Thursday, August 17, 2017

What can museums do to resist?


The recent events in Charlottesville and the responses of President Trump afterward should concern every American.


What can museums do to resist bigotry, racism, and hatred?


Here are some resources to help coalesce thoughts and actions:

Seema Rao has written an excellent post for Nina Simon's Museum 2.0 blog.


Nina has also started an open Google Doc to assemble ideas for specific things museums and museum professionals can do to resist oppression.


Two groups on Facebook that I learn a lot from:

Museum Hue

Visitors of Color



The "Museums for All" initiative



Now is not the time for museums to be "neutral" or to sit on the sidelines to see how things turn out.

RESIST!


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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Follow the money . . . to museum diversity?


Officials in New York City recently announced a plan that ties funding of cultural institutions to demographic information about staff and board membership in an effort to address ongoing issues of “equity and inclusion.” 

I really hope this plan moves the needle on systemic problems in the museum industry like inadequate salaries and the woeful lack of diversity in staffing and audiences. There has been lots of sincere and well-meaning talk about improvements to museums for over 30 years, but little lasting action.

Because the NYC plan ties improvements to funding, I really believe it has a chance to succeed, since nothing gets the attention of administrators and boards like MONEY!

What do you think?  Have you seen similar plans in action?  Let us know in the "Comments" section at the end of this post.


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Monday, July 31, 2017

What Interesting Museum/Exhibit/Design Things Did You See This Summer?


I'm on the road in Michigan (seeing interesting things, of course) with my family this week, so I thought I'd share an encore version of the post below about museums being more interesting. What interesting museum/exhibit/design things did you see on your summer trips? Let us know in the "Comments" section after this post!

The title of this post is inspired by some ideas from Austin Kleon (his newsletter is really worth subscribing to, and Kleon's book "Steal Like An Artist" is a great read ...) where he relates several (possibly apocryphal) tales of writing teachers giving similar tough, but straightforward, advice to their students who want to become more interesting writers.


"Have you tried making yourself a more interesting person?" 


The upshot of Kleon's musings boil down to the idea that if you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.

I started triangulating this notion of becoming a more interesting person with possible ways of creating more interesting museums, based on my love (and previous blog posts: herehere, and here) of "Museums Worth A Special Trip."

How can museums not currently worth a special trip become more interesting?  Let me immediately suggest two overused approaches that many museum folks try that quite often lead to less interesting museums:

1) Equating bigger with better   Of all the blunt force approaches to becoming a more interesting museum, nothing beats a large building (or building expansion) project.  Here's a news flash --- most museums should be improving their existing programs, exhibits, and facilities, not becoming bigger.

2) Adopting "best practices"  Best practices for who?  Best practices for where?  I'd argue that every museum should develop practices that are unique to their location and the communities they serve.  Why try to apply a "one size fits all" approach?


When I think about museums that I (and many other people!) find truly interesting, places like The City Museum in St. LouisThe Discovery Museums in Acton, MA, or the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh  the staff in these places seem to share a resistance to growth for growth's sake, or merely adopting someone else's notion of "best" practice, and instead have an insatiable desire to try new stuff, to experiment, and, most importantly, to quickly iterate through the physical manifestations of their ideas and to trust that their visitors will respond to their efforts --- even their failures.

Maybe another way to develop more interesting museums is to get things WRONG the first time!  To really push for ideas and interests that aren't completely tested and "safe" in every instance.


My wish is that you can discover something(s) in your own institution to become really interested in, so you can create an even more interesting museum for yourself and your visitors.

Onward!


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Sunday, July 23, 2017

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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



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

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


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



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

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

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

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



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Thursday, July 13, 2017

4 Things Exhibit Developers Can Learn From Trevor Noah


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Design Inspiration: Rainbow Wave GBC



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

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

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

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


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Monday, June 26, 2017

Outdoor Creative Design Inspirations (Summer 2017 Edition)


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

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





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

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





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






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

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



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



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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Connecting My Dad and My Museum Career


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Dad!



