How cartoon museum ToonSeum is using a donated computer to push animation as art


This post is sponsored by Chase — a strong supporter of Good360, a program that embraces the sustainability of the recycling of technology. Learn more here.

With the rapid speed in which technology advances nowadays, computers go obsolete quickly.

But rather than throw away aged devices, JP Morgan Chase and Virgina-based charity Good360 had a better idea: Give the old computers to those who need them.

That’s the mission behind Tech Warehouse, a program that donates refurbished computers to schools and nonprofit organizations. Since the launch of the program in April, Good360 has donated 628 computers to 186 nonprofits across the United States.

One of these organizations is the ToonSeum, a Pittsburgh museum that focuses on, well, cartoons.

It’s led by executive director Joe Wos, a cartoonist-turned-museum curator who’s been a part of the ToonSeum since its inception at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh in 2007. Five years later, the ToonSeum now sits at its own location in downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.

“If it relates to cartoon art, we’ll feature it,” Wos said of the museum’s scope, which includes comics and animation as well as editorial cartoons, and, more recently, video game art.

It’s an ambitious mission shared with only two other museums in the United States: the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York City.

Joe Wos, however, isn’t a museum guy. His specialty is performance cartooning, an art form that is one part drawing, three parts story telling.

And it was Wos’s years as a performance cartoonist that led directly to the creation of the ToonSeum. After a stint working at the Charles M. Shultz Museum, Wos realized just how compatible cartoons and museums could be. “I knew not just the next step in who I was but also the next big move for museums in the United States,” he said.

While the ToonSeum does the art thing well, it’s also a popular social spot. It’s home to a variety of special programs, one of the most popular of which is Geek TV Night, a monthly meetup for adults that features geek favorites like Battlestar Galactica and Twin Peaks. The ToonSeum is also home to Illustration Ale, a craft beer with labels designed by local cartoonists.

But, as wide as its range of programs is, the ToonSeum is still a relatively small institution, which is why charities like Good360 are so important to it.

“Good360 has been very good to us. Because of it, we’ve been able to donate super hero toys to kids in the community and tote bags to the local food bank,” Wos said. “Good360 is there when we need it.”

One of Good360′s most significant donations to the ToonSeum was a Dell Latitude D630 laptop computer. The ToonSeum needs computers to help catalog its vast collection, which consists of over three thousand pieces, including comics and illustrations.

“When you think about three thousand pieces of art, there’s so much information to document, everything from who the artist was, what the piece is, the year it was made — it’s just a lot of information,” Wos said. “Having a dedicated computer makes a big difference.”

This is especially important, Wos said, because the museum’s collection is actually stored in an off-site climate-controlled facility. “Being able to move that computer back and forth is a lot easier than moving the whole collection,” he said.

The alternative, Wos, says, would probably require abilities far more specialized than those that he or his staff possesses. “It would take Superman to lift the collection and the Flash to move it quickly,” he said.

But the ToonSeum doesn’t need super heroes because now it has a computer.

Photo: The ToonSeum.