Sunday, July 23, 2017

If money were no object, what would your “dream” exhibit project be?


Over the past ten(!) years that I've been writing the ExhibiTricks blog, I've conducted interviews with museum folks from around the world. I always love going back to these interviews to be reminded of the various practitioners and points-of-view in the museum business. (You can do a search on "interviews" in the search box on the right-hand side of the ExhibiTricks front page to peruse my "back catalog.")

One of my favorite questions to put to interviewees is: If money were no object, what would your “dream” exhibit project be?

But I'd like to open this question up to all ExhibiTricks readers --- If money were no object, what would your “dream” exhibit project be?  Please let us know in the "Comments" section at the bottom of this post.

I've been thinking about "dream projects" a lot lately, so I've gathered up some responses to that question from some great museum folks that I've interviewed on the blog previously and included them below:


Erika Kiessner: I would love to do a science exhibition about a city, embedded in the city landscape. I imagine walk-up exhibits on street corners and points of interest that draw your attention to something in the vicinity and give a science-based explanation for it. From architecture to wind patterns, local flora to material properties, there are elements of a city that are easy to take for granted even if there are fascinating explanations for them.

For example, in Toronto one of the big downtown office buildings has a cantilevered portion that suspends 13 stories over the sidewalk. An exhibit there might draw an area on the ground with the statement “Standing here there are XX thousand pounds of concrete suspended above you!” Then an explanation about how the building is constructed to support the structure overhead.


Dan Spock: I’ve got tons of them in reserve, but the most impractical one I’ve always wanted to do is a combination museum and resort hotel where you’d get to live, sleep and eat in the museum. It would have guest rooms, lounges, restaurants, a pool, a bar, a day spa, all of which are a part of game-like exhibits you can party in around the clock with other guests. The museum could be about anything, but maybe it would be about a journey of self-realization. Something about the choices you make in life and where they lead you, a place where you can experiment with alternative paths and identities you’d never dare take in real life.


Jamie Glavic: My dream museum project would be to host a part Dirty Jobs, part How It’s Made, part Mysteries at the Museum. The show would highlight off the beaten path, interesting destinations/hidden gems around the world/the untold stories behind collections. The show could be titled, "It Belongs in a Museum!" It could also highlight the many museum jobs that exist outside the realm of curator, docent, and director. Hmmm...maybe "You Belong in a Museum" would be better.



Clifford Wagner:   I’d love to put together a team to make an exhibit that helps people really think about their place in the world and how we can help achieve sustainable well being for all people and for the planet.  I sincerely believe we have the knowledge to do so.  It wouldn’t be an easy exhibit to create—it’s a tough topic.  But I can’t imagine anything more important. 

For me, the most important question of all is  How are you helping?  How are you helping all of us have quality lives?  For us working in museums, the way we help is to make things that enrich our visitors’ lives. We help visitors understand science phenomena, we make creative spaces where kids play and grow. 


Carol Bossert: I don’t think it is a matter of money,women in science that have won the Nobel Prize. Each of these women tells a fascinating story, sometimes just because their lives seemed so ordinary yet they made extraordinary contributions to science.  I also think they would serve to put real faces on specific scientific achievements and this would help make science more accessible and interesting to many.



Jason Jay Stevens: I'd like to cast a set of giant ceramic upright bells.

For centuries, the Chinese used hand bells to measure the volume of dry goods in the marketplace; there were strict regulations for the making of the bells and particular notes represented particular quantities. I love this overt correspondence between two seemingly disparate things: sound and quantity. So each of my giant bells would correspond to a particular standard volume ("one cubic meter," "one hundred bottles of beer," "boot space in a 1954 VW Beetle"). We can call the exhibit "The Well-Tempered Volume."

Is money really no object? The bells would be mounted on gimbal yokes of solid oak, installed beneath a great pavilion, surrounded by gardens organized in a taxonomic maze, and full of sonorous sculptures activated by wind and water.

Really really no object? I would like to make a second set of these bells and install it in the Antarctic. Wouldn't it be nice to know there is a set of giant upright bells on the bottom of the world?!



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Thursday, July 13, 2017

4 Things Exhibit Developers Can Learn From Trevor Noah


I knew a little bit about comedian Trevor Noah from his role as host of The Daily Show.

But I've learned a lot more about how growing up as a mixed-race child in apartheid-era South Africa shaped Trevor Noah's life by reading his memoir, "Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood."  Noah's book is an entertaining read that sheds light on a set of experiences that are by turns hilarious and harrowing.

As I was reading Born a Crime, I kept thinking about four key aspects of Noah's narrative that are worth keeping in mind when crafting the stories to share in your next exhibition project:

1) Make it personal  Too often museums tie themselves in knots trying to be "neutral" or by presenting what they hope is an unbiased editorial voice about the subjects of their exhibitions. That's bogus.  The very fact that an institution has chosen to interpret a particular set of ideas in an exhibition belies the notion of neutrality.  Trevor Noah shares some deeply personal incidents in his memoir, and that's part of what made it resonate with me.

2) Show your emotion(s)  Haven't you ever met someone who was so enthusiastic about an unlikely subject that you couldn't help getting enthused as well?  You and your team are intrigued and excited by the ideas and objects (or the "stories and stuff") in your exhibition, so share that emotional connection with visitors so they can get pulled into the experience as well.

