Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What Is A Science Map?



To quote from the scimaps.org website:  "Science maps serve as visual interfaces to immense amounts of data, depicting myriad objects in ways that allow us to effectively discern apparent outliers, clusters, and trends"

Or, put another way, science maps are cool visual representations of information that you can pull ideas and inspiration from!  You can see some examples above and below in this post.

A visit to the scimaps.org website is like a trip down the rabbit hole of infographics and scientific visualization.  The organization works with artists to display maps of information ranging from Geologic Time to a Map of the Internet itself.

Click on over to the Scimaps website to find out more about the Places & Spaces: Mapping Science exhibitions, and to view examples of the stunning science maps online.




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If you like the ExhibiTricks blog, you should check out the Paul Orselli Workshop (POW!) website.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Exhibit Design Inspiration: 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 exhibits by using ideas like this?

You can find many more images/interventions on the Miguel Marquez Outside blog, and check out this recent interview about Pederson and his work.





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

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


If you've read this far, why not click on over to the POW! website to find out more about Paul Orselli and his work, as well as how to contact POW! to get started working together!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and Related Events

The recent series of events, from Ferguson to Cleveland and New York, have created a watershed moment. Things must change. New laws and policies will help, but any movement toward greater cultural and racial understanding and communication must be supported by our country’s cultural and educational infrastructure. Museums are a part of this educational and cultural network. What should be our role(s)?

Schools and other arts organizations are rising to the challenge. University law schools are hosting seminars on Ferguson. Colleges are addressing greater cultural and racial understanding in various courses. National education organizations and individual teachers are developing relevant curriculum resources, including the #FergusonSyllabus project initiated by Dr. Marcia Chatelain. Artists and arts organizations are contributing their spaces and their creative energies. And pop culture icons, from basketball players to rock stars, are making highly visible commentary with their clothes and voices.

Where do museums fit in? Some might say that only museums with specific African American collections have a role, or perhaps only museums situated in the communities where these events have occurred. As mediators of culture, all museums should commit to identifying how they can connect to relevant contemporary issues irrespective of collection, focus, or mission.

We are a community of museum bloggers who write from a variety of perspectives and museum disciplines.  Yet our posts contain similar phrases such as  “21st century museums,” “changing museum paradigms,” “inclusiveness,” “co-curation,” “participatory” and “the museum as forum.”  We believe that strong connections should exist between museums and their communities. Forging those connections means listening and responding to those we serve and those we wish to serve.

There is hardly a community in the U.S. that is untouched by the reverberations emanating from Ferguson and its aftermath. Therefore we believe that museums everywhere should get involved. What should be our role–as institutions that claim to conduct their activities for the public benefit–in the face of ongoing struggles for greater social justice both at the local and national level?

We urge museums to consider these questions by first looking within. Is there equity and diversity in your policy and practice regarding staff, volunteers, and Board members? Are staff members talking about Ferguson and the deeper issues it raises? How do these issues relate to the mission and audience of your museum?  Do you have volunteers? What are they thinking and saying? How can the museum help volunteers and partners address their own questions about race, violence, and community?

We urge museums to look to their communities. Are there civic organizations in your area that are hosting conversations? Could you offer your auditorium as a meeting place? Could your director or other senior staff join local initiatives on this topic? If your museum has not until now been involved in community discussions, you may be met at first with suspicion as to your intentions. But now is a great time to start being involved.

Join with your community in addressing these issues. Museums may offer a unique range of resources and support to civic groups that are hoping to organize workshops or public conversations. Museums may want to use this moment not only to “respond” but also to “invest” in conversations and partnerships that call out inequity and racism and commit to positive change.

We invite you to join us in amplifying this statement. As of now, only the Association of African American Museums has issued a formal statement about the larger issues related to Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island. We believe that the silence of other museum organizations sends a message that these issues are the concern only of African Americans and African American Museums. We know that this is not the case. We are seeing in a variety of media – blogs, public statements, and conversations on Twitter and Facebook—that colleagues of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are concerned and are seeking guidance and dialogue in understanding the role of museums regarding these troubling events. We hope that organizations such as the American Alliance of Museums; the Association of Science-Technology Centers; the Association of Children’s Museums; the American Association for State and Local History and others, will join us in acknowledging the connections between our institutions and the social justice issues highlighted by Ferguson and related events.

