Millikin Design and Production Students Install Exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Illinois

School of Theatre and Dance students created a yellow kitchenette that playfully incorporates characters from the museum in an “Eye-Spy” experience of kitchen amenities.

Children's Museum of Illinois

DECATUR, Ill. – Millikin University’s School of Theatre & Dance announces successfully completing a unique Performance Learning collaboration between Design and Production Students and the Children’s Museum of Illinois.

Students gathered specifications, brainstormed possibilities, consulted with museum staff, sourced materials within budget and constructed original furniture and toy elements, including a School of Theatre & Dance interpretation of the museum’s curious green aliens. In this case, the three-eyed character is busy demonstrating the display’s title: “How Not to Make a Tossed Salad.”

Children's Museum of Illinois

Still on view, the kitchenette is full of plush toasts and vegetables smiling from the counters and a beret-clad baguette ready for dinner on the table. The toaster is also a cat, and the cheese grater is also an enterprising mouse restauranteur. Museum visitors from the pandemic will recognize the utensil holder, made from the repurposed head of the robot previously on display in the same space. Even the strawberries have a personality. It’s an imaginative display that showcases the students’ skills while creating a stimulating exhibit for the children who visit.

Director of Creative & Cheer for the Children’s Museum of Illinois, Jayson Albright, hopes this is the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between the museum and Millikin.

“This first collaboration was a joy, and the end result was wildly imaginative,” Albright said. “We love playing with other creatives in our community, so the opportunity to work with students who focus on visually communicating a narrative was a no-brainer for us. We are crazy excited to see the results of future collaborations.”

The project utilized students’ practical skills while engaging with their dramatic imaginations. When asked about two anthropomorphic carrots hanging in the back of the display — one with a bright, smiling face and the other with a look of horror (together, making an accidental, vegetable version of the classic dramatic masks “Thalia and Melpomene”) — students said the horrified carrot “saw his buddy getting chopped up.” 

Children's Museum of Illinois

Millikin professors Jana Henry Funderburk and Brendan Greene-Walsh supervised the students and were available for troubleshooting during the planning phase and installation of the exhibition. The collaboration gave design and production students a direct, entrepreneurial experience while they applied the creative skills they use daily for the stage.

 “Typically, designers and technicians are creating a show for future audiences,” Henry Funderburk said. “With this project, our students worked directly with a client, which was a new experience. Still Performance Learning, but a new angle for this group of students.”

Performance Learning is one of Millikin’s core principles, as the university believes that how students learn is as important as what students learn. Classes incorporate practical experience with real-world professionals, and students are encouraged to participate in multiple opportunities for resume-building collaborations like the one with the Children’s Museum of Illinois. Whether they’re running a student-venture, planning theatrical productions, fulfilling client requests, or conducting graduate-level research, Millikin’s students get a head start on their futures no matter what they study.

Children's Museum of Illinois

Community partners like the museum create a fantastic opportunity for students to learn what it’s like to meet client expectations within the budgetary restrictions and practical specifications that businesses and organizations navigate daily. Albright noted the professionalism that the students brought to the table.

“These students did a tremendous job of bringing their concept to life,” he said. “Right from the start, they were conscious of budget restrictions, so the game became ‘What materials do we already have on hand?’ The process of seeing what we had available at the museum and what materials they had access to certainly informed what the final installation looked like though it was always in service of the initial design. They threaded the needle brilliantly.”  

The Children’s Museum of Illinois is located at 55 S Country Club Rd, Decatur, IL 62521. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and Sunday from noon-4:30 p.m. Visitors who snap a picture of the display are encouraged to tag the Millikin School of Theatre & Dance on Instagram @millikin_university_theatre or include the hashtag #Millikillinit to recognize the great work of our Millikin students in the wild.

Children's Museum of Illinois