Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What Happened to the "Science" in Science Museums?

Karen Heller wrote an interesting article in the Philadelphia Inquirer recently about "The Franklin" (formerly known as The Franklin Institute, before its "rebranding.")

Let's just say it wasn't pretty. She bemoaned the museum's lack of science in it's glitzy offerings and equated the museum's exhibit areas with a casino.

For the most part, I'd say Ms. Heller's article could have just as easily been describing most of the "big" science centers (like those in Boston, or L.A., for example.) The emphasis seems to be on quick, flashy ways to bring people in and sell them junk from the gift shop(s), and downplaying, almost apologizing for, the science.

Is this what happens when the only bottom line is the "bottom line"? Take the time to read Heller's article (note especially the responses to the poll questions about The Franklin) and let us know what you think in the "Comments Section" below.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Exhibit Design Inspiration: Toys From Trash

"Toys from Trash" is part of a larger site based in India that details how to construct HUNDREDS of fun little devices out of simple household materials.

Many of the toys have a scientific bent, and range from from a clever "Gyro Disk" made from a spare CD, to a simple DC motor.

Toys from Trash makes a great resource for museum folks, and a perfect idea generator for anyone who wants to have fun making simple science toys.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Exhibit Design Resource: FindSounds

Given the fact that museums are continuing to develop more and more multimedia exhibits and web-based adjunct experiences, finding digital versions of particular sounds to create these resources is often an issue.

So where do you go if you need, say, the sound of an umbrella opening, or an elephant's roar?

One great resource for your sonic searches is the FindSounds website. It's sort of like Google for people in search of particular digital sound files.

Simply enter a search term, like "umbrella" and FindSounds does the rest. You can additionally set parameters for particular file types, file size and sample rate as well.

FindSounds has found its niche, and fills it well. Give it a whirl (and a listen!)

Have a favorite web-based exhibits tool that you couldn't live without? Let us know your favorites in the "Comments" section below!

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Planning for People in Museum Exhibitions: An Interview With Kathy McLean

Kathy McLean is a real dynamo who keeps thinking about ways to improve museum exhibitions, and the process by which exhibitions are developed, even after many years in the field. She is currently the president of VSA, The Visitor Studies Association.

Kathy has shared her insights about the exhibition process through her collection of thoughtful books on the subject, most of which are available through ASTC or AAM. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for ExhibiTricks about her work and background.

What’s your educational background?

I attended Friends World College, an experimental college founded by Quakers in the 1960s and based on the notion that if we better understood people's cultures and traditions, we would have a greater chance at achieving global peace. The college was modeled after Dewey's theories of education as experience and the American Friends Service Committee work camps, and we spent our four undergraduate years doing work-study at seven regional centers around the world. I spent most of my time in Mexico, Kenya, India, and Japan.

What got you interested in Museums?

I was looking for a job in the early 1970s, and the Oakland Museum had a number of positions funded by CETA, the Comprehensive Education and Training Act which was an extension of the WPA. I was hired as a Museum Curatorial Specialist to participate in the development and design of a major exhibition—Earthquake!—funded by the National Science Foundation. After about two months at the museum, I realized that this was the type of place that brought together all of my interests— informal education, cultural studies, environmental studies, and civic engagement.

What are some of your best/favorite examples of innovative exhibits?

I still appreciate "The Etiquette of the Undercaste," developed back in the early 1990s by Antenna Theater (not to be confused with Antenna Audio). I went through it at the Experimental Gallery at the Smithsonian. I say "went through it" rather than "saw it" (which is what most people say when describing their experience of an exhibition) because it was a physical experience as much as an experience of sight and the imagination. I entered the exhibition by lying down on a mortuary slab and being pushed into a body vault. On the other side, I was "reborn" and got up and walked through the exhibition as a homeless person. The entire exhibition seemed to be constructed primarily of cardboard, tape, and string. An extraordinary experiment.

I have written a lot about "Massive Change," an exhibition by Bruce Mau on the notion of design as the ultimate tool of social change. I enjoyed the exhibition because of its fresh approach to old rules—many of them deliberately broken—regarding exhibition design and communication. It was a traveling exhibition organized by the Vancouver Gallery of Art, and it only went to three venues, partly because it was large and expensive, but I think primarily because it couldn't be pigeonholed. Was it an art exhibition, a science exhibition, a history exhibition? It didn't fit into the museum mold. Too bad.

