Monday, October 28, 2013

ASTC 2013 Takeaways. Making Good (not "Breaking Bad") in Albuquerque.

The annual gathering of the international clan of Science Center professionals descended on the beautiful desert locale of Albuquerque, New Mexico last week.

While the sessions and presentations during the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) conference (and in the hallways, bars, and exhibition hall!) were eclectic and varied, there did seem to be clusters of topics that kept popping up.

And chief among those topic clusters was the whole Make/Maker Making/Tinkering "movement."  There were several sessions that dove into both celebrations and concerns about how, or whether, to bring a Maker Space to your museum. 

One session that I was part of entitled "Is There Science in a Maker Event?" chaired by perennial gadfly Hooley McLaughlin of the Ontario Science Center raised issues of content over process that were ably countered by two thoughtful Making/Tinkering advocates in Karen Wilkenson from the Exploratorium and Lisa Brahms from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.  There was lively interaction with the audience, but ultimately no firm resolutions (other than suggesting that Hooley needs to visit some more Maker Spaces!)  Other Make-minded sessions explored whether the Maker "buzz" was just a fad, as well as the best ways to work with local communities to create Make spaces and events.

Personally, I find the whole Maker movement an exciting opportunity for museums if pursued with strong community input and realistic expectations about internal logistics (As two simple examples: YES, Maker Spaces should be staffed!  NO, Maker Spaces aren't just a place for a bunch of 3D printers!)

Speaking of 3D printers, there were several vendors in the Exhibit Hall, and several museum colleagues as well who were talking about ways to use 3D printed versions of natural history objects (including scaled-up models of microorganisms!) in really interesting ways.  I'm working on a Discovery Room project that could really benefit from that.

Lastly, another place where I think the Maker/Museum intersection is really going to explode (aside from the current Children's Museum and Science Center booms) is inside History Museums.  If there was ever a place to tie together the making process with actual "made" products, in context, History Museums are it!

Another big thread throughout ASTC 2013 was thinking more carefully and critically about engaging various communities, from the early stages of the process, in our museum work.

Rather than replay all the sessions regarding community engagement, I'll share three links to resources worth checking out in this regard:

Sparticl is an online resource building a community to share the best science resources.  Sparticl has been designed primarily for teens, but it's really a great resource for everyone --- providing access to the best science on the web, curated by experts.

An excellent session about European collaborations between museums and community groups and governmental organizations introduced me to the PLACES project.  Check out their website to see the wide-range of ways that museums are finding to create cities of scientific culture.

Another great online community (which I'll be writing a more-detailed post about soon) comes from CAISE (Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education) in the form of the Web portal called, which is sort of the "one stop shop" for STEM information, evaluation reports, and resources.

In a way, I'm still digesting all the thoughts and conversations from Albuquerque, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that ASTC 2014 will be in Raleigh, North Carolina from October 18 through 21, 2014, and that session proposals for the Raleigh conference are due this November 15th, 2013.

You can check out the ASTC website for more info, and I hope to see you there!

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wellbeing, Civility, Community, and Creating Exhibitions (AND a Contest!)

Creating Exhibitions is both the title of a new book, and the name of a recent symposium that was hosted by Polly McKenna-Cress (one of the co-authors) on the campus of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

While the Creating Exhibitions book is a "must buy" for any museum professional involved in designing or developing exhibits, the three keynote speakers at the symposium touched on (perhaps) less obvious aspects of our work in museums.

Dr. Mark O'Neill, Director of Policy and Research, Glasgow Open Life Museum in Scotland spoke eloquently about the connections between the museums he works for and the communities those institutions serve. One unexpected connection (at least to me) that Dr. O'Neill raised was the relationship(s) between regularly engaging in cultural activities (like visiting museums!) and public health.  Here's a link to a paper on the subject published in the Journal of Public Mental Health.

Keynote speaker Elaine Heumann Gurian, Senior Consultant, The Museum Group,  discussed "Social Collaborations: The Civility of Museums."  Elaine's talk dovetailed nicely with Mark O'Neill's --- especially in the sense that we should be creating museum exhibitions and programs not simply "for ourselves" but rather to find deeper ways to engage with our communities, and to promote civility through our exhibitions and public spaces.

