City kids, TV star team up to build sign

‘Mythbusters’ host works with lo­cal stu­dents to fab­ri­cate let­ters for White House con­fer­ence

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Colin Camp­bell cm­camp­bell@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/cm­camp­bell6

Mayen Nel­son nor­mally goes to bed around 8 p.m., but Satur­day night the 10-year-old fifth-grader was too ex­cited to go to sleep. He stayed up an ex­tra two hours, his fa­ther said, watch­ing episode af­ter episode of “Mythbusters.”

The next morn­ing, Mayen and a group of other Bal­ti­more kids got to meet Adam Sav­age, one of the hosts of the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel show, and help him build a large, in­ter­ac­tive LED-lit dis­play to be fea­tured promi­nently dur­ing an event at the White House to­day.

The South by South Lawn fes­ti­val, in­spired by South by South­west, the an­nual con­fer­ence in Austin, Texas, will cel­e­brate and en­cour­age Amer­i­can in­no­va­tion — or “ideas, arts and ac­tion,” ac­cord­ing to the White House.

Sav­age and the other kids at the Dig­i­tal Har­bor Foun­da­tion Tech Cen­ter in Fed­eral Hill worked with Jen­nifer Schachter, a Mary­land In­sti­tute Col­lege of Art grad­u­ate and the Robert W. Deutsch fel­low at Open Works, to build a 7-foot-tall “SXSL” sign in wooden block let­ters.

They un­loaded the let­ters, the sup­port beams and other ma­te­ri­als from a U-Haul truck. But be­fore they got to work, Sav­age had an im­por­tant an­nounce­ment.

“Ev­ery­body, I apol­o­gize for my B.O. to­day,” he said, to laugh­ter. “I was not pre­pared for the hu­mid­ity.”

“Wel­cometo Bal­ti­more,” a few of the adults re­sponded.

In a mat­ter of min­utes, the chil­dren were paint­ing the wooden sup­ports black and the gi­ant block let­ters white. Schachter sat on the floor amid wood shav­ings, cut­ting a few more sup­port blocks. Once the paint dried, Sav­age used a sta­ple gun to af­fix a strand of col­or­chang­ing LED lights to the let­ters.

“I do two things: I make stuff and I tell sto­ries about mak­ing stuff,” Sav­age said. “Those are com­pletely in­ex­tri­ca­ble to me when it’s go­ing well. To me, the story here is that this is an amaz­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion with a bunch of kids who are re­ally, re­ally hun­gry to build stuff, so I wanted their help to put th­ese to­gether.

“I con­sider my­self a per­mis­sion ma­chine, and I want ev­ery­one to know how much fun it is to reach “Mythbusters” co-star Adam Sav­age vis­ited on Sun­day at the Dig­i­tal Har­bor Foun­da­tion in Fed­eral Hill, where a sign is be­ing built. out and build some­thing that’s yours.”

Sav­age paused at times to ad­dress a pair of TV cam­eras fol­low­ing him around, but mostly fixed his smile on the roughly 20 or so chil­dren work­ing with him. Wear­ing blue jeans, a plain black T-shirt and a NASA cap, he hopped onto a table at one point to hold up a piece of wood and show which side should be painted.

Schachter said the chance to work with Sav­age to make a White House art in­stal­la­tion was “like ev­ery­one’s child­hood fan­tasy.” She said the op­por­tu­nity arose thanks to the foun­da­tion’s for­mer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, An­drew Coy, who now works at the White House.

“We got the project about two weeks ago,” she said. “I got a phone call: ‘Do you want to build some 7-foot-tall, light-up sign let­ters for the White House with Adam Sav­age?’ I was like, ‘Ab­so­lutely, I’m on board.’ ”

Sav­age, who had the idea for the sign, sent Schachter some sketches and they hashed out the idea over a few phone calls. Then she put in about a week’s worth of 12-hour days in the wood­shop at Open Works, an artists’ workspace and in­cu­ba­tor on Green­mount Av­enue.

“As you come into the event it’ll be the cen­ter­piece,” Schachter said, “th­ese big stand­ing tall let­ters, sort of like the Hol­ly­wood sign, with sup­port beams be­hind them, and the let­ters will glow from in­side with hun­dreds of LEDs, and those will all be pro­grammed to in­ter­act with users on so­cial me­dia at the event,” with the sign chang­ing col­ors when peo­ple use a par­tic­u­lar hash­tag.

Shawn Grimes, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Dig­i­tal Har­bor Foun­da­tion, said he was thrilled for the kids, many of whom par­tic­i­pate in af­ter­school pro­grams, us­ing the 3-Dprinter and other tech­no­log­i­cal tools at the foun­da­tion’s workspace. The pro­grams are open to stu­dents from third to 12th grade.

“We need kids work­ing on this stuff be­cause it gives them con­fi­dence, it gives them prob­lem­solv­ing abil­i­ties, and they re­ally just — they love it. It gets them ex­cited,” Grimes said. “The kids here are very pas­sion­ate. They’re driven. They’re in­ter­ested in hav­ing an im­pact on their com­mu­nity, and they’re in­ter­ested in solv­ing prob­lems, real prob­lems.”

COLIN CAMP­BELL/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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