One of my favorites that I worked on was "Boundaries: It All Happens on the Edge" at the Exploratorium. It took less than $50,000 and 6 months to develop, from initial idea to installation. An environment constructed of painter's scaffolding, construction fencing, road signs, and large evocative graphics on cardboard panels, it contained a variety of interactive exhibits, immersive environments, and visitor feedback components dealing with a broad range of notions of boundaries, from semi-permeable membranes to personal space, from physics to psychology. It was a real oddball at the Exploratorium partially because it was such an intentionally designed environment, and partially because it was so thematic. One staff member said it was "the ugliest exhibit we have ever done." But visitors seemed to be very engaged, visitors from the Society of Environmental Graphic Design Conference were very excited by it, and it won an AAM Award for Exhibition Excellence.

Tell us a little bit about ExhibitFiles and your role in that?

For years, one of my soapboxes has been that museum exhibition professionals are ahistorical, every few years reinventing the same old wheel. I wrote "Planning for People in Museum Exhibitions" to help overcome that myopia. I've always dreamed of creating an exhibitions archive or some way to gather the knowledge and experience of past and present colleagues so that future colleagues could benefit from their experiences. When I worked on "Best Practices in Science Exhibition Development," I had my first opportunity to facilitate the creation of 12 case studies of exhibitions that colleagues considered to be exemplary. Wendy Pollock and I dreamed up the idea of continuing that process online, and with Jim Spadacinni as the digital designer, ExhibitFiles was born. I am co-PI on the NSF grant that funded the startup. For the most part, my role now is to contribute, to encourage others to contribute, and to think about ways to improve its usability and access.

Why are so many current museums and exhibitions replaying the same design approaches?

I think it gets back to the old "reinventing the wheel" problem. People don't KNOW they are replaying the same design approaches. People don't build on what others have done—or take things in new directions—because they are operating in a relative vacuum. And most museums aren't pushing for excellence—"adequate" seems to be good enough.

Can you talk a little about some of your current projects?

I recently finished conceptual consulting work on the Dallas Museum of Art's Center for Creative Connections (C3)—it opened in May.

And I'm now working on a wonderful reinstallation project at the Oakland Museum of California. I am the consulting Creative Director on the History Gallery redesign. It's strange, because I started my career at the Oakland Museum, and now I am back there 30 years later. It is wonderful to have a major project in my home town, and not have to fly around the country. It's a challenging project, because it has a very tight budget and time frame, and we are trying to do some experiments with interpretation and design. We are incorporating a number of visitor and community co-designed elements, and we are planning on a "soft" opening, after which we will test everything in context and redesign based on the results.

I'm also working with Wendy Pollock on another book—this one on museum spaces (spaces in both the real and metaphoric sense of the word) and the work is very engaging. I keep thinking back to one of my favorite articles about museum space— "The Museum as Symbolic Experience" by Sheldon Annis—which describes three concurrent types of museum visitor experience: in cognitive space, where people acquire factual knowledge; pragmatic space, where the person rather than the object is the focus and museum-going is a social event; and dream space, or the arena of the symbolic.

Being President of the Visitor Studies Association also keeps me busy. I am working with an extraordinary group of visitor studies professionals who are shepherding the organization through a major expansion of its reach and its mission.

What design trends from outside the museum world should we be paying more attention to?

I think technology-based customization is a big one. Whether people are designing their own jeans online or virtually experimenting with different room colors before they paint their house, the public is coming to expect to be able to participate in the design process in some way. And to create something just for them. This has huge implications for museum exhibition design, which has always tended to be a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Can you talk about your role in the "Plants Are Up To Something" project, and the increasing interest in zoos, aquaria, and botanical gardens in interactive exhibits and immersive environments?

The Huntington Conservatory's Project Manager Kitty Connolly brought me onto the project as an advisor during its initial stages. After I left my position at the Exploratorium in 2004, I got more involved as a consulting designer. I think the project and the installation have been successful because of the amount of thoughtful formative evaluation they did over several years. I know zoos and aquaria have been experimenting with interactive elements for some time now. But I think "Plants Are Up to Something" is the first time a botanic garden has created something so authentically interactive.

If money and time were no object, what would your “dream” exhibition project be?

I don't really need a lot of money or time to do my dream exhibitions (and I have several I keep thinking about). I need organizations that are interested in presenting unusual, thought-provoking experiences. I would love to have the freedom to design some small, experimental installations with museums willing to take a risk.