As Elaine eloquently stated during her remarks:  "Museums, by themselves do not make up the civic landscape but I choose to believe that all public institutions have a cumulative and aggregative role in creating a more peaceable and respectful environment for its citizens and visitors.  While museums constitute a small part of the whole, fostering peaceful transaction between strangers is, I believe, a foundational building block toward general civic peace."

The last keynote speaker, Peter Kimelman of The FLUX Foundation, discussed the approach to art and design encapsulated by the Foundation's guiding principle: "Building Art Through Community, Building Community through Art."  In addition to sharing examples of FLUX Foundation's work (such as site-specific installations at Burning Man) Peter also described the interactive work (pictured at the top of this post and on the Creating Exhibitions Facebook page) that was created specifically for the symposium.

All in all, the symposium sessions and interactions served as both an exciting kick-off to the new Creating Exhibitions book as well as a fitting tribute to the late Janet Kamien (who served as the book's other co-author.)

And speaking of the new Creating Exhibitions book, here's the CONTEST where you can win your own free copy of the book! All you have to do is either become a new email subscriber to the ExhibiTricks blog (just click the link on the top right side of this blog page to get started)  
leave a note (in the Comments section below) about an important aspect of creating exhibitions that you think is overlooked.  So either subscribe or leave a comment by Friday, October 25th and I'll randomly select one winner from that combined pool to win the book!

UPDATE: Susan Wageman was the lucky winner of the book contest.  Watch your mailbox for your prize, Susan!

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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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Exhibition Inspiration: Moviehouse NOLA

It's always inspiring (and exciting!) to come across exhibition projects involving smart, enthusiastic people doing things outside the typical "museum box."

And Moviehouse NOLA, a project involving the history and personal stories behind classic New Orleans movie theaters, is definitely such an exhibition project!  (Check out the Kickstarter video at the top of this post or click here to view.)

I've become really intrigued by this developing creative enterprise, so I'm pleased that two key members of the team behind Moviehouse NOLA, Isabella Bruno and Christina Ferwerda, were able to answer some questions and provide more details about this innovative exhibition experience that will open soon in New Orleans (hence the "NOLA" in the title.)

What's the story behind Movie House NOLA? 

Christina: Moviehouse NOLA is a site specific pop-up exhibition that explores the history and reuse of movie theaters in New Orleans. Recent books, newspaper articles, and documentary films have brought attention to the history of these buildings around New Orleans, which have been torn down or repurposed.

In exploring the stories of these buildings, what we've found is that the story of the theaters opens an interesting dialogue about HOW people used to go to the movies, and the purpose that these experiences had in shaping lives. We wanted to highlight the personal stories as well as encourage visitors to think about movie history in New Orleans and what they would like the spaces to be today.

Isabella: I'd also add the idea of Moviehouse NOLA being a really "ground-up" process to make an exhibition, that works faster than a standard institutional exhibition. We have more latitude in content development (aka an x-rated section only for adults, because it's important to not ignore adult theaters as echoes of New Orleans' Storyville past.) We can be *almost* impulsively responsive to opportunities that appear in front of us (like the fact that we might still add a Saenger Theatre uniform with only 3 weeks until opening, just because it's so cool and recently has become available to us).

Its "ground-up" nature can also be seen in the make-up of our supporters, people who love the content so strongly that they invest in its dissemination, by contributing objects collected as artifacts, sharing their experiences as the beginnings of a growing oral history collection and becoming "micro-lenders" who invest in the project via Kickstarter. I think of crowd-funding as purchasing pre-sale tickets which have the added value of helping us buy sheetrock. We are building the exhibition one invested ticket-holder at a time.


Why do an exhibit on movie theaters of New Orleans?

Christina: The topic was ripe for discussion - its been a part of emerging conversation in New Orleans for about a year, and with the reopening of the Saenger and the Joy theaters this year, as well as redevelopment of the Carver theater in process, we want to bring this story to the general public so that they understand the significance of these spaces in the city history. Additionally, New Orleans has such an interesting link to the film industry, and currently the population of film industry professionals in New Orleans has very few options to actually see their own work.

Will this be a travelling exhibit? (Or could this format be adapted to "cinema stories" in different cities?)