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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Design Inspiration: "Nature's Reflection"


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

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




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

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

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Design Inspiration: The Balloon Artistry of Masayoshi Matsumoto


"Using familiar materials in unfamiliar ways" is one of my favorite definitions of creativity.

In that respect, balloon artist Masayoshi Matsumoto is a whirlwind of creativity!  I love his balloon "twists" on natural history and animals (a few of which are pictured here.)



Apparently, all of Matsumoto's sculptures are created using only balloons, with no additional markers or adhesives to highlight or hold things together.

How could you use ideas like these in science exhibitions (perhaps with other sorts of longer-lasting plastic or foam tubing) or even for museum events or fund-raising galas?




Click on over to Masayoshi Matsumoto's main balloon Tumblr site for more design inspiration, and then check out "latexbones" a site dedicated to making balloon sculpture skeletons!




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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Is Your Museum Guilty of Weaselly Pay Practices? Answer These 6 Questions to Find Out!

I attended the excellent NYCMER (New York City Museum Educator's Roundtable) Conference yesterday.  Even though I enjoyed myself and learned a lot, discussions about museum pay and the relationship between museums and their workers, interns, and freelancers kept coming up that really bugged me.

It is shameful how many museums continue to underpay their employees, rationalize free internships, and skirt labor laws with their weaselly compensation practices.

So, based on my 2017 NYCMER Conference experience, I offer these six questions below -- for museum managers and administrators, as well as employees (or potential employees) to make sure YOUR museum sets a positive example for the field:


• Are your internships paid or unpaid?  (Every museum internship should be paid. Period. You can rationalize it any way you want, but if you are offering unpaid internships for the "experience" you are ripping people off, AND contributing to the lack of diversity in the museum field.)

• Do all your job listings list salary ranges? (If not, what are you ashamed of?)

• Is there pay parity between departments? (Do you really want to make the argument that development staff should be paid much more than exhibits or education staff?)

• Can your full-time staff actually support themselves on the salary you pay them? (Or do they need second jobs?)

• Do you delay (or "slow pay") contractors or freelancers? (Your institution expects work to be done in a timely way, so why shouldn't contractors have the same expectation about their pay?)

• Are you choosing employees because of their spouse's benefits, or deliberately holding down scheduled hours to avoid paying benefits?  (Not only are you skirting unfair labor practices if you are doing this, but you are a weasel if you are doing this!)


The museum industry prides itself in supporting high intellectual and social goals, so shouldn't it support basic rights around compensation for its workers as well?  Which of the areas in the questions above can YOUR museum improve on?


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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Monday, May 15, 2017

3 Museum Projects To Support


After my recent cross-country, back-to-back, museum conference trips, I thought I would highlight three museum projects that can benefit from your support: Exhibition Journal, ExhibitFiles, and the Museum People's Tattoos blog.


Exhibition Journal

NAME (The National Association for Museum Exhibition) has recently renamed and redesigned its journal, now called Exhibition.

The latest issue is entitled "Designing Emotion" and contains some fascinating articles that detail unique approaches toward exhibition development practice. NAME makes available two articles from the current issue of Exhibition online, as well as complete digital access to past issues via the Exhibition Journal's online archive. Check out the current free articles by clicking these links: "Designing for Outrage" and "Core Emotion and Engagement in Informal Science Learning"

Of course, the very best way to access Exhibition is by becoming a subscriber.  You can find out how to become a subscriber by clicking this link (and you do not need to be an AAM member to become an Exhibition subsciber.)

Last, but not least, if you've recently seen an exhibition that you'd like to share with colleagues via my "Exhibits Newsline" column, just send me an email for details, so we can get your contributions into a future issue of Exhibition!


ExhibitFiles


Recently, one of my Twitter followers sent me a message lamenting the fact that the ExhibitFiles site seems to be languishing a bit.