Before I left the Exploratorium, we were developing an idea for an exhibition on social psychology—tentatively titled "Them and Us"—which was very exciting to me. I'd like to develop an exhibition on symbols, symbolism and archetypal psychology, using the work of Joseph Campbell and others. I'd also like to take a constrained situation—like one cubic foot of earth, or one cubic foot of air—and develop a whole exhibition around it. And I'd love to do an exhibition on the transformative power of music.


Thanks again to Kathy McLean for sharing her thoughts about museums and museum exhibitions!

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Museum Resource: The Periodic Table of Videos

Here's a great resource for both museum exhibits and education programs --- The Periodic Table of Videos!

The University of Nottingham in the UK has created a YouTube channel of videos for each of the elements in the Periodic Table. They don't have all the elements on video yet, but they're getting there!

It's clear from watching the presenters on the videos, that everyone involved had great fun putting them together.

Check out the videos for yourself at the PToV website, or via YouTube.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Exhibit Maker's Toolbox: Black & Decker 36" Gecko Grip Level

Eventually you will need to hang something for an installation. Whether it's a label or a piece of art, using a level really makes the difference between doing things easily and correctly, and just winging it. It's really obvious if you walk through a gallery where someone "just eyeballed" the hanging and positioning of the labels and the wall-mounted pieces.

You DO have a level in your kit of tools, don't you?

If not, you should check out the Black & Decker 36" Gecko Grip Level (with Accu Mark.)

Black & Decker's 36-inch Accu Mark level is designed to perform any basic leveling job easily. You can hang pictures, shelves, and labels like a true exhibits professional -- with none of the guessing and re-guessing that damages walls with repeated drilling or nailing.

The Gecko Grip friction pads help keep the level steady under pressure. These non-slip pads work so well that you can even hold the level with one hand and mark the wall with your other one. Even better, these grips won't leave a scuff, so the paint on your museum walls will stay looking fresh.

This model also features two adjustable "Accu Mark" targets that slide along the center rail. These marks help you hang pictures and shelves with built-in wall mounts or preset hang holes; just line up the marks with the mounts on the back of your pictures, then place the level against the wall and note the hanging/attachment spots with a pencil.

Even if you don't add this particular level to your personal arsenal of tools, save yourself some trouble and bring some sort of level to your next installation!

You can get more information (or purchase) the Black & Decker 36" Gecko Grip Level at Amazon

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

An Architecture Of Participation: An interview With Nina Simon

Nina Simon, the creator of the Museum 2.0 blog, is a one-woman idea factory and independent museum professional based in California. I was able to pull her away from her bucolic workspace (see photo above) to answer a few questions about her work and herself:

What’s your educational background?

I went to WPI, a small engineering college in Worcester, MA with a focus on hands-on learning. I learned to weld and build explosive electronic stuff. I left with a degree in electrical engineering and a minor in math, confident I would never again pick up the phone to hear a friend say, "Nina, come over here with as much metal as you can. I'm discharging a giant capacitor and I just vaporized a fork."

What got you interested in Museums?

I've always been interested in free choice learning. In high school, I got my hands on Grace Llewellyn's book, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education and only my obsessive geekiness and the potential of my mom having a heart attack kept me from quitting to pursue my own education. But I did go on to read every book by John Holt and Paulo Friere and spend time on a free school farm in Minnesota.

In college, I taught differential equations and was shocked at how many of my fellow students hated and feared math. I also learned pretty quickly that engineering wasn't a great fit for the creative performer in me. I started searching for a place where I could share my love of math and science without handing out grades, and started working at science museums (the Boston Museum of Science and the Acton Discovery Museums) immediately after graduating.

What are some of your favorite museums or exhibitions?

I love the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a place I visited frequently as a teenager (and continue to visit whenever I'm back in LA). It's one of the few museums that has a mysterious aura to it--it feels like slipping into an attic or a book you read whenever it rains. I feel changed by each visit and that energizes me.

I loved the James Turrell exhibit at the Mattress Factory (2003) for the same reason--mysterious, dark corridors opening into astounding light, like secrets opened just for you.

I love the Exploratorium, a place that also feels like home for me. Each time I go in I feel ready to talk to strangers and interact with lovely, satisfying phemonena. It brings out friendliness and hope. The City Museum does the same. I don't think the City Museum is successful because of the "danger." I think it's successful because, like the Exploratorium, it assumes that its visitors are people worthy of awesome, unusual experiences.

