The ability to create an experience that grounds the viewer in a specific moment of the human story is at the core of the experiments in design of Jake Barton ’90. As Principal and Founder of Local Projects, a media design firm for museums and public spaces, Barton aims to combine physical creations, technology, and digital media to design collaborative experiences where the viewer and the designs interact to produce meaning.
Brought to campus by the Community Engagement Office, Barton spoke about his experiences as Principal and Founder of Local Projects this Wednesday, during All-School Meeting (ASM). He addressed his accomplishments in design, which include building the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum. According to Local Projects’ website, the firm chose to avoid presenting a singular, “official” narrative of 9/11. Instead, the firm collected thousands of testimonies from people around the world that had ties to the event to demonstrate that 9/11 is not closed history; rather, the event is an ongoing story that is still experienced by many today.
Barton said, “10,000 people ran out of these burning buildings to save their lives. You can’t tell those people what a curator says about 9/11. You can’t make a normal museum. You have to create almost like a container for memories, a platform for people’s own histories. That’s what we pitched to the museum. So when you go in the 9/11 memorial now, you see a global map of all of these individual stories emphasizing that a third of the world watched 9/11 live within that day. And you’ll hear their stories.”
Local Projects took a similar approach when the firm collaborated with the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization led by civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson to develop The Legacy Museum. According to Local Projects’ website, the museum traces the narrative of racial difference to help the nation recover by reconciling with truth.
“Similar to some ways to what we did with the 9/11 memorial, we partnered to create individual stories, humanizing these displayed people. You hear their individual stories, you understand literally what the experience was like when mothers and children were separated. You understand what that experience was like, and you hear the stories,” said Barton.
As the Non Sibi Day ASM speaker, Barton also spoke about one of his acts of Non Sibi spirit: volunteering at a homeless shelter.
Barton said, “At the time, [the shelter] had, this is in the late 90s into the early 2000s, [the shelter] had a phone tree That’s how they got volunteers, because there were no normal phones, people barely had email, the internet was just starting, and the volunteer coordinators were tired. This was an existential crisis for the shelter. So I said to them ‘What if we made a website, where people can just sign up for anything that they can volunteer for?’ It seemed catastrophic at the time… frankly it was hard, but not super hard, certainly a lot harder than it is now.”
Barton continued, “But the basic thing about this [is that it was] 15 beds a night, over 19 years, 365 days a year. You do that math, that’s 100,000 people right there. Then you think about the other shelters that we gave the code to, that copied this idea. That’s a quarter of a million people.”
Students such as Irene Kwon ’21 felt inspired to see Andover alumni that exhibit the school’s motto of Non Sibit.
“First of all, [Barton] is such a great example of an Andover [alumni] going into the real world and living the value of Non Sibi through his work and through his passion. Also, as someone whose parents lived through 9/11, I’m grateful that he played a part in memorializing what was lost and our history as America. As an Andover student, I think it’s great that we’re able to interact with alumni who apply their passions and Non-Sibi at the same time. It shows how much Andover stays with you after you graduate,” said Kwon.
During his time at Andover, Barton participated in the Drama Labs program. According to Barton, through participating in productions, he realized the importance of learning from failure.
“Failure is something that’s really, really important to success. I’m living proof that as you go down and then you bottom out and you have challenges, you always pick yourself up again,” said Barton.
During her closing remarks, Jenny Elliott ’94, Dean of Students and Residential Life, addressed the poignancy of Barton’s remarks on failure.
“And I think [Barton’s] message about the importance of failure, the importance of making mistakes, when we so often keep our eye on this strange prize of perfectionism, I think is so profound and so important to be reminded of this every single day,” said Elliott.
To end his talk, Barton left the Andover community with three promises to think about.
“First, I promise you that no matter what mistake you make, you can pick yourself up, put yourself back together, and then you can travel onward. The second promise is that if you too can push and test, if you too can actually risk and go into failure—embrace it as a way to continue to grow and learn, you can go so much further than you ever imagined you would. The third promise is that if you are able to put in that service of something, where it be a homeless shelter just one night a month, where it is a memorial or public history or anything else, or anywhere
else that your incredible talents and achievements lead you, you will find a level of joy you did not know existed,” said Barton.