What is ExhibitFiles you ask?  ExhibitFiles is a website (originally funded by the National Science Foundation) for museum professionals (and aspiring museum professionals) from around the world to post Reviews of exhibitions they've seen, or to post Case Studies of exhibition projects they have been involved with.  (There's even a category called "Bits" that lets you quickly post bite-sized observations about a particular exhibit element or feature you may have seen.)

ExhibitFiles is a great resource, but it needs active participation to grow. And the more ExhibitFiles grows, the more valuable it becomes to the entire museum field. So I'm asking every ExhibiTricks reader to choose a noteworthy exhibition you see this summer, and add an ExhibitFiles entry this summer. C'mon! Think of it as your "summer resolution"  (it's easier to keep than a New Year's resolution!)

So what are you waiting for?  Click on over to the ExhibitFiles website now!



Museum People's Tattoos



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

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

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

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

So if you'd like to contribute your own tattoo images and stories to the Museum People's Tattoos blog, feel free to send me an email. (You need to be a person who works with or in museums, but your tattoo does not need to necessarily be museum-related.)  C'mon and help Beth and I out! A museum people's tattoos blog doesn't run itself!



BONUS CONTEST!

If you've read this far, you are eligible to win one of two physical copies of the latest Exhibition journal on "Designing Emotion." All you need to do is subscribe to the ExhibiTricks blog by clicking on the link at the top right side of the blog page by May 30th.  (If you are already a subscriber, just send me an email with the subject "Journal Contest" by May 30th for your chance.) At the end of the month, I'll randomly choose one new subscriber and one email entrant to each receive a copy of the latest Exhibition journal. Good luck!

UPDATE: Congratulations to our two contest winners, Alicia V. and Margaret T.  Your copies of Exhibition are in the mail and making their way to you!


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

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Cross-Country Conferencing!


I'm excited to be attending (and presenting at!) two of the largest museum conferences in the U.S. at the beginning of May.

This year the Association of Children's Museums (ACM) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conferences are scheduled to happen nearly back-to-back with ACM's InterActivity Conference up first in Pasadena, and the AAM's Annual Meeting & Museum Expo following right after that in St. Louis.

InterActivity in promises to be a fun and action-packed meeting with Kidspace Children's Museum being the host venue.  In addition to all the other exciting sessions, I'm especially looking forward to sharing co-emcee duties with Margaret Middleton for the "Sound Bites" evening event on Wednesday, May 3rd from 7:30 to 9:00 PM in Ballroom A.

If you aren't able to attend InterActivity in person this year, keep track of the hashtag #IA17 on Social Media, and check out my own Twitter (@museum_exhibits) and Facebook feeds as I will be providing live updates and pictures throughout the InterActivity conference.


Then on to St. Louis, the home to one of my very favorite museums, The City Museum!

The AAM Conference is loaded with great events, but I would be remiss if I didn't encourage you to come to two events that I am presenting at.  The first is Design Trends: Phygital to Pokemon 
on Tuesday, May 9th, from 10:30-11:45 AM at 226 America's Center. 

I'll be joining my fellow speakers to present five different perspectives on key trends that are challenging and changing the way we design museum exhibitions. I'll be covering phygital museum experiences (physical/digital mashups) for my part of the session.


The second session I'm involved in during the AAM Conference is entitled How to Suspend Disbelief: Lessons Learned through Pop-Ups.  The session happens on Wednesday, May 10 from 11:15 AM -12:30 PM at 130 America's Center.  

For my part, I'll be talking about how I used pop-up museum techniques during my recent trip to Tunisia, and the lessons I took away from that experience.

If you can't attend the AAM Conference this time around, follow the ubiquitous #AAM2017 hashtag or my Twitter (@museum_exhibits) or Facebook feeds for live updates.

I look forward to seeing folks (especially ExhibiTricks readers!) on the conference circuit this spring!


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

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

Monday, April 24, 2017

Which Stupid System Haven't You Changed Yet?


Not every system is a good system.  We set up procedures to more easily deal with recurring maintenance problems or customer service challenges or billing situations so that we can address things in fair and efficient ways, and then move on without another thought.