You can join us by…

  • Posting and sharing this statement on your organization’s website or social media
Participating Bloggers and Colleagues

Gretchen Jennings, Museum Commons
Aletheia Wittman and Rose Paquet Kinsley, The Incluseum
Aleia Brown, AleiaBrown.org
Steven Lubar, On Public Humanities
Mike Murawski, Art Museum Teaching
Linda Norris, The Uncataloged Museum
Paul Orselli  ExhibiTricks: A Museum/Exhibit/Design Blog
Ed Rodley, Thinking About Museums
Adrianne Russell, Cabinet of Curiosities
Nina Simon, Museum 2.0
Rainey Tisdale, CityStories
Jeanne Vergeront  Museum Notes

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How Can Museums Respond Faster?


How can museums respond faster to issues that our visitors and communities are concerned about?

Recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island come to mind, but also ongoing issues like Ebola are topics that museums could tackle and/or provide forums for community dialog.

The issue, once you move beyond the broader question of whether museums should be doing this (which I think is a given) is how.

Museums tend to move s-l-o-w-l-y, so how can they provide programming that doesn't just automatically default to links on a website (sort of the museum version of "slacktivism") but also provide timely and concrete ways for visitors to explore tough topics with each other?

Gretchen Jennings and others in the museum/blogging community have been talking about this, with an aim to provide ways for folks to build bridges between successful programs and ideas in order to learn from one another's efforts. (And also to give museums and museum organizations a little nudge to stop being silent and/or "neutral" about topics of deep concern to the communities we serve.)

I'm happy to help spread the word about those efforts as they come together, so stay tuned!



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.

And find out more about how to work with POW! and Paul Orselli here.

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Objects + Emotions


The recently concluded NEMA (New England Museum Association) Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts was BIG.

Over 1200 attendees jammed the sessions and hallways of the conference hotel.  I'm sure the promise of Cambridge (and Boston) drew many of those conference goers (as a comparison, the recent ASTC national Conference drew around 1700 people) but over 1200 attendees for a regional conference is fantastic!

Part of this has to do with the incredibly strong work the staff of NEMA does all year long in putting together excellent programs for the NEMA membership. The Annual Conference is just the culmination of those efforts.


So what stood out for me this year in Cambridge?  I felt that many of the ideas in sessions (and in after-session conversations) revolved around the intersection of objects and emotions.  As a matter of fact, one of my favorite sessions from this year's conference was entitled "Objects & Emotion" and was presented by Linda Norris and Rainey Tisdale.  The presenters started off by emphasizing the important ways that emotion and memory are connected, and led session attendees through exercises with real objects and memories.

Along the way Rainey and Linda cited research by John Falk that points to the importance of emotional content for long-lasting memories of visitors' museum experiences (handouts from this and other conference sessions can be found on the NEMA website) as well as a great quote from a blog post by Alli Burness:

"I’m aware of missing out on stories, context and learning by disregarding interpretive text even when accessible to me in my own language. But by playing around with looking as I travel, I’m learning to see differently, rediscovering how my subjectivity and emotions can have a role in my museum experience.  When researching later, I’ve found the emotions I feel when looking are rarely at odds with the story or meaning these objects are widely accepted to have. In fact, the emotions join hands with the meaning and both ring out louder. I’ve felt more deeply connected to these objects. I wonder if museums design exhibitions to allow a valuable experience to be had if the labels are ignored or read?"

Lastly there was a shout-out during discussion about the Significant Objects project, itself a nimble intersection between object and emotion.



Many other sessions during the NEMA Conference could also be viewed through the object/emotion lens as well.

"Pop-Up Programming and Exhibits in the Community" touched on the wide range of programming (involving real objects) and the strong emotional chords that were struck by bringing experiences out of the museum and into non-traditional spots in local communities.  Presenters from The Providence Children's Museum, The Peabody Essex Museum, The Maria Mitchell Observatory, and The Vaughan Homestead Foundation shared their experiences.

