Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Thanks and Thanksgiving

This is the time of the year in the U.S. that we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday meant to remind us of all the people and things in our lives that we have to be thankful for.  Despite the turmoil in the world, I do feel very thankful for my family, my work, and the friends I share my life with.

I'm also very thankful for ExhibiTricks Readers and Subscribers!  I really appreciate the thousands of you who read this blog each and every week.  If you ever have ideas or suggestions for ExhibiTricks, feel free to email me.

And now, without further ado, here is one of my favorite posts about ways of thanking our donors, community supporters, and stakeholders:

Many Ways To Say Thanks

Most donor recognition installations in museums are really ways to say thanks.  And who could argue with that?

But you can thank someone with the equivalent of a cheap mass-produced card you grabbed on your way home, or with the donor recognition version of a homemade loaf of bread accompanied by a carefully chosen book inscribed to the recipient.

Last month I asked museum folks for images of interesting and thoughtful examples of donor recognition.  I received an avalanche of images --- many more than I'll include in this post, so I've gathered all the images that I've received into a free PDF available for download from the POW! website.

Just click on the "Free Exhibit Resources" link near the center-top of any page on the website, and you'll see an entire collection of free goodies, including the newly added link called "Donor Recognition Examples."  Once you click on the link you'll get the PDF of images. (Be patient --- it's a BIG file.)

So what sorts of images and examples of donor recognition did I receive?  They fell into several larger categories, namely:

• Frames and Plaques

• Walls and Floors

• Genre Specific

• Mechanical/Interactive

• Interesting Materials

• Digital Donor Devices

So let's take each of the six categories and show a few examples of each.


I'm sure you've seen lots of bad examples of this donor recognition approach, but there is a lot to be said for the simplicity (and creative twists!) that can be employed using this technique.

The image at the top of this post is a nice example of "helping hands" (but still essentially plaques) in this category from the Chicago Children's Museum.

I like the use of colors and the physical arrangements in the following two examples. The first pair of images comes from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh (with bonus colored shadows!)

The next is a sert of back-lit elements designed by Skolnick A+D Partnership for the Children's Museum of Virginia --- The entire unit is essentially one big lightbox!

Light is also used as a strong element in the image below from Macalester College.  The folks from Blasted Art used Rosco's Lite Pad product to create the glowing text.

Lastly, I like this simple example from the MonDak Heritage Center.  Just frames, but it does the job nicely.


Sometimes donor recognition wants to be BIG, in an architectural sense, so interior or exterior walls are used  --- and sometimes even floors!

Here are two exterior wall examples that stood out.  The first from the Creative Discovery Museum

And the second from the Oakland Museum.  They are both colorful and animate nicely what would otherwise be a big blank wall.

 Here's a nice interior wall from Discovery Gateway, in Salt Lake City

Each of the pieces is back-laminated graphics on acrylic.  (Here's a detail.)

Of course, even the best-laid donor recognition plans can get circumvented by operational issues!

And lastly, here's a floor example from The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.  It's the Periodic Table with donors in each element.


Several people sent examples of genre specific donor recognition designs.  A popular motif is to use collection objects or images, especially in the case of Natural History Museums.

Here is the Specimen Wall from the California Academy of Sciences.  It's an elegant  low-tech solution that features specimen reproductions encased in laminated glass. The wall was conceived by Kit Hinrichs and realized in collaboration with Kate Keating Associates, with fabrication by Martinelli Environmental Graphics and glass by Ostrom Glassworks.

Here's a clever use of old school tabletop jukeboxes to recognize donors to radio station WXPN put together by Metcalfe Architecture & Design in Philadelphia.


In the same way that interactive exhibits are fun and memorable, donor recognition can be too!

Gears are a popular motif in this regard.  The first image (Grateful Gears) is from an installation at the Kentucky Science Center, while the second is from the Madison Children's Museum.


Sometimes the design element that gets people to stop and actually read the donor names are the unusual materials that the donor recognition piece is made of. If the materials relate to the institution itself, so much the better!

