Sunday, November 23, 2014

Time + Culture + Tech = Radiooooo.com



Here's a quick one, as I ponder my learnings from the recent NEMA Conference and before I write a post recapping that event,

Radiooooo.com is a website now in beta that aims to present crowd-sourced music based on geographical location and decade.

As you can see by the photo at the top of the post, or by clicking over to the website, you can end up in some interesting combinations of sonic times and places!

But don't take my word for it, head over to Radiooooo.com and give it a listen!



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Moving Minds and Bodies: An Encore Interview with Christina Ferwerda





The New England Museum Association (NEMA) Conference will be taking place next week in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  In addition to POW! being one of this year's Conference Sponsors, I'm also really looking forward to being a session presenter.  Follow my Twitter feed (@museum_exhibits) for live updates from the conference!

I'll be part of a spirited session called " Pulling Back the Curtain: Sharing Exhibit Development Choices with Our Visitors" taking place from 8:45 – 10:15 am on Friday, November 21st.  I'm fortunate to be presenting alongside three exemplary museum professionals: Sari Boren, Kate Marciniec, and Christina Ferwerda.  Given that, I thought now would be an excellent time to post an "encore" version of the interview I did with Christina last year.  Enjoy!


Christina Ferwerda is an independent professional who bridges the worlds of museums, education, and movement. Her practice drawing from museum experiences, and moving (dance, yoga) has been an important part of her development as a teacher and a learner.  Working in Museum Education for over 10 years fueled Christina's desire to make varied cultural spaces more user-friendly for people of all ages, and led her to start working in Exhibition Development.  She currently works with partners in New York City (her home base) and North America as well as on projects abroad.

I was excited and pleased that Christina was able to provide this interview for ExhibiTricks!



What’s your educational background?  Well, I had a really hard time deciding what I wanted to do - I think as you grow up, there is a certain pressure to know what you want to "be" when you get older.  I started college as a journalism major, but found the field so cutthroat and competitive: it was a real turnoff. Therefore, my undergrad degree became a mishmash of a variety of fields - journalism, art history, studio art, and theater. I was surprised that Marquette University let me graduate! Now that I work on exhibit development, I can see how all of those fields fit together, but at the time I just wanted to finish, and felt like that combination of fields represented a path of some kind.

After I finished undergrad, I moved to Paris (by accident! I went for vacation and didn't return for 2 years). While there, I studied French history and culture at La Sorbonne. And when I moved to New York, all of these experiences came together with a graduate degree at Bank Street College of Education. It became clear that my skills could be used to create education programs and exhibits for everyone to enjoy.



What got you interested in Museums?  I grew up in a very small town in New Hampshire, and therefore museum-going didn't really figure into my young life - I spent most of my time finding bird feathers in the woods with my sister. However, in college I started to notice how much imagery and art helped me understand and express myself. When I went to Europe for the first time in 1998, I went to basically every museum I could find. And the true, transformative experience came when I found a late Picasso painting "The Matador and the Nude" (1970). I sat in front of that painting for about 2 hours, just thinking about the various shapes, lines, emotions and experiences that must have informed its making. After that, I was hooked. Today I go to tons of museums, as well as performances of various kinds.




Why Yoga AND Exhibits?  Great question - so many people ask me about that, and are curious about how I can make a living doing both.  So many of the experiences that museums provide center around providing a very concrete bit of information in a creative way - as institutions strive to help the public understand complex ideas and opinions. The goals of a regular yoga practice are very similar, however the ideas that are being communicated are often very philosophical and internal. What interests me is the intersection of the two - the very generalized idea and the personal embodiment. Making physical shapes that are connected to things we see and concepts we understand bring a more developed grasp of the information.

A very simple example that I use very often in teaching yoga is to cue my students to imagine that they are in a comic book, as Superman, and that their foot or hand is being accompanied by the word "POW" in the jagged text box. The visual informs a very physical and concrete movement and a sensation of energy in that part of the body, and the movement of the body brings a real visceral understanding of the image.