In general every speaker emphasized that different forms of pop-up programming have existed over time, and that many, if not most, programs that head out into local communities are a result of "too much stuff and not enough staff."

In the end, especially for smaller or remote museums, a primary aim for pop-up programming is to "go where the people are" and connect (emotionally!) with folks through objects and stories in a way that will encourage a visit to the actual "bricks and mortar" museum bringing these programs to the public.



One sessions that was not directly about objects and emotions, but that definitely stirred strong feelings from session attendees was "The Graduate School Conundrum."

The session asked whether getting a graduate degree in Museum Studies (or similar programs) was "worth it."  It was clear that many recent graduates in the audience, along with job seekers struggling to find a spot in the museum profession, were very conflicted about that question.  There was a general concern about whether more and more graduate programs turning out more and more graduates for a relatively small number of museum jobs was ethical, let alone practical.

Lively interchange with the audience provoked comments such as: "getting a graduate degree for a museum job is a form of academic hazing" and a question of whether Museum Studies programs were a "Ponzi scheme" !   (You really had to be there to appreciate the strong emotions in that packed conference room!)   Of course nothing was definitively settled, but I'm still thinking about that session!


Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a session that I was involved in called "Pulling Back the Curtain: Sharing Exhibit Development Choices with Our Visitors."  My co-presenters Sari Boren, Kate Marciniec, and Christina Ferwerda dealt with an exhibit development question directly tied to the intersection between objects and emotions, namely, how much of our internal development process (the choice of objects, the selection of topics, the decisions about editorial points of view ...) should we share with visitors, and how?

We started the session discussing two recent art exhibitions, Cy Twombley's  "Treatise on the Veil" 
which very deliberately brought the viewer into the artist's process, and Kara Walker's "A Subtlety" which, I would argue, very deliberately kept many of the artist's goals and intentions opaque.



We broke out into small groups to discuss the possibilities of "Pulling Back The Curtain" in the context of four different exhibitions (in four different types of museum) Slavery in the context of a Historic House, Climate Change at a Science Museum, Introducing different communities in a Children's Museum, and Food-related cultural traditions in an Art Space.

While each exhibition/venue presented different challenges, one common thread that emerged was the importance of including real stories (and visitor stories, where possible) in the development process and in the final exhibition.  That was one way to break down the (perhaps artificial) wall between "Us" and "Them"  --- the museum and the audience.

And ultimately that feels like an ongoing personal takeaway from this year's NEMA Conference, as well as an on-going professional challenge --- how best to break down the barriers of traditional practice that prevent us from sharing the strong intersection between objects and emotions with the communities we are trying to best serve at our museums.



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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And last, but not least, you can find out more about Paul Orselli and POW! at the main Paul Orselli Workshop website.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Time + Culture + Tech = Radiooooo.com



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

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

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

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



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

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Moving Minds and Bodies: An Encore Interview with Christina Ferwerda





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

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


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

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



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

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



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




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

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



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




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

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



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



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

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



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





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



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

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Exhibit Design Inspiration: The Artwork of Kevin Van Aelst



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


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

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



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



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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

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


I worry a bit about museums.

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

Designer Anab Jain frames changes like these as The New Normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


So what to do about all of this?  


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

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

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

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


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

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Flying Into ASTC 2014!



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Sunday, October 5, 2014

What's The Big Idea?

A recent article in The Washington Post about the new exhibition “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations” at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) made me think about the importance of "The Big Idea" in exhibition development.

The Post journalists basically put forward the notion that much of the NMAI visitor experience inside the exhibitions (but not the universally acclaimed museum cafe!) suffers from a lack of clear organizing concepts.  To quote The Post directly about the formation of the institution: " ... the leaders of the NMAI allowed individual tribes extraordinary input and power over what viewers saw in the museum’s galleries. The results were controversial: It was, in many ways, the ultimate postmodern museum experience, with no central narrative, no omniscient voice and no absolute appeals to the voice of science and history. But from the visitor’s point of view, it was also bewildering."   

But now it seems that the NMAI has gone back to the fundamentals of exhibition narrative (aka "The Big Idea") as described by Beverly Serrell in her foundational book "Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach."