This first image comes from the San Francisco Food Bank

The next is from the Museum Center at 5ive Points, in Cleveland Tennessee which has a strong history of copper mining.  So this intricate donor recognition piece is made from copper!

I love this clever use of miniature doors and windows at the Kohl Children's Museum.  You can open doors and windows to reveal additional information about donors.

The last entry from this section is the truly striking three-dimensional "Donor Tree" from the Eureka Children's Museum in the UK.


As with all museum installations, digital technology plays an increasing role --- even in Donor Devices.

One unit that stood out was this digital donor recognition device at the National  Historic Trails Center that solicits donations in real-time and puts up digital "rocks" on the rock wall screen of different sizes --- depending on the size of your donation, of course!  A really neat idea that beats a dusty old donation box,  hands down.

As I mentioned earlier, these images are really the tip of the iceberg.  So please check out the entire PDF of all the images I received by heading over to the "Free Exhibit Resources" section of my website.

Also, if you have some other really good examples of donor recognition installations or devices, feel free to contact me and email them along, and I can share them in future ExhibiTricks posts.

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 19, 2015

Exhibit Design Inspiration: Real Time Data Sites

I love real time data visualization websites!  In addition to being a perfect blend of science, art, and technology, the web-sights provide a soothing thrum of information that I find mesmerizing and relaxing.  I also think these sites are great inspiration for museum/exhibit/design ideas.

Some of my favorite real time data sites are listed below:

Wind Map  gives a real time visualization of wind speeds in the U.S. It's like a giant video info graphic!   A more three-dimensional view of wind around the entire globe is available at the earth website (pictured at the top of this post.)

Line of Sight provides a way for you to track satellites and other human-created space materials flying over your current location.

While you are up in the air, check out  a sight that lets you pick out the location of commercial aircraft during their flights.

Coming back to Earth, you can track tectonic activity by seeing the geographic locations of active earthquakes and volcanoes at this site, or view National Weather Service satellite data, including infrared, visible light, and water vapor views.

Finishing up on the terrestrial side, EarthCam is a website that lets you easily choose and view real time webcam feeds from interesting places around the world.

I'll finish out this post with two digital "eye candy" sites.  Tweetping gives you real time data mapping of tweets around the world, while Google Trends Hot Searches gives you a constantly scrolling feed of current trending searches on the popular site.

I hope clicking to these sites gives you some inspiration and enjoyment!  Did we miss any of your favorite real time data sites? Let us know about them in the "Comments" section below!

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, November 10, 2015

Scratching A Niche: Museum People's Tattoos

As if running a museum/exhibit/design blog wasn't filling a very specialized niche, I also co-run a blog in an even more rarefied niche, called "Museum People's Tattoos."

It really is a funny small museum world.  When I saw my friend Beth Redmond-Jones' awesome Manta Ray tattoo (pictured above) on Facebook, I jokingly suggested that we start a blog called "Museum People's Tattoos."

We did it!  You can now check out the new Museum People's Tattoos blog for yourself. 

As the blog intro states: "Many museum folks have a love for tattoos—their cultural significance, their artistic quality, their documentation of the natural world, and some, just for their own personal meaning. For years, we have talked about tattoos, the ones we want, the design, the stories behind them, and the artists who create them ... "

I really love reading about the tattoos and the stories behind them on the blog.  And isn't that what museums are about --- stories and stuff?

So if you'd like to contribute your own tattoo images and stories to the Museum People's Tattoos blog, feel free to send me an email.  C'mon! A museum people's tattoos blog doesn't run itself!

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!)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Museduino: A Contribution to Open Hardware for Exhibits, with ❤ from CTDL

We brought the museduino to ASTC and you’ll never believe what happened next!

I’ve always wanted to open a post with that, although I should have begun by thanking Paul for the generous invitation to guest blog at ExhibiTricks.  

