something else had to go.”

The Hall of Hacks “has been up in the museum in one form or another for about ten years ... it was pretty much our longest-running show,” Pickering said.

She said that the new exhibit, Designing Minds, also focuses on MIT culture. Due to open June 7, it will explore creative education at MIT.

“Including hacks will actually be part of the new exhibition, because obviously you can’t tell the story of MIT without mentioning hacks,” Pickering said.

She added that certain smaller hacks, such as the balloon that inflated during a Harvard-Yale football game, and Al Gore buzzword bingo cards, will continue to be displayed in the MIT Museum as part of the Designing Minds Exhibit.

Larger hacks like the famous police car and cow once on the Great Dome will have to be either re-located or moved into storage. “Even if they come off display, we don’t do anything like throw them away,” she said.

According to Pickering, the Museum is in discussion with the Campus Activities Complex to see whether any of the hacks can be displayed in the Student Center or elsewhere at MIT.

Museum holds Ultimate Hack Week

The Museum threw the Hall of Hacks a send-off party in the form of Ultimate Hack Week, from Feb. 27 to Mar. 4. All week, visitors were invited to vote for their favorite hacks of all time. They were also asked to propose new locations for the police car hack display.

“All of the surveys have not yet been tallied, but I think the police car on the dome is a shoe-in for the Ultimate Hack,” said Pickering. The telephone booth on the dome, and the balloon at the Harvard-Yale football game also got some votes.

“There were suggestions to return [the car] to the Great Dome,” said Kathleen A. Thurston-Lighty, the MIT Museum’s Publicity and Marketing Manager, “but I don’t think it would last very long, as it was not constructed for long-term exposure to the elements.”

Although the museum doesn’t keep separate attendance numbers for the Hall of Hacks, “more than 1,100 people visited the museum during Ultimate Hack Week, many coming for that event -- this is about a 25 percent increase in attendance,” said Thurston-Lighty.

Hacks still valued

Today, even in light of MIT’s sensitivity to liability, Pickering doesn’t think that hacks are viewed any less favorably than in previous years. “I think the community loves them. There’s no doubt about that.”

She also said that “people are aware of safety issues, but I think the hacking community has shown that they are as aware of safety issues as everyone else is.” She added that concerns about the safety of doing hacks had nothing to do with closing the exhibit.

“I think [the number of hacks] ebbs and flows. If you look at the dates when hacks happened, there were certain times where they were more frequent ... which I can only take to mean the community was buzzing at the time.”

If the snowman built on the small dome Thursday is any indication, hacks are still alive and well.