Tell us a little bit about how your “non-museum” skills/activities inform your exhibit design work?  I think the most important connection for my personal work is through yoga.  I really learned about having  a "practice" - coming back to the same ideas and goals, but constantly trying to explore and be inventive with them to find new and interesting approaches. Very often when I'm working on complex projects, I'll find a related movement goal and try to push the two forward together. This past winter, when we were working on the first children's museum in Bulgaria together,  I was struggling with language and the language barrier. Therefore, I chose a complex yoga pose that is highly connected to creativity and expression (the famed Scorpion pose). Of course, as you practice, you embody and think about those goals. I found a great method of communication that worked for the project and moved it forward.




What are some of your favorite online (or offline!) resources for people interested in finding out about the intersection between movement and museums.  Of course, there are quite a few resources online to learn about the latest in movement research and museums. However, I tend to try and go to as many things as I can in person - performances, exhibits, and especially performances or movement classes AT museums. The two fields are starting to intersect and overlap more and more, as the divide between performance and art becomes blurred into performance art. I also find it incredibly important to watch the way people travel and move within an exhibition - are they comfortable getting on the floor, or attaining a different view of an object, and is that posture available to them? I learn quite a bit that way.

I've recently been a bit disappointed in yoga classes that are offered in museums and cultural institutions - its such a rare opportunity to draw from the surroundings, and I haven't often found classes or teachers that make reference to the artwork or setting that surrounds them. I'm hoping to see a more conscientious connection between the two in years to come.



What are some of your favorite museums or exhibitions?  I'm a huge fan of Olafur Eliasson - I will go and find his exhibits whenever and wherever I can. His work has a really nice physical and visceral quality. I saw him speak, and he discussed striving for his work to have a "wow" moment, followed by an "aha" moment - one gets excited and hooked, but that curiosity fuels a revelation. That goal shines through his work and is something that I try to keep in mind when I'm thinking about yoga classes or museum experiences - that the experience should be physically and mentally exciting, and that the experience will feel more complete if there can be an educational realization tucked in there somewhre. I think the museum I've been to the most is MoMA, I like the way that sightlines and divisions of space create little "surprise" moments with art. To me it feels very personal, like I'm getting a special showing of the artwork. 



Can you talk a little about some of your current projects? Well, I'm about to head to New Orleans to install Moviehouse NOLA, a small social history and contemporary art exhibit. It's been a very challenging and rewarding process, building an exhibit about movie theater history there. I'm also continuing to work on a children's discovery room for the Florida Museum of Natural History and of course, continued work on Muzeiko, a children's museum in Bulgaria. They are all at different stages of development, so it definitely keeps me on my toes!

I'm also continuing to work on bringing movement to spaces infused with meaning - I just taught at a Zen monastery, and will be leading another retreat there in July. The movements are based on Zen philosophies and the life of the Buddha, and I'm working with an amazing co-teacher Kristen Mangione.



If money were no object, what would your “dream” exhibit project be? Ha, this changes every day for me! Recently, though, I've been thinking a lot about "the walking man" - a concept that Bill T. Jones used in exploring his last piece "A Rite."  Walking is so mundane, yet we rarely think about it. I'm sure there is some amazing research about culture, body language and walking . . . .





Thanks, Christina for sharing your thoughts and insights!  You can find out more about Christina Ferwerda and her work moving minds and bodies via her website or Twitter feed (@rationallunatic).



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Exhibit Design Inspiration: The Artwork of Kevin Van Aelst



There's always something appealing to me in people who create beautiful and interesting things from simple materials.  I guess that's one of the reasons I find artist Kevin Von Aelst's images so striking.


In Von Aelst's own words:  "My artwork is an attempt to reconcile my physical surroundings with the fears, fascinations, curiosities, and daydreams occupying my mind. The photographs and constructions consist of common artifacts, materials, and scenes from everyday life, which have been rearranged and reassembled into various forms, patterns, and illustrations. 