And then something like the horrible situation on United Airlines happens where, instead of employees thinking more carefully about a procedure or policy that has gone awry, they just blindly follow along until a paying customer gets dragged off an airplane, bloody and battered.

I was thinking about this just the other day when I dropped off an envelope at a local FedEx location on Long Island where I live. Inside was a visa application and my son's passport, so I was a little concerned, but the visa service company I was working with had provided a FedEx label for me to print out that was addressed to their offices in New York City.

Just a quick geography check here --- the FedEx store I dropped the envelope off at is located in Lynbrook, NY about an hour away by car or train from mid-town Manhattan (as you can see, on the map below.)


So you would think that a FedEx truck would pick up the envelope on Long Island, drop it off at a depot somewhere in Manhattan, and it would be delivered the next day, right?

Well, you might think that, but FedEx has a system that says when a package is marked "Express" it needs to first go to a regional FedEx location before it gets delivered. So instead of merely being driven from Long Island into Manhattan, my son's visa application merrily traveled from Long Island to Newark, New Jersey to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania to Memphis, Tennessee before being pointed toward an office building in the middle of Manhattan.  (Spoiler alert! The package did not get delivered the next day, but I did get to make the cool Google map at the top of this post showing its progress. )

In a modern world filled with algorithms, you would think something or someone in the FedEx system would have flagged this waste of time (and airplane fuel!)

While it's easy to shake our heads at the goof-ups of big companies like FedEx or United, what outdated or downright crazy systems are lurking inside our own smaller businesses?  And how can we get rid of (or change) those systems before we upset another customer, stakeholder, or loyal employee?


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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Hunting for Museum Easter Eggs



In honor of the season, here's an encore post about museum "Easter Eggs."  Enjoy!

Museum designers often add "Easter Eggs" to their work.  But not the brightly dyed or chocolate-y varieties --- these are more akin to the hidden "Easter Eggs" that you may stumble across (or deliberately search out) inside video games, crossword puzzles, or DVDs.

For visitors, it's fun to feel like you've found a little "secret" inside a museum building or exhibition, and for designers it's a little "trick" to reward visitors for carefully observing and examining things inside the museum.

"Exhibits as advent calendars" as Dan Spock has observed (to mix religious holiday metaphors a bit!)  So here are a few of my favorite museum easter eggs:

• The Hidden Cat: Starting with the picture at the top of this posting is the "cat" hidden in the atrium of the Science Discovery Museum in Acton, MA.  It's fun to point out to visitors, and it really reflects the playful nature of the building and exhibits inside.


• Secret Elves at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science: Artist Kent R. Pendleton worked on many of the Museum's dioramas, but supposedly he wasn't allowed to sign his name to his work.  Instead, Pendleton included little "elfin" figures hidden throughout many of the displays.  There's a great blog posting (with video) about Pendleton's retro easter eggs!






• The Magic House Mouse:  The "Magic House" Children's Museum outside St. Louis has some wonderful exhibits, but one of my favorite "hidden gems" is the tiny decorated mouse hole near the baseboards in one of the galleries.  If you were just whizzing around you might not ever see it, but if you're willing to get down on your hands and knees you might see (as in the photo below) a "presidential" mouse:





• The "Hidden Tunnel" at Casa Loma:  Casa Loma is a gigantic historic house outside Toronto that is filled with enough crazy details to keep even little kids interested during the self-guided tours.  One  of the things I remember from a family visit (nearly 40 years ago!) was the cool secret tunnel, nearly 100 feet long, that was hidden behind a pivoting wall section (just like in all those scary movies --- but this was real!)  that led to the Casa's underground wine cellar:




Of course some museums, like The City Museum, also in St. Louis, or the Museum of Jurassic Technology in L.A., are practically interlocking collections of "easter eggs" or in-jokes, but that's certainly one aspect that makes them so popular.

What are some of your most memorable "Museum Easter Eggs"?  Let us know in the "Comments Section" below!

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: The listening dimension


If Olafur Eliasson wasn't already one of the world's most interesting living artists, he would be my very favorite science museum exhibit developer.

