Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

A Day at the Museum

August 2014

By Mike Gould

We just finished installing a laser exhibit into Ann Arbor’s Hands-On Museum, and we had so much fun I just had to share.

As small businesses go, being an artist is about as small as you can get. I own my own LLC, and make a few bucks here and there. That and what I earn in my other businesses pay the bills and keep me in laser diodes and the blocks of aluminum and raw pieces of PVC pipe I use to create my art.

Art is a Business
… and in business ya gotta have a team. I have a great bunch of people who help me with the lasers, and they were out in force last week.

The exhibit we installed is called L is for Laser, and this is the second time we’ve run it. The first was at the end of last year when we had a three-month stint at the Alden B. Dow Museum of Art and Science in Midland. We had 5 art pieces in a gallery there, but the Hands-On Museum (HoM) has smaller spaces, so we are down to our four best displays.

But this time out we had the experience of setting up the Dow show under our collective belts, so things went much easier. Sorta. The main problem in Dow was hanging our laser projectors (which are built into lunch boxen – long story) from track light supports. This time, we could attach things directly to Unistrut mounted to the ceiling. We had the 15 projectors hung and wired in around six hours, a cause for great rejoicing among our crew.

The challenge came in hanging the projection screens around the rooms. Unlike Dow, our HoM space had colored panels around the perimeter, so we couldn’t project on the walls directly. The budget was tight, so what to do? I came up with a solution based on some previous work we did for a science fiction convention rave party: a Mylar-based material that has one side aluminized in a diamond pattern, and the other side features a plain matte white surface, ideal for projection.

I love doing this: re-purposing. The material was designed for green houses and hydroponics set-ups – the diamond foil side reflects and disperses light in a way that plants enjoy, and the white side reflects natural light, keeping things cool. Armed with two rolls of this material, we McGyvered three eight-foot projection screens around the class room where the lasers live. Total cost: around $200, vs the thousands it would have taken with more conventional methods. When you are a small business, you learn to adapt, adjust and take advantage of out-of-the-lunchbox thinking.

You Gotta Have Friends
But it all comes down to having a great bunch of friends helping out. If you are a struggling start-up, as we definitely are, you rapidly find that it does indeed take a village to raise the roof, if not the rent. Below is a shout-out to all the fine folk who made the HoM show possible. Job descriptions are loose, as many people do many things.

The whole laser art thing happened because Ann Arbor businessman John Langs saw my lasers at an Ignite talk, and subsequently talked me into entering them into ArtPrize 2012. This led to our Dow show, which he brokered thanks to some business contacts he had in Midland. So the entire enterprise is due to the vision and smarts of an entrepreneur merging with the creations of an artist. John is now my artist representative, and is working on finding me other galleries and venues for my work.

Next up is Steve Rich – a local lawyer specializing in intellectual property. Steve got the contracts together for the HoM show, working with director Mel Drumm to deal with the agreements and paper work. Steve is also an invaluable source of biz and other advice, and serves as consigliere to our lightshow troupe, Illuminatus.

I commissioned Michigan composer Ken Kozora to write a soundtrack for the art works, which resulted in the CD Music for Lasers. This is what you’ll hear when you visit the museum to see the lasers. Ken was also a big help in hanging the projectors and screens in both spaces.

Programmer Krunal Desai wrote the code for the interactive portion of the show, and designed the circuit boards for this as well the boards that run the other projectors. He now lives in Seattle, where he programs space telescopes involved in asteroid mining. Seriously.

Wayne Gillis is one of my oldest friends and partners – we have been doing lightshows since the early Seventies. Wayne was invaluable in dealing with the track light problems in Dow, and helped out with getting the government approval you need to use lasers in public spaces. It took 37 pages of paperwork to get this show legal. Wayne is a real-life laser scientist, working for local firm IMRA.

Tom Bray is a local technical guy extraordinaire. I met him back around the time I met Wayne; we were both in the same lighting class at the UM. Tom knows audio, video, computers, projectors, and almost every other technology you need to do cool things in the art world.

Zita Gillis handles logistics and aesthetics. She makes sure my exhibits look as clean as possible and designs our table-top displays at Maker Faires and such.

I’m running out of room for credits here, but have to mention Bob Snyder (builds red lasers for me), and our crew of roadies and handlers: Tim Prosser, Riley Baker, Jacob Rich, Alex Rey, and Adam White. And Nick Geller is starting to help us out with some development work. And I can’t omit the love and support I get from my wife Salli Christenson; it all wouldn’t happen without her.

And a big thanks to the staff of the Hands-On Museum: Mel Drumm, Ari Morris,, John Bowditch, and Charlie Stout; the latter two were instrumental in the installation.

So come see the show – L is for Laser runs through Aug. 24 at the museum; check their website, below, for times and details.

Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum:

Mike Gould gets by with a little help from his friends, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds laser display devices, performs with the Illuminatus 3.0 Laser Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to

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