The images aim to examine the distance between where my mind wanders to and the material objects that inspire those fixations. Equally important to this work are the 'big picture' and the 'little things'--the mundane and relatable artifacts of our daily lives, and the more mysterious notions of life and existence. This work is about creating order where we expect to find randomness, and also hints that the minutiae all around us is capable of communicating much larger ideas."



I've included two images here, but really you should click on over to Kevin Von Aelst's website to appreciate the entire range of his work.



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Can Museums Shift, If The "Old Guard" Doesn't Budge?


I worry a bit about museums.

There are significant shifts happening in the Museum Biz, reflective of society at large.  Things like co-creation, crowd sourcing, the rise of Maker Spaces, "everyone a curator," digital distribution of experiences, and the unfortunate mismatch between the demographics of museum audiences (older, richer, whiter) and the growth of the communities around them (younger, less white, less affluent).

Designer Anab Jain frames changes like these as The New Normal

In one way, the New Normal ---  these continuing shifts and changes, provide tremendous opportunities.  On the other hand, the notion of things like "Art Everywhere" that this article posits, or the notion of creating museums without the onerous overhead and infrastructure of buildings, is a bit scary and confusing.

But I feel like many long-term museum leaders (the "Old Guard" if you will) are either ignoring or disparaging the changes embedded in the New Normal in favor of doing things the way they've always been done before.

That "this is the way we've always done things" approach didn't work out well for the auto companies in Detroit, and it isn't working out so well for print media like newspapers.  I can't see how that oblivious "we've always done it this way" approach will work out well for museums, either.

When I first started working in museums over 30 years ago, I thought I could I could just "wait out" the Old Guard, but in some ways, I feel like I'm still waiting.  There's an obstreperous and intransigent lot that seems like they'll never get off the stage and give the younger people coming up behind them a chance to help the museum field grow and evolve.

Maybe the Old Guard in museums has just always been resistant to change.  In years past, cultural institutions without "formal collections" (like many children's museums and science centers) weren't even officially considered museums. 

Maybe this is also partially a generational thing.  A recent Wall Street Journal article, "Everybody's an Art Curator" discusses outsourcing exhibits to the crowd, and then asks "Is it time to rethink the role of the museum?" One telling part of the article describes a (former) employee of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History who quit after a planning meeting for an exhibition project.  “It really looked like a bunch of college kids had gotten drunk and decorated their dorm rooms,” said the 66-year-old Santa Cruz resident, who has worked as a curator for 25 years.

As someone who participated in that particular project in Santa Cruz (and who admittedly was once an occasionally drunk college student) I would gladly stack the body of my work (and the work of fellow participants like Dan Spock, Kathy McLean, Maria Mortati, and Eric Siegel, to name a few) against the "sour grapes" objections of that particular curator, who refused to even be part of the process!


So what to do about all of this?  


First off,  I'd applaud the work of folks like Susie Wilkening and James Chung of Reach Advisors who realize that one important way to help museums become more relevant to shifting audiences (and funders!) is through data-driven, research-based approaches, not self-congratulatory, anecdotal "feel good" stories about our impact.

I'd also call out some of the excellent creative partners I've had the pleasure of working with on recent projects  --- museum professionals who continue to look for better ways to engage our audiences in meaningful and authentic experiences, both inside and outside museums.  Folks like Sean Duran at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, and Vessela Gercheva at Muzeiko in Bulgaria.  Ellie Byrom-Haley at Gecko Group, and Becky Lindsay at Mindsplash.

And lastly, I'd also recognize folks like Nina Simon (Director at the aforementioned Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz) and Seb Chan (Director of Digital & Emerging Technologies at the currently under renovation Cooper-Hewitt Museum in NYC)  who push the museum field to try important new things, and who share their successes and failures. 

As Seb said at a speech to graduating exhibition design students earlier this year: "The New Normal is here to stay.  It is times like these that we need museums more than ever to help us make sense of the present."


Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Big Picture AND The Fine Details: An ASTC 2014 Recap



This year's ASTC Conference was a wonderful combination of discussions and sessions on "big picture" topics like Community Engagement, and the science behind Maker Spaces, as well as "fine details" like the best tech tools to use in our work, or the coolest educational demos.