Rather than employing community curators and multiple perspectives, the NMAI brought in writer and Indian rights activist Suzan Shown Harjo to curate the "Nation to Nation" exhibition and to bring a strong editorial voice to the proceedings.

To be clear, strong curators can drive forward lousy exhibitions just as readily as a chaotic mish-mash of community input can, but it's difficult (and I'd say nearly impossible) to create a great exhibition without a strong central idea overall and equally strong messages as you break up the exhibition into smaller and smaller physical and conceptual chunks --- down to the individual exhibit component and informational graphic level.

You would think understanding the importance of strong exhibition narratives and clear framing ideas to create compelling visitor experiences would be "Museums 101" but it's apparent from my recent visits to a variety of museums around North America, that it's not clear at all.

How the Big Ideas get lost 


And I suppose there are two main reasons for why the Big Ideas get lost:

1) Crafting strong Big Ideas, and testing your concepts out with visitors, is hard!  It takes time to get the foundational ideas for an exhibition in place, and it takes institutional commitment to keep working at it, and trying things out to get honest responses from visitors and advisors.  That doesn't mean it's not worth doing, but rushing into physical designs and exhibit concepts before you have your exhibition conceptual framework in order is either a result of inexperience, or the result of significant outside pressures.  Which brings us to reason Number 2 that Big Ideas often get lost:

2) Don't let money or lack of perspective derail your exhibition narratives.  Of course every exhibition benefits from, if not downright requires, outside funding and input.  But something significant is lost when exhibition decisions are made to please outside funders (or community groups) rather than the end users inside the museum.  At its worst, this perversion of the exhibit development process pimps out the museum and misrepresents the ideas inside the exhibition.

So what's to be done to ensure that strong Big Ideas become the foundations for equally strong exhibition experiences?  Aside from buying, reading, and then implementing the ideas in Beverly Serrell's book, I'd say allying yourself with strong advisors, community leaders, and other stakeholders who put the visitor experience first is a good place to start.

There may well be some tense discussions when you push back against funders or members of the public trying to advance agendas outside the scope of a particular project, but the efforts will show in your final exhibition!



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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dieter Rams 10 Principles of Good Design



Dieter Rams is an important industrial designer whose work deftly spans both the 20th and 21st centuries. (You can see his influence on designers like Jony Ive at Apple, for example.)

I've kept bumping into articles and books (like the excellent As Little Design As Possible) about Rams recently, so I thought I'd share his 10 Principles of Good Design below.  The 10 Principles certainly seem like a good reference as we think about design work in museum (and non-museum!) settings.


Dieter Rams Ten Principles of “Good Design”

Good Design Is Innovative : The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

Good Design Makes a Product Useful : A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

Good Design Is Aesthetic : The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful. Good Design Makes A Product Understandable : It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Good Design Makes A Product Understandable : It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Good Design Is Unobtrusive : Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.

Good Design Is Honest : It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept

Good Design Is Long-lasting : It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.

Good Design Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail : Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

Good Design Is Environmentally Friendly : Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

Good Design Is as Little Design as Possible : Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.



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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Quick Creative Inspiration: Camera On A Car Wheel


Artist Dirk Koy had a simple, but great, idea --- stick a camera on a car wheel.

The results are hypnotic and a great reminder to creative folks that even simple materials can lead to spectacular results.

Enjoy the video here


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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Museum Hype or Museum Hope?



How do you know if a trend lighting up the Web, or the latest issue of Museum magazine, will be something of lasting value,  or whether it's almost pure hype?

More importantly for your museum, and the people who visit your museum, can you tease out the actual "hows" and "whys" for implementing a buzzy program idea, instead of just the "whats"?

It's amazing (and a little disheartening) to me how often the real answer for doing something new at a museum is a combination of:

• everyone else is doing it

• we can lots of publicity out of doing it

• anything connected to [insert hyped topic here] can get us funding   (As an aside, the acronym STEM should really stand for "Simple To Extract Money")


So let's take two different topics that have been buzzing around the cultural sector for the past few years:  Maker Spaces and the notion of "Hacking The Museum."

