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!


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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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