I was really impressed by the Experience Music Project. I learned a ton. The museum uses technology and media intelligently, tells strong stories, and the interactives are killer. While there are definite negatives to the "single player" music booths, I think Quatrefoil did an amazing job creating experiences where you really feel like you could be a musician. I'm the daughter of a musician and I never felt as comfortable messing around with instruments as I did at EMP.

What prompted your interest in 2.0 technologies/communities and starting Museum 2.0?

My husband runs a software company called The Electric Sheep Company that deals with new technologies and a lot of his employees are hyper-connected, creative people. From them, I started learning about the world of Web 2.0, seeing how it was changing the business and social landscape of the internet. A huge revolution happened--and is continuing to happen--very quickly on the Web. It's the most accelerated media change in history. And I started drawing analogues to museums, getting excited about how we might similarly change our media (spaces, exhibits, programs) to engage visitors in new ways as participants and co-creators. I don't think that museums can or should undergo as dramatic and chaotic change as the Web supports. I think we should watch carefully from the sidelines and reach out and snag the good stuff whenever and wherever we find it. And that requires being engaged as a learner in that world.

Of course, there's a more personal reason I started the Museum 2.0 blog. I'm a free choice learner. I didn't want to go to graduate school, but I did want to pursue my own education in museums and learn enough to have something to say to some of the really smart people I was meeting at conferences. The blog really started as a personal learning device. It continues to be that for me, but now there are more co-learners involved.

Tell us a little bit about The Tech’s exhibit development experiments using Second Life and your role in that?

The Tech is experimenting with a new exhibition department model that combines content experts with community managers. The content experts drive exhibitions conceptually, and the community managers translate those concepts into opportunities for creative folks around the world to design interactive elements and exhibit pieces to address those concepts.

There are two over-arching strategic goals with the project--to tap the brilliance and expertise of the whole world for exhibit content, and to develop exhibits on a very short timeline by working in parallel with many virtual exhibit development teams. I led the initial pilot of this model, developing an online community space in Second Life where creative amateurs could work together to design virtual prototypes for exhibits on the theme of technology in art, film, and music.

In three months, over 250 people submitted about 50 exhibit concepts on that theme. I then led the translation of the best of those virtual exhibits into a real exhibition of interactive analogs. The whole process, from the opening of the virtual workshop to the opening of the real exhibition, took 6 months.

I've written a lot about this project and its challenges and successes on the Museum 2.0 blog under the keyword "Tech Virtual," which you can find on the right sidebar under "Past Posts by Topics".

What are some of your best/favorite examples of both Web 2.0 and Museum 2.0?

There are several different kinds of Web 2.0 and Museum 2.0 projects. The best of these share a few commonalities: easy and rewarding entry point, clear benefits of the networked effects of more and more people participating, high quality experience for the lurking non-content provider (most Web 2.0 users are lurkers, not creators).

My current favorite Web 2.0 services are Flickr, the photo-sharing site, Twitter, the short-form communication platform, and Pandora, the personalized internet radio station. I love Flickr because it gives me access to a huge range of images I could never find through other search engines. I love Pandora because it exposes me to new music in an intelligent way. I love Twitter because unlike blogs, which are soap boxes (and I love my soapbox!), Twitter is a level playing field way to share information with others.

There are also some Web 2.0 services, like del.icio.us and LibraryThing, which I use, but rarely for the social functions. They keep my stuff (websites, books) in order.

On the museum side, I love every example of art museums letting visitors write labels (San Jose Museum of Art in the past, Tacoma Art Museum currently). I thought the Art Gallery of Ontario's In Your Face portrait exhibit was fabulous. I liked how the London Science Museum invited visitors to contribute their own toys to a larger curated exhibition on play. I'm interested in a range of visitor co-created exhibits, including Brooklyn Museum of Art's Click! and the Minnesota Historical Society's MN150.

Can you talk a little about some of your current projects?

I'm working with a few museums to strategize about how participatory design will be worked into their plans, whether for individual exhibitions or programs or for large-scale institutional planning. Some of these have to do with visitor co-creation of exhibits, as at the Chabot Space Science Center, where I'm helping plan a three-week institute in which teens will design exhibits as part of a larger exhibition on black holes. Others have to do with pushing the boundaries of how visitors are engaged in exhibits, as at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where I'm helping conceive an exhibit component that encourages visitors to take a social/political action related to global warming.