Setting up a Maker Space at a museum (or increasingly often, the local public library) can readily veer into the "hype" zone:

• lots of places are doing it (I'm actually working with FIVE different projects right now that want to include Maker-type Spaces in their new buildings!)

• Media outlets love to do stories on cute kids and/or wacky nerd types making things

• Funders love Maker Spaces!  (Especially if you tie making to STEM.)

The good news is that there actually is some long-lasting value in Making and Maker Spaces underneath the hype, especially if the institution creating a Maker Space is committed to being thoughtful about staffing, community engagement, and appropriate tools and materials (it's not all about 3D Printers!)

The further good news is that thoughtful, and readily available information exists online about the qualities that constitute a great Maker Space.

The slight bit of bad news is there are still plenty of museums merely rebranding their existing "recycled crafts areas" (filled with cut up magazines and cereal boxes and glue sticks) as Maker Spaces to latch onto funding.

That doesn't mean Maker Spaces are just hype, but it does mean those particular museums are as bogus as their pseudo "Maker Spaces" are.  In a similar vein, my jaw dropped (literally!) at a recent Science Center conference session where at least a dozen folks admitted that they received funding for creating a Maker Space, but had no real idea of how they were going to go about doing that!

In sum, even though there's much righteous hype surrounding Maker spaces, there's a long-lasting, meaty core of programming, content, and philosophy there that thoughtful museum folks can build upon.

Unlike "Hacking The Museum" which is 99% hype.


What does the term "hacking the museum" even mean beside being naughty or transgressive?  As the late great Steve Jobs would tell upstart software developers before crushing them, "that's a feature, not a product."

And the hopeful "feature" that makes the 1% non-hype aspect of "Hacking The Museum" worth your attention is the piece that gets you to think about re-examining the way of doing business at your institution. Not merely with the aim or being shocking, but with the aim of adding programs or approaches with lasting value to visitors.

And that should always be the core "product" behind our work, not just some buzzy "feature."


What do you think?  Where's the line between hype and hope in the museum biz these days?  Let us know in the "Comments" section below!



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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

12 Museum Theorists at Play



Graduate students from the Museum Education program at Bank Street College of Education, under the direction of Professor Marian Howard, have released a great new iBook called 12 Museum Theorists at Play.

The iBook connects the educational theories of titans like Dewey, Vygotsky, Gardner, and Hein with the practical concerns of both museum goers and museum educators. 

From the iBook's Introduction by Lauren Appel:

“In the field of museum education, we come from a range of training, backgrounds, and experiences. While no single model of education fits all communities and contexts, there is value in museum educators having a shared grounding in educational theory to strengthen our work with the diverse audiences we serve. This book aims to provide that shared foundation of educational theory combined with contextualized examples of work relevant to key theorists in the field of museum education, spanning numerous settings and perspectives from generations of educators and students. ”

I found 12 Museum Theorists at Play an excellent way to reflect on my own practice as an exhibit developer and teacher, but also a way to think more deeply about the possibilities that can be found in visits to a museum.

Click on over to iTunes to pick up (digitally speaking) your own copy of 12 Museum Theorists at Play.

As an added bonus, all proceeds from the iBook go to the scholarship fund for Museum Education students at Bank Street College of Education.


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Monday, August 25, 2014

What Makes an Exhibit Designer a Great Creative Partner?



I love the Venn diagram at the top of this post.  It comes from this article from Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn.

Weiner's article made me think about the qualities I look for in the best collaborators, folks I think of as great creative partners.  I definitely agree with the three qualities that Jeff Weiner highlights, but
here’s a short list of questions that can help you get a sense of whether an exhibit designer might be a good (or great!) partner for your museum’s next project:


1) How do you prototype exhibits?

Every aspect of an exhibition, including labels, can be tested out with visitors before the “final” version is produced. This does not have to be a horribly expensive or time-consuming process. As a matter of fact, masking tape, markers, and cardboard can go a long way in creating simple prototypes.

Avoid anyone who says things along the lines of: “We test out everything in the shop...” or “ We don’t need to prototype, because our stuff never breaks.” You need to turn real visitors loose on exhibit prototypes to avoid the dreaded “I never thought they would do that with our exhibit!”