Isabella: YES! Definitely. The general idea is universal across most major metropolitan cities, even cities without large populations. The exhibition we've created is a kit of parts that can tell the story of any city that had glorious neighborhood theaters, cinema palaces, or drive-ins at one time. San Francisco has tons of old neighborhood theaters, marquees still standing but now the headlines read like a 99¢ or hardware store trip: "mops, brooms, kitty litter, sale items…" and on the flip-side, the Silver Moon Drive-In has been continuously operating for 60 years in Lakeland, Florida, just outside of Tampa. How did SF's close and Lakeland's stay open? There's big city and small town stories right there. We'd love to create Moviehouse SF, Moviehouse Lakeland and on and on.

If you could start your own theater, what would be the concept (drive in, single screen, multiplex, dollar, rep, etc), where would it be located and what would be the name?

Isabella: I would want to encourage more of the audience participation rituals experienced with cult flicks. One of my favorite high school memories was going to the the New Orleans Worst Film Festival and seeing Plan Nine from Outer Space. It is truly an abysmal film. The audio is almost totally raw, the continuity between props and settings assumes the audience is so dumb that at one point the shot goes from day to night IN THE SAME SCENE. Bela Lugosi passed away during the filming, so they hired another actor to just hide behind the cape and finish his role.

Yet, all these castrophes are made a billion times more enjoyable in present viewing of Plan Nine simply because I have the memory of an entire audience throwing paper plates into the air and booing every time the "UFO" appears in the sky…dangling from a single white string.  I think of John Waters' homage to Smell-O-Vision, when he released Polyester with scratch-and-sniff cards. Whatever the actual space is for my theater, it would be designed to encourage more rituals, improvisation, and participation by the audience.

Is there a NOLA theater or theater related story that has stuck with you?

Isabella: I think I accidentally answered this one in the question above! I'll add that the viewing of Plan Nine wasn't even in a theater, the festival took place in Benjamin Franklin High School on bleachers. For the film, that environment was just the PERFECT vehicle to transport me and I'll never forget it.

Christina: There have been so many great stories in researching this project. I know that one moment I will never forget is seeing Rene Brunet, in his interview, discuss his life in the movie theater industry, and say "I won't regret one day in this business." Hearing that from someone at that age really speaks to the place that these businesses had in the culture of New Orleans.

Could neighborhood theaters return?

Christina: Most of the Historians I interviewed felt that the time has passed for neighborhood theaters - they could never function, especially given the existence of television, Netflix, and other home viewing options. However, I sensed a real desire in a lot of interviewees and people I met while researching for at least some other options. And the more we find out, the more we hear about diverse underground or burgeoning projects that could provide New Orleans residents with some interesting options.

Isabella: Christina talked to many people about this and she has some thoughts from responses in New Orleans. Expanding beyond New Orleans, I hope that we begin to see a resurgence of recycled space in general, whether movie theater spaces or not.

I am truly in love with the work of MiLES, an organization in the Lower East side which is looking for ways to use time and space more efficiently by pooling resources in business infrastructure and available space. As a made up example, why can't a bar be a social club for retirees from 11– 4PM with a series of matinee movies? The bar space gets used in the hours that it can't be open and a service is offered that couldn't sustain the overhead of its own space. It's not just derelict, falling apart spaces that are not reaching their potential, there's wasted space all around us. We need to be more collaborative, conversational, and courageous in our thinking about how space can be utilized and how it can be programmed.

Thanks so much to Christina Ferwerda and Isabella Bruno for telling us more about Moviehouse NOLA! You can find out more about the project by visiting the Moviehouse NOLA Kickstarter and Facebook pages.

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY,  if you've enjoyed the ExhibiTricks blog and gotten new exhibit ideas and resources here over the years, I'm asking you personally to click on over to the Moviehouse NOLA Kickstarter and contribute!  (I'm already a Moviehouse NOLA supporter.)

If every ExhibiTricks subscriber reading this post (not to mention the thousands of weekly readers!) contributed at least $25 bucks to the Kickstarter right now, we'd show our support for innovative and interesting exhibition projects like Moviehouse NOLA, and easily put Isabella and Christina over their fundraising goal.

Let's make it happen!  Please click over to Kickstarter now and show your generous support.

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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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Quick Inspiration: Paper Toys!

One of my ExhibiTricks readers pointed out this neat website that features a range of clever paper toys and free PDF templates and directions to make your own creations.

Have fun!

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!)