3) Humor makes messages memorable Trevor Noah describes himself first and foremost as a comedian so you would expect Born a Crime to be funny.  But Noah's humor is gentle and always in the service of carrying a message forward.  How can you be a little more playful in delivering your content, and pushing past the "stuffy" stereotype that many people hold about museums?

4) Provide unexpected information I learned many new things about South Africa from reading Trevor Noah's book, but I never felt as if I was being lectured to.  The content in many museum exhibitions feels as if it is merely checking off a series of messages approved in airless meeting rooms.  If you can't get sincerely enthusiastic about presenting novel exhibition content, why do you think your visitors will care about it?

Narrative is such an important resource in the exhibit developer's toolbox that it's wonderful to encounter examples of great storytelling like Born a Crime that can provide inspiration for our own museum work.


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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Design Inspiration: Rainbow Wave GBC



I love projects that use simple, familiar materials to create surprising and wonderful effects.

And Berthil van Beek's "Rainbow Wave GBC" made of Legos certainly meets that creative standard! (GBC stands for Great Ball Contraption. That specification includes the balls themselves --- they have to be tiny soccer balls or basketballs. machine built according to the GBC standard can be connected to other GBCs to make large connected displays.)

You can see the Rainbow Wave GBC in action by viewing the video at the top of this post or by following this link.

And if you need additional inspiration to pull out some Legos, click on over to Mr. van Beek's YouTube and Flickr pages to see more of his clever contraptions.


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Monday, June 26, 2017

Outdoor Creative Design Inspirations (Summer 2017 Edition)


As summer begins here in the U.S. the mind naturally turns to the glories of warm weather days spent outdoors.  So here are four outdoor-oriented projects to inspire creative design thoughts:

1) Monstrum
Why play in a playhouse, if you can play in moon rockets, submarines, giant snail shells, clown heads or Trojan horses? That's the question that motivates Monstrum, a group of designers and craftspeople creating unique playgrounds from their workshop in Copenhagen.  Click on over to the Monstrum website to see images of their playful and beautiful work.





2) Your Rainbow Panorama
Here's a bit of museum/exhibit/design inspiration that evokes light, and the sun, and endless horizons: artist Olafur Eliasson's architectural installation entitled  "Your rainbow panorama."

Situated on top of the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum art museum in Aarhus, Denmark, Your rainbow panorama invites you to experience the familiar (a city skyline) in unfamiliar ways. Olafur Eliasson's creation consists of a 150-meter-long and three meter-wide circular walkway in glass in all the colors of the spectrum. 





3) One Day Poem Pavilion
Artist Jiyeon Song has created a sculptural structure that utilizes perforations carefully arranged throughout the top surfaces.  As light shines through the Pavilion's holes at different angles, legible text is created on the sidewalk underneath.  Different lines from a poem appear at different times of the day, due to the position of the sun.  What is super cool is that (again, due to the sun's position) one poem appears during the summer, and a different poem appears in the winter.






4) Miguel Marquez Outside
Michael Pederson is a street artist and photographer in Sydney, Australia. His blog Miguel Marquez Outside shows, among other projects, signs that Pederson has placed in public. They look official and offer rules, suggestions, and information about the area.

Many of Pederson's signs twist the traditional notion of informational signs (like those found in museums!)  I wonder how we could play with visitors' expectations in outdoor exhibits by using ideas like this?



If you find other inspiring and creative projects during your summer travels, send me an email with links, descriptions, and images so I can feature them in future ExhibiTricks posts!



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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Connecting My Dad and My Museum Career


Father's Day is a meaningful day for me, not only because I have four great kids, but because it gives me time to think about my father, Orlando Orselli, who died in 2001.  My dad certainly helped set many of my ideas about work and parenthood, and I'm thankful for that.

My dad worked most of his adult life for The Ford Motor Company, first at the Rouge Plant, and then at the World Headquarters building (The "Glass House") in Dearborn, Michigan.  He was a Stationary Steam Engineer, which basically means he worked with BIG boiler systems.

Even though he didn't go to college, my dad instilled a love for books and learning, and the importance of education, upon myself and my two younger brothers while we were growing up in Detroit.

Because he worked the midnight shift, he made time to go on school (or scout or Boys Club) field trips during the day and then take a nap before he would drive to work later that night. He thought it was important that my brothers and I helped him fix things around the house and knew the names and uses of the tools in his basement "workshop".

When people ask me how I got into the museum business, I am sure memories of the day when my father took me when I was little (by myself, without my mom and brothers, for some reason) to Detroit's "Cultural Center" to visit the Historical Museum (the streets of "Old Detroit"!) and the Children's Museum (things I could touch!) and the Institute of Arts (Mummies!) all in one long afternoon may have something to do with it.  Many, many family trips involved museums, or zoos, or nature centers.

Even though my career choice in museums might have puzzled my father a little bit, he always told me, and other people, how proud he was of the work I was doing.

Please never underestimate how important museums can be to people, especially kids and the adults they will become.

Thanks Dad!



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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Design Inspiration: "Nature's Reflection"


I love the elegantly executed installation "Nature's Reflection" by Brooklyn-based brothers and artists ICY and SOT.

Like many great design ideas, Nature's Reflection seems quite obvious after you see it, yet still creates a quite powerful and thought-provoking impression.




You can find out more about the entire range of ICY and SOT's work by clicking over to their website or Instagram 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.

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