This balance of philosophical and practical permeated the conference and all of my conversations and experiences outside the formal conference sessions as well. I'll comment on a few of the sessions I attended or presented at here, along with some links to follow-up resources. On the "Big Picture" side, the session “Where is the Science in a Maker Space?” tackled the tensions inherent in the paradigm shifts that the popularity of Maker Spaces, Maker Faires, and Design Education are forcing museums to confront. You can find a nice recap of the session here on the ASTC blog. (There are also descriptions of other sessions and activities there as well.)

Panelist Lisa Brahms from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh also provided a link to research and resources about building a framework for Making in Museums and Libraries. Check out the makingandlearning.org site!

Troy Livingston and Kate Tinworth presented the “20+ Trending Tech Tools” session with some great apps and digital tools to help every museum person work smarter, not harder. Kate and Troy posted their presentation slides here, but they will also be updating that webpage with additional notes and content from their session. Great stuff!

A fun session (pictured at the top of this post) was “Twist and Shout: Using physical movement in STEM education.”  As the name implies there were lots of movement activities, but panelists stressed research connecting the importance of physical activity with learning. A true microcosm of the big picture/fine detail dichotomy at this year's conference!  (Here's another blog post describing the session --- with bonus video and references!)

While I could detail quite a number of other memorable conference experiences (including the "Science Busking" session that featured the World's second biggest whoopie cushion!) I'll finish up this post with a big tip of the hat to Keith Ostfeld, from the Children's Museum of Houston, and his fellow presenters for putting on the eight annual "Indie Style" session --- this year with a HOMAGO (Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out) twist.

The session featured multiple low-cost, high impact activities guaranteed to help advance museum visitors’ curiosity, creativity, and comprehension. Even better, all the participants shared the directions and materials for making the activities at your own museum. You can download a Dropbox folder of all the documents by following this link.

Looking ahead to 2015, the ASTC Conference will be in Montreal.   Since I'm part of the Conference Program Planning Committee, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that if you'd like to submit a session proposal just click on this link.  Also, if you attended this year's Conference in Raleigh,  PLEASE take the time to fill out evaluations about the conference in general, as well as specific sessions you attended. Your comments can help make next year's ASTC Conference even better!



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Flying Into ASTC 2014!



I'm excited to be heading to the annual conference of the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) later this week in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I'll be presenting three times at the conference and I'd love to meet any ExhibiTricks readers who will be there!

On Sunday, October 19th, from 1:00 - 2:15 pm, I'll be part of a star-studded cast of presenters in a Pecha Kucha session that asks the question, "What If There Wasn't A Building?"  In a museum world filled with starchitects and unsustainable building expansion projects, I can't think of a more timely topic.  Come join us for some interesting presentations and spirited discussion!

Also on Sunday, from 4:00 - 5:00 pm near the ASTC publications booth in the Exhibit Hall, I'll be doing a meet-and-greet to celebrate the recent publication of the fourth book in the ASTC Exhibit Cheapbook series, "Cheapbooks Greatest Hits."  I'll be discussing inexpensive exhibit ideas and resources and also have some examples with me for show-and-tell!

On Monday, October 20th, from 2:30 - 3:45 pm, I'll be diving into a deep discussion of the Maker Space wave sweeping museums with Hooley McLaughlin (of the Ontario Science Centre)  Lisa Brahms (of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh)  and Karen Wilkinson (of the Exploratorium.)  Our session is entitled "Where Is The Science In A Maker Space?" and is a continuation of the spirited session we all hosted last year. 

I look forward to seeing old friends (and meeting new folks!) during the conference.  The best place to meet with me in Raleigh will be right after the sessions I mentioned above, but if you'd like to schedule a specific time to discuss projects or the possibilities for working together, please email me so we can do our best to carve out some time to chat!

If you can't be in Raleigh, I'll also be tweeting from the Conference, so follow my #ASTC2014 posts at my @museum_exhibits Twitter account!



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)