The Renaissance of Inventiveness

STEAM learning at Gainesville’s Cade Museum stems from textbook creativity

Since the Post-Renaissance period, we have championed the idea of the Renaissance Man, a-la the original polymath, Leonardo da Vinci. Even our country’s founding fathers were all known to have many areas of expertise, owning many patents on their ideas, and this history of inventiveness is the foundation for the Cade Museum for Creativity & Invention in Gainesville, Florida. As the Cade Museum’s Operations Manager Gwen Blanchett puts it, “As our country grew, so did its inventions.”
The inventive mindset is celebrated, encouraged and inspired at this new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics)-learning museum, known simply as the Cade, and it is named after another visionary, Dr. James Robert Cade. A self-described “physician, scientist, musician, and inventor,” he was an accomplished writer and poet, and avid collector of antique violins and Studebaker carriages. But Cade is best remembered for his game-changing (literally) invention, Gatorade.
While Dr. Cade was a professor of renal medicine at the University of Florida (UF) in the ’60s, a serendipitous conversation regarding UF’s football players led him to create his electrolyte-infused beverage that not only sparked an entire market segment, but also new precedents on ideas and their ownership and marketability. The entire Gatorade story, along with Cade’s laboratory, reinstalled to minute detail, is on display at the Cade Museum. Funded in part through the Gatorade Trust that holds Gatorade royalties and continues to fund innovations at UF, the exhibit is called The Sweat Solution, and is their only permanent installation.
The rest of the museum is deliberately designed to be in constant rearrangement, keeping ideas and activities flowing at a rapid pace. “This is not a passive museum experience,” says Executive Director Stephanie Bailes. “We are for anyone who is interested and curious. I often say that people get out of the museum as much as they’re willing to put into it — if you’re willing to go in and engage you could spend up to four hours there, truly.”
With a building that houses idea-generation and teaches the history of creativity and invention, one can imagine the pressure to create a show-stopper space was real. Construction of the Cade Museum began in 2015 and it opened to the public in May 2018. The magnificent building will, indeed, stop you in your tracks — turn south on Main Street off of Gainesville’s main historic drag, University Avenue, and you see the Cade rising up in the distance. The thoughtfully-designed museum and campus is the brainchild of the Cade Museum Foundation, formed by the Cade family in 2004, and led in great part by the ideas of Dr. Cade’s daughter, Phoebe Cade Miles, board president and CEO of the Cade.
An ode to the parallel patterns in nature and mathematics, the campus is laid out following the Fibonacci sequence, a sequence of numbers that has led to many later mathematical concepts. When viewed from the air, the building and landscaping boundaries appear as a shell spiraling its shape in natural proportion. Within the building, every element, from windows to staircase width, fits the famed ratio born of this pattern.
The overlaid Fibonacci spiral begins in the central Rotunda, where a fifty-five-foot ceiling arcs to a spectacular oculus skylight. The Rotunda is where the museum’s philosophy is introduced: “Think like an inventor or entrepreneur, Meet an inventor or entrepreneur and Be an inventor or entrepreneur.” In the Cade’s organizational concept, every invention can be traced back to the creative, or inventive, mindset; is supported by at least two of seven Pillars of Science such as Life Science, Matter, or Force and Motion; and is then introduced into commerce. This three-step flow is followed throughout, and all presented concepts are further broken down into what they call Bits and Bytes, which create threads of connection within exhibitions, lab activities, and monthly programs. Every Saturday, a contemporary inventor, many living in Gainesville, presents their inventions and ideas in the Rotunda, surrounded by activities curated by Cade educators to match through their Bits and Bytes.
Off the Rotunda, on the first floor, is where you find The Sweat Solution and two laboratories for interactive learning — the Creativity Lab for ‘wet science’ experiments, and the Fab Lab for coding, robotics and technology such as 3-D printing. Both labs are manned all day every Friday, Saturday and Sunday by museum educators who facilitate guests’ hands-on entertainment.
Following up the spiral staircase from the Rotunda, the large, domed space is filled with clever points of interest that teach all things idea, from “The Inventor’s Clause” in the Constitution to the ethics of genetic coding and rise of patent trolls. Upstairs you’ll find traveling exhibitions, rotated every three to twelve months, and the Idea Atelier in the Petty Family Gallery. In the Idea Atelier, quirky furniture, games, puzzles and other introspective projects, are set amongst a panoramic view of the museum’s surroundings, the triumph of environmental transformation that is Depot Park.
The Cade and Depot Park are a beacon in the community-minded redevelopment of the Southeast quadrant of Gainesville, where 98% of those living within a mile qualify as at or below the poverty line. “People focus on the building,” says Bailes. “It’s awesome, yes, but it’s a vehicle for the people who are in it that influence and inspire through guest visits and educational outreach.”
The outreach function of the Cade is highly important to Bailes. “We are actually operating two things here — we have the museum and the museum experience, but we’re also operating a non-profit,” she says. “Our mission statement is ‘ … to transform communities by inspiring and equipping future inventors, entrepreneurs, and visionaries.’ I think the inspiring and equipping really does happen in the museum, but there’s a whole population of individuals who don’t typically have access to the experiences, the knowledge and skill sets, that are provided there.”
Bailes says the nonprofit’s specific mission is to reach into those communities and provide them experiences, acting as a bridge to the innovation economy and helping them develop an inventive mindset. The Cade has begun partnering with local organizations that provide this population with core services, to go a step further, doing what they do best — “creating opportunities for those a-ha moments,” says Bailes. “By our helping develop curiosity and providing some skills and knowledge, hopefully [any individual] can identify an area of interest, and then our partners will help connect them onto other pathways.” The Cade’s tagline reads “Spark Wonder. Invent Possible.” Bailes hopes to connect the surrounding residents to what that could be.
Read MoreBy Meredith T. Matthews • Johnston Photography

Author: Arbus

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