I’m writing from Albuquerque, NM, where in addition to being a professor of Media Arts & Technology at New Mexico Highlands University, I run a small, semi-official lab called the CTDL (Cultural Technology Development Lab) with 5 fabulous collaborators. We hide out in a room behind the Mars Rover exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, devising solutions to make exhibits robust, less expensive, more open, and easier to update & repair. Bring us a problem- small museums, larger museums, national parks, libraries, NGOs; and we‘ll come up with something along the proof-of-concept to finished piece continuum.

From this lair comes the museduino, an open-source kit for building robust electronic-based interactive exhibits. Its history lives here and here on Medium, and its schematics, PCB files, tutorials and projects live on WordPress and Github. In this post, I’ll write about our first public rollout, at an ASTC pre-conference workshop on October 17th, 2015.
Museduino pre-conference workshop at ASTC

We were thrilled to have a workshop filled with 12 engaged participants from around the US, Canada, and even Malaysia (we were also handed a 13-person waiting list with no contact information! Please get in touch, waitlisters!) Experience ranged widely - from “I’ve designed my own PCBs”, to “none, but but very enthusiastic”. This diversity is welcome, and why there are four of us in any workshop with more than 6 people.

We began with an introduction on why we care about open hardware for exhibits. Pretty much everyone nodded along while we addressed issues around maintenance, cost, and the need for rapid prototyping and in-house development whenever possible. Rianne and Miles demonstrated museduino projects for Acadia National Park and The Carlsbad Museum, to show pre- and post-museduino implementation. 

Miles setting up the servo motor demo

Fewer cables! Faster data! 
No voltage drop!

Every workshopper was able to set up their museduino kit to extend the pin footprint of the arduino board to an LED. Each table then added a switch, in order to see how the satellite boards could be as far as 30 meters (100 ft) from the main shield with no visible sensor/actuator delay or voltage drop. This is very important if you are trying to cover a lot of distance.  

Museduino shield with a satellite board & LED

When it was time for group projects, we handed out motors, motion sensors, photoresistors, flex sensors, speakers and many LEDs. The group below designed & built (in 45 minutes) a proof-of-concept for a timed-running exhibit; visitors run a distance of ~80 feet; IR Sharps (infrared sensor) sense where they are in the “race”, giving encouragement and collecting data along the way. This version played a victory tune at the finish line.

Rianne setting up an IR sharp detection with a 30 ft cable

Encourage Post-Prototype Thinking  

Maker-based learning was a major theme at ASTC this year (perhaps it is every year, but this was my first time attending the full conference). While maker/tinker/hacker/spaces may have varied pedagogical and logistical approaches, when it comes to electronics and microcontrollers, open source and arduino-based boards reign. What better platform to build a robustifying system for, than the one that young makers grow up learning? Our goal was to allow makers to have an accessible solution available when their tinkering project moves out of the prototype stage and in to a working long term stage. 
The Museduino shield works for most microcontrollers that use the Uno pin configuration (there’s a list in the blog post & WP site); we’re developing an even larger shield & satellite system for those of you that absolutely must use a Mega. 
Have a project that needs some open source attention? Get in touch with us at, or on twitter @arduinogirl 
Your CTDL team in New Mexico,
Miriam, Stan, Rianne, Miles & Bresdin

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 25, 2015

How I Helped Open The First Children's Museum In Bulgaria, And What I Learned In The Process

Muzeiko, the first Children's Museum in Bulgaria (and really the first truly interactive museum in that entire part of the world ...) opened officially on October 1st, 2015.  Having been involved in the entire development process of Muzeiko for the past few years (and even before the official Muzeiko project started!) has certainly been one of the highlights of my museum career so far.

People often ask how I ever got involved in a museum project in Bulgaria, and what I've taken away from the whole experience.

The story starts in 2007 when I was presenting at the annual Association of Children's Museums (ACM) conference in Chicago.  After one of my talks, an energetic young woman strode up the aisle and introduced herself to me.  "My name is Vessela Gertcheva" she said.  "I'm from Bulgaria, and I want to start a Children's Museum there, since we don't have anything like that in my country.  When we start the project I hope you can work with us."

That's Vessela!
At that point I had never even met anyone from Bulgaria, and I was taken with Vessela's enthusiasm.  We exchanged business cards and agreed to stay in touch.   After Vessela walked away, I thought, "I'm never going to see that woman again.  How am I ever going to end up in Bulgaria?"