I'll be teaching a museum grad course in the spring at the University of Washington (Seattle) on social technologies, and I look forward to working with those students on designing exhibits and experiences that intentionally support visitors (strangers) talking to and interacting with each other.

I'm also starting up a personal project with my dad, a podcast show called Museum Hater. He's a musician with a lot of free time, an artsy boomer who never goes to museums. We're going to visit museums and talk about why he (and lots of people) never go to museums. It will be funny, but we're also trying to dig into that essential question: who doesn't come and what keeps them from doing so? We usually approach that question with regard to underrepresented ethnic groups. But there are lots of people of all kinds who don't visit museums, and I think we need confront that and find out why.

How do you think museums will be different 10 years from now?

Not different enough. I think museums will keep dragging their feet on visitor participation, citing technological complexity when the real obstacle is the lack of willingness to give up authority. I hope that collections-based museums will move towards designing exhibits that set up the artifacts as opportunities for discussions. I hope that science and history museums will move away from big attraction-style setups to more open-ended and experimental attempts. I hope that programs and exhibits will fuse into a more holistic form of content sharing in the museum. I hope we can let people sit on couches and eat in the museum. But I expect there to be a gap between these hopes and reality.

What 2.0 technologies/techniques do you think are underutilized currently in museums?

There are two related techniques I think we are most lacking. First is profile power--the ability for a visitor to be recognized and responded to as a unique individual. On Web 2.0 sites, everything revolves around you. Your Facebook page shows you what your friends are up to. Your Netflix account shows you what you rented, what you enjoyed, and what you might enjoy. Even at the library, your card relates you to certain books and fines. But at most museums, even members are faceless. We have so little data about what people like, what brings them in, what brings them back. And that makes for poor audience development both in terms of providing a sticky experience (by making them feel personally valued) and cultivating potential donors.

The second thing is the right to a personalized visit. There's this weird bias in museums, especially collections-based ones, against confronting the reality that visitors like some exhibits and artifacts more than others. We don't make it easy for people to express their preferences and receive custom content (i.e. other exhibits you might like) based on that. Again, Netflix isn't offended if you rate a movie poorly--in fact, that information HELPS them serve you better. We need to turn our heads around to a model where we understand that we can provide overall better museum experiences if we respond to visitors' likes and dislikes.

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

Hm. Two dreams. First, I'd like to build a place that operates as a bar but also provides social interactives--objects and experiences that encourage people to interact with each other. But since this is a dream I'm hoping to realize in the next five years, let me tell you about another one.

I'd like to work with a collection-based museum to create an entirely networked visitor experience. By this I mean that the museum tracks data about the visitor in every way--which artifacts they visit, how long they stand in front of each piece--and responds to the visitor constantly to provide new content and opportunities of interest. Conceptually, this means treating every visitor as a unique individual, offering the exhibits, the programs, and the other visitors that might interest that person as they move through the space. This is as much related to gaming as it is to social media. Games (and Web 2.0 sites) store what you've already done. They give you new challenges and rewards based on your previous actions.

How do you decide on topics for your Museum 2.0 blog?

I keep a running list of things I "should" write about--projects that come up, interesting articles people send me. I am vigilant about posting 2-3 times a week, never less than 2, even if I'm working overtime on other things. I focus on four main areas of interest: relevant projects (social media, games, art) happening outside museums, experiments happening inside museums, theoretical arguments about the future of museums, and explanations/demystifications of technologies. I try to balance these within a given week so that I don't post twice in a row about Web 2.0 tools or any other specific element.

I spend about equal amounts of time weekly learning about new things (reading, interviewing people, visiting exhibits) as I do writing about them. It really is an educational experience for me.

Are museums good forums for 2.0 interactions and communities?

YES! This is why I'm so excited about the whole idea. Web 2.0 doesn't mean that the real world is obsolete. In fact, most active users of Web 2.0 sites are frequently scheduling meetups in-person to connect live. And there is no ideal place for those meetings--no real world analog to the community spaces popping up on the Web. I think museums have a huge opportunity to become those analogs, to become physical places that experiment with ways in which regular people can create and share content with each other. We already have congregant spaces. We're trusted places about content. We have stuff. Now all we need is the desire and the trust to make it happen.

2.0 and Green Design are two of the hottest topics right now in the museum biz. Do you see any connections between the two?

