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.


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!)