You can find a free downloadable article on exhibit prototyping at the POW! Website.



2) What’s your favorite exhibit?


If your response to this question is either a blank stare or a glib sales pitch --- RUN! Ideally, the designer can report on why specific aspects of an exhibit component or entire exhibition interested them or moved them in some way.

For example, I loved a large scale interactive based on one of the scenes from a children’s book by William Steig. There were magnet-backed creatures and plants that multiple visitors could move around a room-sized jungle scene. This was part of a larger exhibition of Steig’s drawings in a normally “hands off” museum, The Jewish Museum in Manhattan. It was clear through this area, and a few others in the Steig exhibition, that the designers wanted to provide some colorful, open-ended experiences for families.



3) Will you let us directly pay subcontractors?

Money changes everything, doesn’t it? The financial aspects of your exhibit process should be as transparent as possible. The best designers allow you to see “the books” so you can be assured that the maximum amount possible of your project resources are being spent on items that will show up in your exhibit galleries.

Beware of too many miscellaneous fees, or excessive charges for things like FedEx. It is reasonable for any designer to cover their overhead charges, but it is just as reasonable for you to ask to contract directly with specialists serving as subcontractors to avoid excessive “markups”.



4) Can we use green materials?


No, I don’t mean Kiwi Corian! Your exhibit designer should have an increasing familiarity with environmentally friendly materials. Even if your potential design partner is not a “green expert”, they should be willing to work with you to create designs, and employ solutions, that are sustainable.

A great resource is the greenexhibits.org website.



5) Have you ever worked in a museum?

While this is not a complete deal-breaker, a design solution from someone who has actually had to fix an exhibit after 600 fifth graders have pummeled on it carries a lot more weight with me than a beautiful computer rendering from a recent design school grad.

Don’t be afraid to ask practical questions like, “How will this work with large school groups?” or “Will this computer interactive automatically reboot if it freezes up?”



6) Who are some of your repeat customers?

At the end of every crazy exhibit project and installation, after everyone has had a few days to obtain the requisite amounts of food, sleep (and showers!) you ask yourself an important question: Would I ever work with (fill in the blank) again?

The people whom you continue to work with, and who continue to work with you speaks volumes about your work ethic and the ability to get the job done. The mark of a great museum exhibit designer is how they overcome unexpected challenges related to timing or finances or the other hundreds of things that could cause a project to become unhinged.


What are some of the questions you ask potential creative partners? Let us know in the "Comments" Section below!



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Monday, August 18, 2014

Breaking Free From The Tyranny of Numbers.

The Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index was developed as a way to  measure a successful quality of life for citizens of Bhutan in more holistic terms than only the economic indicator of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Many, if not most, museums base their success primarily on attendance numbers ---- which seem to be the equivalent of the Museum GDP.  And attendance numbers are certainly a quick way to gauge success, but not the only way.  

I've been thinking about this a lot in the context of several Maker-related projects I'm working on.

The trick in a Maker-y environment is that the level of engagement (with staff, with projects, with tools and materials) isn't really conducive to "throughput."  But while you aren't always moving big numbers through the Maker Space in your museum, you are (at least in theory) making big, deep impacts on your visitors in ways that justify that extra staffing, and tools, and materials ...

It takes a certain level of institutional resolve to break free of the tyranny of numbers and commit to a range of visitor-centered experiences that can't only be measured in one way.

So, I'll continue working and thinking about this, but I also wanted to share a couple online resources that I've found useful:

Measuring what matters in nonprofits.  A report from McKinsey & Company

The Happy Museum Project.  A group based in the UK looking at how the museum sector can respond to the challenges presented by the need for creating a more sustainable future.

This article from the Museums and The Web 2013 conference about nurturing engagement.


And, as always, feel free to share your thoughts (or additional resources) about this topic in the "Comments" section below.



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Sunday, August 10, 2014

ReWind Exhibit Design Inspiration: One Day Poem Pavilion



Many designers talk about the intersection of art and science, but the "One Day Poem Pavilion" actually delivers. I was immediately taken by the idea of Jiyeon Song's piece when I first posted about it, and obviously I still am.  Enjoy!

