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College of Arts and Architecture Faculty Member Designs Installation for Pittsburgh Children’s Museum

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Ann Tarantino's work in progress

Ann Tarantino enjoyed lots of time at a museum this summer, but not as part of a vacation. She was one of three artists selected for a residency at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, where she spent the last three months brainstorming, designing and installing an interactive artwork that can stand up to not only pokes and prods from little hands, but to the opinions of some young yet harsh critics.

Tarantino, an assistant professor with joint appointments in the Department of Landscape Architecture and the School of Visual Arts, is using light to make a piece in an underutilized hallway that, she said, is not functional in the way it could be. “I wanted to activate the space through light and color,” she explained. “At a museum, there is a different set of needs compared to your studio. You have to make something that is durable, engaging and interactive.”

The Tough Art artist residency gives emerging artists an opportunity to expand their skills and create an entirely new interactive artwork that is accessible to the patrons of the Children’s Museum. This year’s artworks, which are incorporated into the museum and/or programs with direct impact on the visitor experience, will open to the public on September 12. 2015 is the ninth year of the Tough Art artist residency.

Ann Tarantino's installation at Pittsburgh Children's Museum

Tarantino was selected for the residency after submitting a proposal and images that illustrated how her work would function in the museum setting. However, she noted, most artists’ proposals change after they start to work at the museum. “Once you get there, you realize you’re designing for the museum floor as opposed to in a gallery, and your piece has to stand up to a lot. Plus people need to like it.”

Tarantino’s first prototypes in the museum did not garner much reaction. “If it had been a gallery show, I would have just continued. But now I need to consider the audience in a different way.”

Tarantino became more interested in public, site-specific art last year after she had a highly successful installation at State College’s Millbrook Marsh Nature Center, where she placed electro-luminescent wire and submersible LEDs directly in the water.

Tarantino began her career as a painter, but working with designers in Penn State’s landscape architecture department inspired her to make her work more spatial.

For her installation at the Children’s Museum—titled “Moon, Shine”—she responded to the hallway site’s location as a connector between the museum’s original building and the Buhl Planetarium. Tarantino created two sculptural forms of colored transparent acrylic meant to suggest planetary fragments or an alternate solar system. Suspended from the ceiling, the forms rotate at different rates and in different directions, each appearing to reach toward the other. Two periscopes installed in the space give younger viewers the opportunity for a close look at the two “planets” and to find their unlikely inhabitants. Lights installed throughout the hallway cast constantly moving, colored shadows on the walls, floor and ceiling. The result is a playful, immersive and interactive installation that activates the entire space.

“This residency is a wonderful chance to continue to work with light but in a different context,” said Tarantino. “It’s so exciting to do something that lots of people can see, compared to work in your own studio. And there’s something magical about working with a palette of light.”

Ann Tarantino's installation at Pittsburgh Children's Museum

The residency also gave her an opportunity to design for an audience she knows quite well. A mom of 5-year-old twins, Tarantino said she is influenced by her children and the fact that she is a parent. “My work changed when I realized I did not want to be alone in my studio making things that were too precious or fancy for my kids to be around. That’s crazy—why would I not want to make work that would be experienced by that audience?”

For more information on the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, visit