Eliasson's elegant grasp of the connections between art and science are on display in his show entitled "The listening dimension" currently on view at the Tonya Bonakdar Gallery in New York City.

Eliasson says: “The listening dimension emerged against the backdrop of the 2016 US elections. At a time when oversimplification is everywhere, I believe that art can play an important role in creating aesthetic experiences that are both open and complex. Today, in politics, we are bombarded with emotional appeals, often linked to simplistic, polarizing, populist ideas. The arts and culture, on the other hand, provide spaces in which people can disagree and still be together, where they can share individual and collective experiences that are ambiguous and negotiable. At its best, art is an exercise in democracy; it trains our critical capacities for perceiving and interpreting the world. Yet art does not tell us what to do or how to feel, but rather empowers us to find out for ourselves.”



Each of the pieces packs a big visual punch starting with Rainbow bridge, a series of glass spheres that have sections of mirrored, colored, and back pieces placed so that balls of color shift and change depending on your position --- creating eclipses, rainbows, or mirrors.





Three room-sized reflective panels, The listening dimension  (orbit 1, orbit 2, and orbit 3) , form the centerpiece of the exhibition.  As you enter the room you see a set of what appear to be rings floating in space.




But as you approach the reflective walls and look behind, you realize that Eliasson has created a carefully-crafted illusion, and the rings disclose themselves as semicircular tubes mounted to frames behind the mirrored surface.  This aspect of "revealing the perceptual trick" is classic Olafur Eliasson, and one of the reasons I find his installations so appealing.



Behind the mylar

Upstairs, the artist continues to play with light and perceptions. 

Midnight sun creates a visual dialogue between intense light and a concave mirror to give the viewer a sense of peering into a portal to another world.





One of my favorite pieces in The listening dimension is Colour experiment no. 78.

As you enter a room bathed in a yellow sodium light you notice a series of vaguely monochromatic circles.  In the center of the room hangs a long cord with a round knob at the end.  When somebody pulls the cord, a large incandescent lightbulb hanging from the ceiling illuminates and instantly changes the circles to a series of different-colored paintings.


But what really changed?  Colour experiment offers a big Wow! followed by a quieter Aha! as viewers think about and investigate the experiment Eliasson has provided for us.  While the craft of the experience is completely evident, Eliasson also invests time and resources in working with scientists.  This particular piece is the result of Eliasson’s ongoing research into color phenomena, a process that began by working with a color chemist to create colors that match each nanometer of light in the visible spectrum. 



The last piece that Olafur Eliasson has put together is a room filled with point-source lights and the rings from a deconstructed Fresnel lens, of the type found in lighthouses.  Eliasson experiments with combinations and positions of light and lenses to create stunning effects of light, shadows, and spectra.



I really can't say enough about the impact of Olafur Eliasson and his art.  I encourage you to check out his website and to seek out opportunities to view his work in person at galleries or museums around the world.






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Monday, March 27, 2017

Add Numberphile to Your Creative Toolbox!


I've recently fallen down the rabbit hole of Numberphile, a great math-oriented website and related YouTube channel filled with all sorts of clever ideas that should be of interest to educators and exhibit designers alike.

One of the things I like best about the Numberphile videos is that each mathematician is so enthusiastic, you can't help but get excited and interested in things like "circle inversions" that you might not have even given a passing thought to before.

While I've honestly enjoyed every Numberphile presenter I've seen, some are particular standouts.

Tadashi Tokieda often relates his math talks to toys or familiar materials.  Here's a video (embedded below or on YouTube) that shows all the fun topological ways to play with a strip of paper, some paper clips, and rubber bands.



Hannah Fry is a funny presenter who often ties the mathematics of game theory to real life situations like winning Rock, Paper, Scissors (video below or on YouTube) or Secret Santa, or making the best online dating profile.



If you are a bit "math shy" or even an avowed mathphobe, click on over to Numberphile!  I'm sure you will find something to pique your interest there.



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