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.

As described on Song's "Experiential Typography" website:

The specific arrangements of the perforations reveal different poems according to the solar calendar:  During the summer solstice, the poem will contain the theme of “new life”. During the winter solstice, the poem will be on “reflection and the passing of time.”

The resulting effect is inviting and magical. Within the pavilion, the poem can be seen between 8 AM and 4PM. The poem consists of 5 lines with each line lasting about an hour. The slowness of the message offers us a meditative moment within our hectic lives.  

You can see a timelapse movie of the piece in action below or on the website as well.  The entire Experiential Typography website is worth a look as Jiyeon Song carefully documents and articulates both the art and the science of the creative development process underlying a piece like One Day Poem Pavilion.

Nice work!





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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Designer Toolkit: Circuit Scribe and Autodesk 123D apps


Circuit Scribe is a fun way to electrify your drawings with special pens filled with metallic quick-dry conductive ink.  It really makes designing circuits as easy as doodling.  You can check it out in the YouTube video at the top of this post, or buy your own Circuit Scribe pens and accessories at the Circuit Scribe website.

I love this natural mash-up of art and tech, but what's even more exciting is that the Circuit Scribe folks have teamed up with Autodesk and their suite of 123D apps.   If you don't already know all the 123D apps, this intro page gives you a sense of their range.  

Basically, 123D apps are FREE online tools that let you create first in the digital world and then move your digital creation into the real world via 3D printing or manufacturing.  For example, 123D Catch lets you capture places, people or things in 3D using your iPad, iPhone or any camera. Then you can either share your "Catches" with other people or 3D print a real object from your digital files.

Similarly 123D Circuits lets you design and simulate circuits online, and then order PCBs of your own designs (or from other 123D Circuits community members) from the Circuit Scribe store.

Want to do digital sculpting? 123D Sculpt!  Want to create a creature? 123D Creature!  Even if you are a bit of a technophobe, it's still worth clicking over to the Autodesk 123D apps page to see what you might be able to add to your own creative toolbox.


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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Beach Books for Museum and Design Folks (Summer 2014 Edition)


Since I'm not a "beach person" if I end up in a hot, sandy spot I try to make sure I'm under a big, shady umbrella with a book in my hands.

With that in mind, here's a list of books you might like to peruse, on (or off) the beach.  I'm giving just quick highlights here, but linking to longer ExhibiTricks blog posts or reviews about each book, as well as a link to Amazon if you'd like to buy a copy.

Happy reading!

The first book, "The Museum of Extraordinary Things" is not a museum/exhibit/design book per se, but rather a wonderfully written bit of historical fiction that brings together the intersecting lives of two estranged people coming from two completely different starting points in New York City.  I completely fell under the sway of author Alice Hoffman and her prose. Highly recommended.
Review here.  Purchase here.


Austin Kleon's book, "Steal Like An Artist" is a quick read composed of 10 "tips" related to creativity.  If your creative batteries need an inspirational recharge, this is the book for you.
Blog post here. Purchase here.



Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is a collection of short vignettes about how famous people (writers, artists, scientists, composers, poets ...) create.  I found it really interesting to learn about the many different methods that the featured artists used to create their work.
Blog post here. Purchase here.



"The Art of Tinkering" is a book you can tinker with --- literally!  (The cover is printed with electrically-conductive ink.)  The Art of Tinkering is billed as a way to "meet 150+ makers at the intersection of art, science & technology."  It's a colorful book bursting with photos, ideas, and even simple DIY projects.
Blog post here. Purchase here.



Author Susan Weinschenk has put together a great reference for every type of designer called "100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People."  I love a book like this, because no matter where you dip in, there's a little bit of actionable inspiration to bring to your own creative practice.
Blog post here. Purchase here.



Last, but not least, the book Creating Exhibitions talks about how a truly collaborative process related to planning and designing innovative experiences can come about. One for your professional reference shelf.
Blog post here. Purchase here.


Have some of your own museum/exhibit/design "beach reads" to share?  Tell us about your favorites in the "Comments" section below.



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