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Posted - 06/14/2011
Grant Partner Spotlight: Libby Modern of the Super Power Magic Motion Machine!
spot_light_hi.png Libby Modern

Libby Modern is one of the three musketeers leading project Super Power Magic Motion Machine (SPM3), and we caught up with her in a candid interview to hear more about their inspiring project.

We were most struck by her vivid account of life in the vibrant town of Lancaster, PA and how the project has cross-pollinated within their community.

What inspires you?
“My children, ages 2 and 5. I spend a lot of time with them, and the questions they ask, the things they bring to me about how the world works, all inspire me to see things in a fresh light. And on this beautiful spring day, with flowers blooming, I am inspired by the power of the people in my community and that we all have an effect on each other.”

How did you come up with the idea for the SPM3?
“It started along with the other 2 partners– ecologist Nicole Heller & poet Marci Nelligan; we had been in Lancaster for a year and a half. Whenever we would be together, we would hatch these ideas. When we ran across the Invoking the Pause call for grant partners, we realized that we needed time to pause and think how to make these thoughts happen. As a society, we work so often with electronics, we wanted a project that challenged us to create something physical. Lancaster is a “bike-able” city, but it’s just a small minority that bike. So we wanted to take the community energy + physical energy and create a community project.”

You all came to this collaboration from living together in Lancaster, yet have different professional worlds.
“Yes, I am an artist / graphic designer for environmental nonprofits. It’s always on my mind, “How can we communicate climate change and translate it to people who don’t have the time to stop and contemplate?” Nicole is a biologist and works for Climate Central as a research scientist who in turn hands her research to producers that create media / video outlets to explain climate change. Marcy is a poet. She lives here in Lancaster, teaches at Franklin Marshall College and is part of the local food movement in Lancaster. We are grateful to Invoking the Pause for the the time to process all of our ideas and figure out how to work together. ”

What is the status of the project?
“We have had a series of meetings with different partners involved:

“An engineering firm in Lancaster which has an interest in the community has helped with the design & fulfillment of the actual project, and offered to do so pro bono. They have been instrumental in advising us on materials and how to get them. At this stage, the majority of the parts are ready to go.

“We have also partnered with a local artist welder who offered to help us wield it all together. Right now we have a meeting next week to finalize the design. We are tentatively scheduled for the end of May to bring all the pieces together.

“A bunch of artists have offered to help with the tent and add their “umph” to the project.

“Also, we have recently talked to a video production firm that will document the fabrication and design phase so that others can replicate the idea.

“Initially we spent time pouring over the Internet, trying to figure out how to do this ourselves, which proved difficult. So we wanted to make people realize that it isn’t that hard, the parts aren’t that expensive, show them how to put them all together. You can make electricity to power things, and create an educational machine that will demonstrate for children and adults. We also wanted to come up with a clear & simple do-it-yourself manual & video so that another community could replicate the project. We are most excited about the video! We hope it will give others the opportunity to take the idea and run with it themselves.

“The project also has it’s own website and should be up in next couple of weeks.” (

How did your career reach this nexus of art and advocacy? What was your background?
“That’s a great question– how did my Poetry, DIY energy, Art & Environmentalism come together? I spend the majority of my time in graphic design, but I am also a serious artist and painter. There’s nothing I love more than being in the studio painting — I would love to be in my studio all day and never have to do graphic design! <laughs> But working with non-profits have had a positive effect on me and allowed me to get in touch with other communities and hear what they are doing. Now my artistic inspiration comes from translating others ideas and figuring how to spread the message.

“Lancaster is such an interesting place to live. It’s a really mix of different people, lifestyles and there is a true community bond. People are eager to help others. There is a great arts community here and the Arts are able to sustain the city.

“So, all of that to say that my career is a culmination of all these influences: individualist painting, messaging with non-profits, and being part of a community.

This project is a nice culmination of all of your talents.
“The things that challenge me the most are the elements that bring me peace. I have been working towards these projects for most of my life. The opportunity to do this is really exciting.”

What is the number one thing you wish all Americans would do to help the environment?
“Drive less – do what you can to get out and walk, what’s good for them is good for the environment. The more you can get out and walk and get ino your community, the better.”

What are you reading right now?
Freedom by Johnathan Franson – it’s been something that keeps me awake when I get in bed at night – exciting read.”

How has the project changed your direct relationship to your community?
“It’s given me a real reason to go out there and meet people that are doing different things in the community and be able to talk about a project we could all collaborate on together. The mutual interest has been exciting. I haven’t yet found anyone that’s been competitive, no one has said no or turned down working with us. It’s been refreshingly collaborative. ”

In a perfect world, what would be the impact of your project?
“In the midst of cuts to public schools & a delineation between science and art, our project impact would bring the community inspiration to find an education curriculum that would bring science and art together.

“Short term we hope people gain an understanding of electricity and energy on a small scale. It’s had an effect on my energy use. I hope it can have that impact on others. The more you know it inspires you to act.”

–Libby Kleine Modern is a co-founder of the Super Power Magic Motion Machine. Libby Kleine Modern is co-founder of Half-full Design, (, a design and communications firm providing effective and affordable solutions to nonprofits. In addition to her work with Half-full, Libby is a painter and printmaker. At the heart of both her communications work and fine art is a conversation between the public and the private, between the real and the imagined, between the forces inside and outside out. Libby graduated from Princeton University with a degree in History, and from the Creative Circus in Atlanta, GA with a certificate in Graphic Design and Art Direction. Libby, her husband, and two young boys live in Lancaster, PA.