In Character with Chad Jacobsen

by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Chad Jacobsen, exhibit design manager for OMSI, likes to put things together so kids can try to take them apart. Noisily, of course.

Chad Jacobsen is deep into painting and sculpture, but these days he's just as focused on trying to keep kids from destroying stuff. Incidentally, Jacobsen, exhibit design manager at OMSI, can be a hard guy to interview.

Portland Tribune: This place is noisy. I'm having trouble hearing you, and you're just across the table.

Chad Jacobsen: There really is not a quiet place in this building's public space. We just put in an exhibition, a gallery of arcade games, that was probably one of the noisiest exhibits we've had. Every machine in that exhibit made some kind of noise.

Tribune: How about over there?

Jacobsen: There's a Gravitron, a machine perpetually lifting ball bearings and dropping them down.

Tribune: Does the constant noise drive you nuts?

Jacobsen: I don't hear it much anymore. The Gravitron is outside of one of our meeting places, so it gets a little hard to concentrate at times.

Tribune: And what about the kids?

Jacobsen: They definitely generate noise. The noise equals fun. A lot of what we design is bulletproof and kid-proof.

Tribune: Have you actually had one of the little devils bring in a handgun?

Jacobsen: No, to my knowledge we've got a crack security squad that would rain down on any gun-toting kid in a minute.

Tribune: I'll bet kids have done some damage in here.

Jacobsen: I don't know where to start. There's almost like a collective consciousness kids have in learning how to get past the durability issues. The folks who brought in Ataris and Nintendos for the history of the arcade (exhibit) weren't quite ready for our audience. They were surprised at the amount of maintenance an exhibit like that required.

We did a graph race, three bicycles that you sit on and race your neighbors by watching the graph and seeing your position in relationship to your competitors. We used industrial pre-tested parts. They're not strong enough.

Tribune: Darn kids. Favorite exhibits?

Jacobsen: The Mindbender Mansion was an exhibition on brain teasers. It's a really social experience on how people help each other when they get stuck. When somebody can't figure out what's going on with this puzzle, a complete stranger will stop what they're doing and help them. I didn't really see that impact until I came as a visitor with my nephew.

Tribune: Dinosaurs or Star Wars?

Jacobsen: Dinosaurs, but most of my OMSI comrades are Star Wars. I'm a dinosaur in a Star Wars community.

Tribune: Join the club. I'm a print newspaper reporter. Why do kids love dinosaurs?

Jacobsen: And everybody loves them for a window of time and then they forget about them for a while. They're sort of near mythology, that dragon sensibility, but there's also proof that they existed. It's almost like they're proof of magic.

Tribune: And you get to be the man behind the curtain.

Jacobsen: A friend of mine has a little boy who is convinced I have the coolest job in the world. But he also thinks I'm a scientist, because he asks me a lot of questions I can't answer.