Team News

Meet Our Team: Hands On! Studio

Hands On! Studio is an award-winning exhibit planning and design company with three decades of experience creating Children’s Museums and Science Centers, as well as Art and Nature Centers. The scope of their work includes working with clients who are in start up phase of new museums all the way through large-scale reimagining of existing museum spaces.

They have worked on projects in all parts of the U.S. including Florida and Texas, up north to Maine and Boston, out west to Arizona and California and many places in between. Internationally, they have designed experiences in Northern Ireland, Brazil, Egypt, Canada and Kuwait.  

Hands On! offers everything from strategic planning and conceptual master planning to exhibit ideation and development, as well as 3D modeling. They also expertly manage fabrication and installation. They create intuitive experiences and beautiful, uplifting environments that marry educational theory, technological innovation and user experience. Their team is passionate about reaching people through the joy of discovery and sparking their enthusiasm for exploration.

Hands On! started working with us pre-pandemic and was able to visit Utica multiple times to get a feel for our community, our people, the former museum AND new museum location. (They even got a good feel for our Central New York weather!) They have quickly become an extended part of our team and of our ICAN and UCM family, and have been working very closely with the build team at Gaetano Construction and architectural team at CSArch.

Our primary contacts from Hands On! Studio are Greg Belew, Principal, Designer & Architect, and Kathy Gustafson-Hilton, Creative Thinking Facilitator & Community Liaison.

For Greg, the biggest joy in his work is getting the opportunity to design social spaces that can have meaningful impact on kids and families. “As an architect you design the building,” he shares, “but creating the experiences inside is where we have the opportunity to enrich the every day lives of people. Through the power of great experiences, we deepen the connection between you and the community you serve.”

Kathy loves the relationships that are spurred during their projects – from the multi-disciplinary teams involved to community relationships that organically come from the process. “These relationships are building something special. They will make a place that families can build on their own relationships as well. It’s very magical.” Being able to have a session with ICAN’s clinicians to gain insight on trauma-informed care, Wraparound principles and the needs of individuals with behavioral and mental health challenges was one of her favorite aspects of the project thus far. Also, they’d loved working in Utica! “We’re lifelong learners – learning about a new place and new people has been incredible.” 

Working on our Family Resource Center in particular, they both love the impact it has by having a shared vision between ICAN and UCM and the inclusivity lens that is being put into every step. Working with Universal Design principles, intricate design decisions are being made which guests of the museum won’t necessarily know the details of, but they will certainly FEEL it as they have a comfortable, safe, seamless experience in the space. Everything from traffic flow, selection of color and contrast, kerning of fonts in wayfinding and exhibit signs, and heights and accessibility of exhibits are considered.

“We also started with an organization and people that were really in tune to your community.” Greg continues. “That is not as prevalent as you would think, and that is an imperative part of the process that needs particular attention to assure that projects are reflective of the community around you.” 

Having ICAN starting out as the driver for the project really set the stage for it being unique. Throughout their decades of projects, Hands On! has not seen one which co-locates a human services non-profit and a children’s museum. They admire that two organizations with such intertwined missions and values have come together to accomplish something that is truly the first-of-its-kind.

It has been a joy working with Hands On! for our entire team – the process and work they do is professional, creative and fun! Every meeting is met with an amazing level of excitement and inspiration for the project.

Visit their website to learn more!

Meet the Hands On! Studio Team:

Greg Belew
Principal, Designer & Architect

Greg leads every phase of exhibition development from start to finish, including comprehensive planning, design, budgeting, and scheduling that is realistic, client-specific, and supportive of long-term sustainability. His collaborative approach has resulted in successful, award-winning projects around the globe.

As a licensed architect, Greg also coordinates between clients and their architects and contractors to advise on effective building programs, practical infrastructure, and the complex interface between exhibition and architectural environment. Renowned architects such as Moshe Safdie, James Stewart Polshek, Lake/Flato, and MGA Partners have partnered with Greg to create beautifully designed projects that work exceptionally for visitors and staff alike.

Lyn Wood
Exhibit & Environmental Designer, Museum Educator

Lyn has been developing cutting-edge, award-winning exhibitions for more than 35 years. She uniquely combines a BA in Industrial and Environmental Design from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and an MA in Museum Education from the nationally acclaimed program at George Washington University. This two-pronged expertise allows her to create exciting exhibitions that are elegantly designed, operationally sound, and intellectually inspirational.

In 1989, Lyn left the Smithsonian to co-found Great Explorations, the Hands On Museum, to prove that small, community-based learning centers could be educationally and financially successful. That accomplished, she applied her knowledge of design, visitor behavior, and sustainability to museum projects all over the world. Her work has garnered prestigious Gold and Silver Awards from the Industrial Designers’ Society of America, and the American Institute of Architects. 

Sharon Handy
Creative Content, Media Development & Communications

Sharon’s specialty is unearthing the core of a complex topic and making it captivating, understandable, and exciting for people of all ages and experience levels. As a creative content leader, she develops exhibition themes and messaging, educational approaches, exhibit concepts, and exhibition master plans. Sharon also performs exhibit prototyping and evaluation, and the writing and art direction of labeling and graphic content. In addition, she is an experienced science grant writer, with more than $16 million in successful proposals.

Sharon also leads the development of interactive media, handling everything from initial research through storyboarding, scripting, and the shaping of engaging visitor interfaces. 

Kathy Gustafson-Hilton
Creative Thinking Facilitator & Community Liaison

Kathy is a recognized leader in the facilitation of creative thinking. She uses skills honed through more than 25 years of acting and arts management to help clients craft missions, goals, cutting-edge exhibition content, and effective programming. Kathy serves as Hands On!’s community liaison, and works with advocates, stakeholders, and focus groups, in addition to managing artists who contribute to our projects.

In addition to being a sought-after speaker, Kathy has served as a member of the national Program Planning Committees for the Association of Science-Technology Centers and the Association of Children’s Museums. She also served on the board of NAME, a professional committee of the Alliance of American Museums.

Nathan Myhre
Design & Project Management Assistant

As Hands On!’s design and project management assistant, Nathan is involved in every phase of exhibition development from start to finish. He has a thorough working knowledge of AutoCAD, Solidworks, and SketchUp, and creates digital environmental and exhibit models in both 2D and 3D. Nathan also coordinates the submittal of documentation, design progress communication, and graphic production files with clients, architects, and fabricators.

Ed Pease
Architect, Exhibit & Environmental Designer

Ed has 35 years of expertise as a licensed architect and environmental designer, creating award-winning exhibitions with Hands On! that integrate flawlessly with their architectural surroundings in style and performance.

His work includes museums, fine arts centers, civic buildings, and residential projects, as well as historic restoration and renovation work. His projects have been recognized by the American Institute of Architects, INFORM Magazine and the Industrial Designers Society of America, and he was also awarded the FNMA Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing Design. In addition, Ed is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History at the College of William and Mary.