So, one of those pleasant serendipitous conference encounters, but that's that, I thought.

Little did I realize that I would receive an email in the Fall of 2009 inviting me to come to Bulgaria to help Vessela work on a pilot project with the New Bulgarian University to develop "Children's Corners" (really small interactive exhibitions geared toward children and families ) in five existing museums throughout Bulgaria. A series of email exchanges commenced, and then along with two wonderful colleagues, Deborah Edward and Sally Yerkovich,  I made my way to Bulgaria in November 2010 for a whirlwind tour of the various museum sites and many meetings with Bulgarian museum professionals and educators to kick the process off.

Deborah Edward and myself at the New Bulgarian University

SIDE NOTE: If you have have the chance to visit Bulgaria, GO!  It is an amazing country filled with friendly people, great food, amazing natural and cultural sites, including a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, like the Rila Monastery up in the mountains.

Rila Monastery

After my initial visit to Bulgaria for the Children's Corners project, I continued to stay in touch with Vessela and offer advice remotely (and even help to coordinate the occasional shipment of materials to Sofia.)  Needless to say the Children's Corners were a big hit!  I was so touched when Vessela sent me a picture of the first anniversary of the opening of the exhibition at the museum in Blagoevgrad --- school children dressed up, sang songs, and even made a cake for the Children's Corner there!

Children's Corner Celebrations in Blagoevgrad!

With the Children's Corners being so successful, The America for Bulgaria Foundation issued an international call for proposals in early 2012 to create the building and exhibitions for a new Children's Museum in Sofia, the capital.  I was part of the proposal with the talented team at Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership in New York, and we won the competition!

Me with part of the Skolnick team in the Sofia Metro

What followed from the middle of 2012 right up until the opening of Muzeiko in 2015 were meetings (both in person in Sofia and New York) as well as flurries of emails and Skype calls to keep everything moving forward.  It truly was a mutually respectful creative partnership between the Bulgarian team and the American team, which I think shows in the final incarnation of the Muzeiko project.

So after nearly four years of planning, prototyping, building (and yes occasionally arguing!) about what would end up inside (and outside!) Muzeiko, I was able to fly to Sofia with my wife to attend the fancy Grand Opening party during the evening of September 30th, 2015.  It was awesome!  Boyko Borissov, the Prime Minister of Bulgaria was there, as well as the American Ambassador, and the Mayor of Sofia.   Ribbons were cut, and a marching band played.  A choir group even sang a special Muzeiko anthem!   It was tremendously gratifying to see years of ideas and passion and hard work come to fruition!  Also, since Muzeiko is the first museum of its kind in the entire Balkan region, I am sure it will have a tremendous impact on the lives of families, children, and educators throughout Eastern Europe.

Bulgarian Spiderman inside Muzeiko!

So what did I learn from my Bulgarian museum adventure?  Three main things:

• Always be open to expanding your museum network 
If I hadn't met Vessela during the ACM Conference in Chicago and stayed in touch afterwards I would have never ended up in Bulgaria.  To me, networking should not be a strictly "quid pro quo" arrangement (what can this person do for me, right now?) but rather an ongoing professional relationship of mutual interest.

• Prototype and pilot!
I'm sure the Muzeiko project is stronger because of the things that were learned from the Children's Corners pilot projects, and the extensive exhibit prototyping (and "soft opening" days) that all happened.  As with most projects, I wish we had done even more prototyping, but the Muzeiko teams really were concerned about trying things out ahead of the formal opening.

• Choose strong creative partners!
I couldn't have asked for better creative partners than the Skolnick team and our Muzeiko counterparts in Bulgaria.  Smart and nice makes a great combination. I always felt that everyone was putting forth their best efforts with a clear shared end-goal in mind.  In the end, I feel that people get the creative partners they deserve --- a creative relationship, like any relationship, needs to be able to survive the occasional bumps in the road.  I want to make sure my creative partners are proactive problem solvers, not finger-pointing whiners.