Both get more lip service than action. Both sound expensive. I'm glad to see that much of the green design discussion is moving to include our practices (cradle to cradle exhibit production, for example) and not just "ideas we share with visitors." The same thing has to happen with 2.0--it can't just be a talkback wall. It has to be part of how we do business to be legitimate.

I think it's interesting that both 2.0 and green design are in large part reactions to visitor pressure. Kids are the greatest champions of recycling in America. They expect it from their families, their schools, and hopefully from their museums. Likewise the ability to judge, comment on, and remix content.

This is a good thing. The more we feel the need to respond to visitor cultural expectations, the more relevant we will be to their lives.

What’s it like to live “off the grid” in the shadow of Silicon Valley?

Awesome! As an engineer at heart, I love living with systems that are easy to master and fix without a specialist. It's elegant in a scrappy, rustic way. We compost our human waste for fruit trees. We get our power from the sun. We don't have fancy Dwell magazine-style green systems--it's more like summer camp in the country. It was interesting to move here and realize which things we didn't need (like flush toilets) and which were necessary (hence a major winter project to move from dial-up to high-speed internet). And we've met several other hippie/techies living similarly in this area.

My partner's work involves much more computer time than mine, and when we lived in the city, he was always working. Here, things are different. I love living in a place where it is so easy and compelling (and on cloudy days, necessary) to unplug. We spend our free time building tree houses and wandering in the woods. It keeps my life balance healthy.

Thanks again to Nina for taking the time for our interview. Check out Nina's interesting and enthusiastic musings at the Museum 2.0 blog.

Know another "big thinker" inside or outside the museum biz that you'd like us to interview? Drop you suggestions into an email or the Comments Section below.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

More Exhibit Design Inspiration: Festo AirJelly

It must be something about the warm weather on Long Island that brings out these "oceany" inspirations! (see my previous Golden Ray post.)

The Festo Corporation created this beautiful remote controlled "AirJelly." It's a little more than a meter across and weighs just under three pounds.

Festo's main website is in German, but they also provide an almost poetic PDF brochure in English about the AirJelly project that outlines the history of gas balloon flight and the analogies drawn between air and water as "fluids." (Apparently many of the early gas balloon gondolas were modeled after the hulls of ships!) This history of gas balloon flight served as an inspiration for the development of AirJelly.

In Festo's brochure, the AirJelly is said to be powered by "peristaltic motion" thanks to a clever adaptive gearing mechanism produced by Festo.

The AirJelly is just one in Festo's mechanical menagerie that also includes "AquaJelly".

I'd love to see an AirJelly inside the atrium of a big museum or airport!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Exhibit Inspiration: Golden Ray Migration Photos

I admit it, the header photo and the link to the complete photo set mentioned below, are only tangentially related to exhibits know-how.

But they are just amazingly cool!

Amateur photographer Sandra Critelli came across the migrating rays while looking for whale sharks. The complete photo set is viewable at the Telegraph (UK) Newspaper site. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Another Cautionary Tale For Museums: What Happened To The Millennium Dome?

I happened upon the Danny's Land blog today, and aside from the fact that Dan Howland points out both Laurie Anderson's and Thomas Dolby's favorite oddball amusement parks (That would be "Dollywood" for Laurie and "Diggerland" for Thomas) he also offers a free PDF download of a treatise called "Dome and Domer: The Increasingly Stupid Story of the Millennium Dome."

The premise of the Millennium Dome: "Let's spend lots of money to build a ginormous new attraction with lots of flashy technology --- so many visitors will come, that it will be self-supporting!" certainly sounds familiar to museum people.

Unfortunately, initial bursts of civic enthusiasm and bucketfuls of municipal money do not make for long-term, sustainable business plans for museums. (See our previous posts on COSI Toledo and The Mark Twain House.)

Some of the important lessons learned from The Millennium Dome fiasco outlined in "Dome and Domer" are obvious in retrospect: the people who designed it weren't the people who had to run it, there was no cohesive "vision" to the entire enterprise, simple things like throughput and lines weren't taken into consideration, and tons of money was frittered away on bozo ideas like robotic pubic lice (!)

Obvious though such points about the 'Dome may be, there are still many museum projects hoping to survive on good intentions rather than sound business fundamentals.

Rather than detail here the many hilarious (and scary!) goofups that ultimately doomed the 'Dome, I'll let you download and read "Dome and Domer" for yourself.

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