Meet Cindy Lawrence, Executive Director and CEO of the award-winning National Museum of Mathematics, located at 11 East 26th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues. “By the time visitors leave MoMath,” says Lawrence, “they understand that math can be fun, full-body, experiential, creative, and colorful—words they probably never associated with math before!”
1. You were part of the launch team for the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath), which made its debut in December 2012. Now as Executive Director and CEO, describe your current role. What do you consider the Museum’s greatest accomplishments in nearly a decade?
In my current role, I am ultimately responsible for all aspects of the Museum’s operations, including everything from programming to finance and administration to fundraising. I love nothing more than to think up new ways to engage visitors with the wonder and beauty of mathematics, whether through exciting new programs, both online and in person, or through the development of new exhibit ideas. In almost a decade of operation, I think the Museum’s greatest accomplishments are in showcasing math in unusual, unexpected, and highly engaging ways, and in making math a welcoming place for people of all ages and backgrounds.
2. MoMath promises to showcase “a side of math you’ve never seen before.” How is this achieved?
Most people expect a math museum to be filled with things like numbers, calculators, graph paper, and the like. MoMath has very few of those things. Instead, the Museum has an adult-sized tricycle with square wheels that roll smoothly, a seven-sided studio where you can design your own mathematical sculptures, an invisible laser wall that magically highlights surprising and hidden shapes, the best fractal selfie opportunity in the city, a uniquely colorful and dynamic Voronoi dance floor, and much, much more.
Pictured: Cindy taking a selfie within a life-sized kaleidoscope
3. You’ve mentioned that the museum is “home to more than 40 interactive, engaging, and playful exhibits that showcase the fascinating world of mathematics.” Share with us your current recommendations for MoMath activities available to kids, teens, and adults.
Spend a day at MoMath and you’ll find yourself exploring a beautiful world you may not have known existed. Learn about the relationship between position, velocity, and acceleration by placing your moving body into a video game; fill a canvas with artwork that magically (and mathematically!) appears with just a few strokes of your paintbrush; and evaluate sports analytics as you use a robotic thrower to shoot some hoops. But that’s not all!
The Museum hosts programs almost every day of the week that reach people all over the world. Join us for one of our popular (and free!) monthly math programs: Math Encounters, bringing charismatic speakers to the MoMath stage, and Family Fridays, where hands-on fun is in store for all members of the family. For the tiniest math fans, MathPlay develops an early love of math right in the Museum, while Loving Math provides a wild and crazy story hour accessible online—to the early elementary crowd.
Volumes is a series of exciting book discussions for adults, often featuring the authors, while Tween Primes does the same for the teen and tween crowd. Exercise your brain with challenging problems and puzzles at the monthly online Math Gym, meet special guests at the movie discussion series, Starring Math, and join our adult-only programs: Senior Sessions turn advanced concepts in math into engaging discussions and activities, and Equilibrium, a game night that allows not just game-playing but provides an opportunity to meet new people from near and far.
Students can find a wide range of Student Sessions online, from code-breaking to shape-shifting, while Discovery Sessions in the Museum allow a more hands-on exploration of math, including the madness of Möbius strips and the surprises of knot theory. MoMath even offers Expansions, for students with a special love of and talent for math to work together with peers on problems they won’t ever see in school.
Like to think creatively? Join more than 10,000 people from almost 100 countries around the world for a weekly dose of Mind-Benders puzzles, sent directly to your inbox. Finally, start your weekend off right with some Folding Fun as MoMath and OrigamiUSA partner week after week for an hour of creativity that brings together young and old alike—there’s math in every fold!
4. Since its opening, MoMath has had more than 1 million visitors, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Jeff Bezos. Tell us more about those visits!
Whenever I show someone around MoMath, I inevitably hear three words come out of their mouth: “That’s so cool!” Jeff Bezos holds the record for saying those words more times during our walkaround than any other visitors before or since—so I think he liked the place! And what an honor to have a former President and First Lady doing what so many of our visitors do—enjoying MoMath with their grandchildren!
Pictured: Jeff Bezos, Flatiron District Resident
5. You earned an accounting degree and worked as an accountant. What initially attracted you to math and what led to your career at a cultural/educational institution?
I’ve always loved math because to me, it was just like solving puzzles…there’s the initial intrigue as the puzzle is presented, the thoughtful challenge as you try different strategies to solve the problem, and the aha moment of discovery when you see the solution. The shot of adrenaline you get when you figure something out has always been appealing to me, and I think many mathematicians describe their own research in similar terms. Despite my lifelong love of math, however, my career at MoMath was somewhat of a fluke. I volunteered to help organize a one-day exhibition for the 2009 World Science Festival and fell in love with the project in the process, ultimately leaving a job I’d held for more than 18 years to join a fabulous, inspirational team building something meaningful and important.
6. What do you love most about Flatiron/NoMad? When you’re not at MoMath, how do you like to spend your time in the neighborhood?
I love the sense of community in this neighborhood—everyone is so friendly and welcoming, and takes such pride in their organizations and their contributions. Although I was born in NYC, I spent most of my life in the suburbs of Long Island, so it was both a surprise and a treat to discover what a fabulous neighborhood the Museum had landed in. And it wasn’t an accident, either—the friendly, welcoming, and helpful leadership of the Flatiron BID was an important factor in our choosing this area to become our home.
As to places, Madison Square Park is a true gem and it’s right outside our front door! The triangular “wedge” in front of the Flatiron Building has also become a second home, where we can bring exciting math programming to celebrate the summer and winter solstices each year. And with the new Open Streets program, even 26th Street itself, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, provides a new outdoor extension of the Museum where we can engage passersby with math exploration and play.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two particular retail stores…as a hands-on museum, we were simply delighted to find that Home Depot is one of our nearest neighbors! And we have our own terrific Museum shop, Additions, which is a great place to find cool gifts for everyone on your holiday list.
7. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.