Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Unpacking My Museum Trip To China



I just returned from Beijing, China where I was invited to present lectures and workshops around the theme of "Developing Engaging Museum Exhibitions."

The program was coordinated by the ICOM International Training Centre for Museum Studies (ICOM-ITC), housed at the Palace Museum in Beijing, and is a collaboration between ICOM, ICOM China, and the Palace Museum


The Palace Museum --- nice spot for a workshop!

As is the custom of ICOM-ITC, about half of the program participants were museum professionals based in China, while the participants from outside China came from such countries as Iran, Zambia, Colombia, and Armenia.




I was one of two international lecturers (and the only participant from the U.S.) My workshops focused on Prototyping, Interactive Exhibit Experiences, and Exhibit Evaluation. I was ably joined by the energetic and engaging Lucimara Letelier, an independent museum professional from Brazil.  Lucimara covered topics related to Museum Marketing, Branding, and Audience Development.

Lucimara in action.


Since I am writing this post just after a 24-hour burst of airplane and airport travel, I'm still processing my experiences in China (and still a little jet-lagged!) but here are some of my initial impressions:


"Engaging" means many things in museums  
We often think of exhibits being "engaging" through hands-on interactives or the integration of technology, but audience "engagement" begins even before visitors enter your museum. Lucimara stressed the importance of "The Five Ps" when it comes to museum marketing and engaging audiences: Price, Place, Product, People, and Promotion. 




The term "prototyping" doesn't translate well
It helps if everyone shares a common understanding of the terms you are using --- especially in a workshop filled with museum folks from around the world!  It became apparent in my first talk that the term "prototyping" didn't translate very well, so we re-branded prototyping as "trying things out."

Trying out a prototype.


Museum people share common challenges
It was a pleasure to work with such enthusiastic and curious people during my ICOM-ITC presentations.  It was gratifying to share common challenges (and encouragement and ideas) with such a far-flung group.  A great strength of the museum business is the willingness of museum folks to share with each other.



China is in the midst of a museum boom
I was really struck by the tremendous level of support that the Chinese government provides to the museum sector. Not only does this support translate to museums and museum projects spread throughout the country, but over 87% of the 4246 Museums in China are admission free.

As another example of this museum boom, I was told that in the next few years they will add over 300 new science centers in China!

Inside the HUGE Capital Museum in Beijing


You can do a lot in a short time ... if you focus!
A surprising aspect of focused workshop time (and also working with outside consultants!) is that once we are removed from the seemingly constant distractions of the museum workplace, we can accomplish a surprising amount of work in a relatively short period of time.  

In my workshops we created exhibit prototypes, developed interactive exhibit approaches, tried some visitor evaluation techniques inside one of the Palace Museum's exhibition galleries, and rounded out the week by developing a pop-up exhibition!




Of course, my trip to China wasn't ALL work! A wonderful aspect of the ICOM-ITC workshop was the opportunity to tour the Palace Museum (known as "The Forbidden City" to many Westerners) and important cultural sites like The Great Wall as a group.  

The workshop participants also got to socialize together by visiting different parts of Beijing together at night.  This work/play combination really created a great group dynamic and forged important professional ties.  I feel like I have a new group of international museum colleagues.

Traveling to other countries (and museums!) helps provides perspective on our own life and work.  Being a part of ICOM-ITC was a wonderful professional and personal experience that I will never forget!  

At The Great Wall!


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Friday, November 3, 2017

A Guest Post From The High Seas!


Charissa Ruth is a freelance educator based in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently working onboard the JOIDES Resolution, a scientific research vessel, as an Education and Outreach Officer. Before sailing the seas, she was working in various museums and cultural institutions teaching school, afterschool, and family programs. She'd like to try her hand at stand-up comedy sometime in the future so if you've got really good jokes you can send them her way.

Charissa was kind enough to share this guest post from onboard the JOIDES Resolution:


The towering structure in the middle is the derrick which stabilizes
the pipe as we drop it down and collect core samples. 

It’s a different world living on a moving, floating structure. On an impeccably blue and white background, you can see the crew decked in red moving here and there, constantly at work. From my office window, I can see the ocean, I can see the drilling derrick towering over the rest of the ship as guardian, and I can see the catwalk where the scientists first meet the new core.

We are a small city at sea. We have scientists from all over the world --- Brazil, Australia, USA, China, Japan, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Korea, and Italy. The bulk of conversation happens in English but you can hear snippets of accents and languages from all over. It reminds me of Brooklyn, of home.



Sometimes it can feel pretty lonely or isolating out here.
There are also picnic tables for people to sit at for
our weekly outside BBQ (weather permitting). 

Work is happening around the clock. We all have twelve-hour work shifts and everyone is allotted some daylight hours and some nighttime hours in which to keep progress happening. There’s a pleasant rhythm at work. Meal times happen four times a day, with cookie time or break time twice a day. People are waking up and going to bed at all hours of the day. “Good Morning” replaces “Hello” as the common greeting.

It’s been humbling to learn the rudimentary tenets of geology from geologists. All I knew of rocks and fossils is what I remember from picking up and playing with them outside as a kid. In a way, I feel I have regressed back to an infant stage. Everything is new, I feel overwhelmed at times with the amount of new information, and I’m learning to speak a new language slowly but surely.




Once the cores reach room temperature, we split them open to look at. 
Here we see half of the cores laid out for observation and 
we are looking at some black basalt. 

One of my major responsibilities as an Education and Outreach Officer on the JOIDES Resolution is to facilitate live broadcasts to classrooms all around the world. (You can find out more information and learn how to sign up a classroom here.) Just this week, we’ve talked to students in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Later this month, we have groups from Japan, South Korea, and Germany. Learning to speak this new scientific language, I now become a translator for students young and old.




We talk about plate tectonics, rock layers, fossils so small you need a powerful microscope to see them. We talk about what it’s like to live on a scientific research vessel with 120 souls onboard. We talk about how they, the students, can make their way into this field and maybe one day onto this ship. The message is clear - there are still places in this world where you can be an explorer and discoverer.  


Thanks Charissa for sharing your shipboard experiences with ExhibiTricks readers, and good luck with the remainder of your voyage!

 

The ship lit up at night while still in port in Hobart.
Photo credit: Bill Crawford




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