Muzeiko will always be a special museum project for me.  And I'll continue to use it as a benchmark for future work. Lucky me!

If you'd like to learn more about Muzeiko, check out their website (parts in English!) or this nifty Google virtual walk-through the entire Muzeiko building!

Happy Creative Partners at the Muzeiko Opening

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.  Looking for a great creative partner for your next project? Let's talk!  Email me to get the conversation started.

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 13, 2015

Allons à Montréal! An #ASTC2015 Preview

Soon all roads in the International Science Center Community will be leading to the beautiful city of Montreal for the 2015 Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Annual Conference. (Attendees from Science Centers in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, The Middle East, and Africa will all be in Montreal!)

I'm very excited to be presenting at the ASTC Conference in four different sessions --- each with a different session format.  So if you'll be in Montreal, please join me at any (or all!) of the sessions below:

Starting off on Saturday, October 17th from 10:45 AM - 12:00 PM in the Palais des Congrès de Montréal - 210/220A/230, I'll be part of a poster session entitled:

"How the American Phenomenon of Children’s Museums Led to the Creation of STEAM-based MUZEIKO in Bulgaria"  With colleagues from Lee H.Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, we will explore the impact of the American phenomenon of children’s museums in the creation of MUZEIKO, a new science-focused museum for children that just opened on September 30th, 2015 in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.  Come see lots of cool images and discuss the STEAM-based ideas that drove the development of this truly wonderful museum.  (Plus we'll be giving away one-of-a-kind Bulgarian collectible swag to anyone who stops by!)

Interior view of MUZEIKO

Later, on Saturday, October 17th from 4:30 - 6:30 PM in the Palais des Congrès de Montréal, Room 512D/H, I'll be part of a rollicking participatory session called:

"Mirror: Mirror—Community-Reflected Exhibition Development" along with Dr. Jorge Perez-Gallego and Alexandra Kuechenberg from the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, we'll dig into the notion that the success of a Science Center is partially rooted in how well it reflects the community that hosts it.  Exhibitions, at their heart, have the potential to be a great example of community-reflected development, and we'll work with the audience to explore this topic through a number of participatory experiences.

One of the tools we've produced in advance of this session is "A Science Atlas of Montreal" (which you can download here.) You can use the Science Atlas in and around Montreal whether you attend our Mirror:Mirror session or not.  (Although did I mention that my fellow presenters will be dressed up as Snow White and The Evil Queen, with me presenting as the Magic Mirror?)

A Science Atlas of Montreal

Shifting over to Sunday, October 18th from 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM in the Palais des Congrès de Montréal, Room 512 D/H, I'll be moderating the Exhibits & Education "Flash Sessions" which are quick 10 minute bursts of information on topics ranging from learning about science through toys in Thailand to how the communication of sexual health has evolved over more than 20 years at Universum in Mexico.  You won't want to miss this fast-paced and diverse session!

A selection of Toys that teach Science from Thailand

Last, but not least, one of the most important topics for the current Science Center field will be discussed on Sunday, October 18th from 4:30 PM - 6:30 PM in the Palais des Congrès de Montréal, Room 510B/D in a session called,  "Are Maker Spaces Killing the Traditional Science Center? Is That a Bad Thing?"    

I'll be joined by Hooley McLaughlin from the Ontario Science Centre;  Lisa Brahms from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh; and Karen Wilkinson, from the Exploratorium to debate amongst ourselves and the audience meaty topics including whether process-oriented Maker Spaces do a better job of stimulating interest and curiosity than other Science Center offerings.  I am especially excited to be sharing the dais in this session with such deep-thinking and distinguished colleagues.

In the New York Hall of Science's Maker Space
If you can't experience the ASTC Conference in person,  I'll be using Social Media to transmit live updates and images from Montreal, so you can also follow my posts on Twitter (@museum_exhibits) and Facebook.  

But if you are in Montreal for the ASTC Conference, and you'd like to catch up for a drink or to chat about working together with POW! on future projects, please email me so we can coordinate calendars!

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!)