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Exploring the Curious Vault

Let’s take a trip into the Curious Vault, where historical oddities meet scientific curiosity.

It all started simply enough. When Kevin Arrow, art and collections manager at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, met writer Nathaniel Sandler, founder of Bookleggers Library, they each instantly recognized a fellow collector.

Together, they started Curious Vault Collaborations, a multimedia event blending art, music, and science that allows them to share the seldom seen artifacts the museum has collected across the past 50 years. And now that the Frost Museum is moving to a stunning new location, much of the Curious Vault will be scattered to the winds, with many of the artifacts set to be donated to schools and other organizations across the region. The upcoming Curious Vault Collaborations night on July 14 will be the last time to see it all in one place.

“Our origin story is around the two of us mitigating our junk habits, and this entire project has been born from it,” Sandler said. “We’re effectively the caretakers, the storytellers, the stewards of this collection of objects that was born from objects themselves.”

According to Arrow, who joined the Frost Museum after spending 15 years as the exhibition coordinator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, “I knew that the environment here at the Science Museum, in a space that at that time was just called The Collections Room, was pretty unique, and needed to be seen. … I invited Nathaniel up to see the collection because I knew he had an interest in objects, in collections, and that as a writer he might find it an inspiring space.”

And he definitely found it inspiring. In addition to writing, Sandler has worked with local museums for a long time, helping them research the objects in their collections and discover what’s so fascinating about each piece. The Bookleggers Library, in a way, is an extension of that. People and organizations across South Florida donate books of all kinds, and at Bookleggers events, they’re distributed back into the community. Free books for everyone. “Bookleggers is a visage of Miami, with all these books that people have donated. It ends up being a collection for the city in the same way Curious Vault is. ”

Outside of his time in museums, Arrow has been working as an artist since the 1980s. His latest ongoing art project also doubles as a research archive, with funding from Cannonball and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts. A collaboration with fellow local artist Barron Sherer, Obsolete Media Miami archives over 100,000 slides and countless hours of film to create a moving and still image archive open to all curious creatives seeking inspiration. And Arrow and Sherer will be delving deep into the archives themselves to transform the museum’s planetarium into a massive multimedia visual art and sound exhibit during the event. “We’re using over 500 slides, 16 mm film, and the laser projectors in the planetarium. All of this is going to be the backdrop to Spaceleggers, as well as DJ Le Spam of Spam Allstars and Lance Vertok, both using vintage synthesizers.”

Spaceleggers is a special treat for book lovers, courtesy of the Bookleggers Library. Everyone who attends Curious Vault Collaborations can take home a free vintage science or science fiction book. “It’s about putting books in interesting and unexpected situations,” explained Sandler. “We’re going to have books in the planetarium with a bunch of cool projections and lasers, along with some of the best musicians in South Florida. I think it’s going to be legendary. The planetarium is closing, and we aren’t going to have access to it ever again. This is going to be one of the last events there.”

The planetarium was opened in 1966, and it is home to the very last functional Spitz Space Transit Planetarium star projector in existence. While the new museum will feature the latest in digital projection, the Spitz is the planetarium equivalent of a vinyl record.

“When I first saw that Spitz instrument, it was like magic,” Jay Schwartz, the planetarium director at the New Jersey State Museum, told USA TODAY.

They retired their Spitz projector in 1989, but at the Frost Museum, it’s still going strong after 49 years. It’s days are numbered, however, as once the new museum opens, it’ll be relegated to a display piece.

Still, there’s one last chance to see it in action. And one last chance to take a piece of the planetarium we all grew up with in Miami. “Outside, we’re going to be auctioning vintage and rare astronomy and space books from the collection, as well as ephemera from the planetarium,” Sandler said.

Also up for auction are original art pieces by 10 phenomenal local artists as part of the Miami Cityscapes series. They were all asked to envision a Miami of the future through the lens of architecture, transportation, and design, with each unique piece being exhibited side by side to create an abstract skyline.

If that’s not enough, there’s going to be the unveiling of Inside Flight, a new piece by sculptor Robert Chambers and Dr. GeCheng Zha, and a discussion on the past, present, and future of flight. Plus, complimentary cocktails by Gramps and Tito’s Vodka, and burgers courtesy of Shake Shack.

The entire night is a chance to say goodbye to the museum’s home since 1952, while also celebrating the future and the convergence of art and science. “Essentially, artists and scientists are trying to do the same things,” according to Arrow. “They’re searching for meaning. Scientists inspire artists, artists inspire questions, and questions inspire scientists.”

Curious Vault Collaborations is happening Tuesday, July 14 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science. Tickets are $15.

Proceeds from ticket and auction sales will go to support City of Progress, Bookleggers, Science Art Cinema, and the Frost Museum.