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Michael Sand Archives

Exhibit Design Since the Sixties

Explore Michael Sand’s museum exhibits and other work. An in-progress labor of love, the collection spans decades of design history, cultural and political history, Boston city government, and more.

About Michael Sand

Michael was born in Brooklyn, NY on Aug. 9, 1940. He settled in the Boston area in 1964, where he spent the remainder of his life. He was at the forefront of exhibit designers pioneering the use of technology and interactive, "hands-on" exhibit design now so common today. But he was as much an educator as designer, developing educational curricula exploring a wide range of subjects, serving as a guest lecturer at MIT, Harvard, and RISD, and designing products and graphics still in use today.

Sand pioneered an unconventional “hands-on” approach to exhibit design now common in children’s museums and learning spaces, and his work incorporated the use of technology and computers to assist learning before the phrase “user-centered design” even existed.

Michael's early career

Sand began his career in 1962 as an intern in the office of Charles and Ray Eames, where he designed an exhibit exploring “thinking machines” for the IBM Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Shortly after earning his BS in industrial design from RISD in 1963, he was appointed Design Director of the Boston Children’s Museum by director Michael Spock in a bold move to transform an otherwise conventional museum into a “hands-on” enterprise encouraging self-directed exploration and experimentation. Sand’s design team produced exhibits like the Giant’s Desktop, a collection of office supplies scaled up to twelve times their original size, allowing visitors to climb on and interact with seemingly mundane objects in new ways and discover a sense of scale.

In 1966, Sand became Art Director for the Education Development Center’s award-winning “Man: A Course of Study” student curriculum, led by cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner. Sand helped produce this innovative but controversial elementary school curriculum exploring human behavior, with a focus on the Inuit Eskimos. The curriculum was used nationwide in 1,700 schools across 47 states, to give more than 400,000 students insight into human behavior.

From Michael Sand, Inc. to Rare Media Well Done

For the next three decades, Sand headed the firm Michael Sand, Inc. (later renamed Rare Media Well Done, Inc.), spearheading design, graphics, and experiential learning projects nationwide. He believed the visitor was at the heart of the museum experience, and his were invited to learn by doing, to explore the world around them on their own terms. His design work included exhibits for Boston’s Museum of Science, Children’s Museum, Computer Museum, and historical Franklin Park Zoo. In 1986, he was hired to design the 50,000-square-foot flagship National Scouting Museum for the Boy Scouts of America.

Sand helped launch a wave of innovative children’s museums in dozens of cities across the country, including Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Richmond VA, and Washington DC, creating a new standard for children’s museums that embraced play as a meaningful pedagogical tool. “We tend to make noisy museums,” he once told the Boston Herald, “because people tend to learn when they’re entertained.”

Personal life

Michael was married for 25 years to Margaret Sand, with whom he had two daughters, Zoe and Jessica. The couple first lived in one of Michael's many adaptive reuse projects: a mechanic's garage in Cambridge, Mass. that they converted into a live-work space. Eventually, they'd move to a more conventional house in Brookline, Mass. When the couple divorced, however, Michael took over an old bank in Dorchester, which had itself originally been a library. He believed that buildings, a bit like people, had their own stories worth telling.

Michael never fully retired from design, though work slowed as he reached his 60s, when he earned his realtor license. He was reintroduced to old friend Lynne Williams, who he would spend the last decade of his life with in Cambridge, Mass.

Michael died from a rare form liver carcinoid tumor on November 18, 2013 at age 73.

 

Read what others have to say about Michael's larger-than-life personality and explore the timeline of his life:

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