Saturday, May 20, 2023

Check Out The Cheapbooks!

I've recently had several online and conference-hallway conversations with museum colleagues struggling to create interesting interactive exhibits at reasonable prices.   Plese allow me to re-introduce The Exhibit Cheapbooks -- a great resource filled with inexpensive exhibit ideas.

That's right -- nearly 100 free exhibit "recipes" contributed by museum colleagues from all over the world are available to download as FREE PDFs from the POW! website.  

A little history --the idea for the Exhibit Cheapbooks started during sessions at the annual Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Conference with the purpose of sharing "cheap" exhibit ideas and creating a written record of how to replicate these simple and successful exhibit components.

The very first "Cheapbook" was compiled and published by ASTC in 1995. Subsequent volumes appeared in 1999, 2004, and 2014.

The Exhibit Cheapbooks have always celebrated the "sharing" nature of museums. You will find varied exhibit ideas from museum colleagues from around the world inside each volume. 

Sincere thanks to everyone who has shared their ideas and expertise by contributing ideas over the years! And special thanks to ASTC for allowing all the Exhibit Cheapbooks material to now be shared freely online.

Think of all these Exhibit Cheapbooks entries not as detailed shop drawings but rather as creative jumping-off points for your own exhibit building.

So what are you waiting for?  Click on over to the Exhibits Cheapbooks Download Page and start making cheap exhibits!

Have fun!


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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Friday, May 5, 2023

High Quality = Internal Capacity



How would you define "quality" in the context of museums?  It's a slippery term (like "World Class"which we've written about before here on ExhibiTricks.)  Every museum wants to be described as "High Quality" and "World Class" but what do those terms actually mean, and how do you know when you truly have become a high-quality organization?

“High Quality” to me means something of lasting value, something special that is meaningful over time and across generations.  And museums that can be described consistently as high quality are quite uncommon.

What does high quality mean to you, or to the museums you work in or visit?   

I'd say that all "high quality" museums have a strong capacity to create programs and exhibits internally. Not necessarily everything, but many things.  High-quality museums know their strengths and build upon them. Great museums also know what their weaknesses are, and where to look for help in those areas.  

Put simply:

High Quality = Internal Capacity 


As a practical matter, the way to develop a truly high-quality museum experience means having a clear sense of what you want your museum to look like two, three, or more years in the future—not just two months after opening! That means investing for the long term in thoughtful experiences, staff, and expertise. 

In my exhibit design and development practice, I often ask museum collaborators two simple questions: How will you (the staff inside your museum, not contractors or consultants) 1) Fix things that break or don’t work? and 2) Transform great new ideas into real exhibits and programs? If you can’t come up with credible answers to both questions, I’m afraid that not only will you be constantly racing to “put out fires” in the form of problems that could have been anticipated (as opposed to the many un-anticipated ones you’ll encounter) but your bright, shiny museum will soon become dingy and boring, not only physically, but in its intellectual and emotional spirit as well.

Creating a strong institutional culture of internal capacity is the key difference between a great museum and a mediocre one. Building and investing in strong institutional capacity doesn’t mean that you work in isolation.  On the contrary, carefully understanding the strengths and weaknesses across your institution makes it clear when and where you need to invest time and resources. Those investments in time and/or resources can involve seeking out expertise in your local communities, sending staff to national or regional conferences or local professional development opportunities, or (gasp!) bringing in consultants to help build up internal capacity in other areas of institutional need. There are many choices.

What is not a choice is doing nothing. Because doing nothing will surely begin the slide from “high quality” to “who cares?” And is that the kind of museum you want to be part of? 




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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Tuesday, April 25, 2023

What's Your Zip Ode?



It may be because I'm working on a project with the National Postal Museum, but I think Zip Odes are big creative fun!

Invented in 2015, the Zip Ode is a five-line poem about where you live, written in the form of your zip code

O, Miami Poetry Festival, and Miami-based radio station WLRN host an annual initiative to collect Zip Odes every Spring, but the form has also traveled all around the world.

To create your own Zip Ode, just write the numbers of your zip code down the left-hand side of your page. Each number determines the number of words in that particular line.

(If you have a zero in your zip code, that line is a wild card! You can leave it blank, insert an emoji or symbol, or use any number of words between 1 and 9.)

But what if you live in a part of the world that uses letters, as well as numbers, in the local postal codes?

Kris Archie came up with a solution for areas that have postal codes with letters instead of numerical zip codes. When a line has a letter instead of a number, that line has one word that must begin with that letter -- like so:


V5B 3H4 (by Kris Archie)

Very
long grey rainy days in
Burnaby
Magnolia blossoms bursting
Hovering
Over Archie Olson family


Give it a whirl and create your own Zip Ode!





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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Unpacking (Ideas) from Syracuse


The Museum Association of New York (MANY) just concluded its Annual Conference in Syracuse.

And while I was excited to be both a participant and a sponsor at this year's gathering, I'm still unpacking -- both mentally and physically.  I encourage you to click on the links below to learn more!

Here are a few things that stood out for me in Syracuse:


1) Rematriation

Michelle Schenandoah, a member of the On^yota':aka (Oneida) Nation Wolf Clan of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, spoke eloquently about carrying her ancestor's passion to rematriate traditional lands and tell of the world's oldest democracy.

You can find out more about Michelle and her work here.



2) Where Is The Love?

Omar Eaton-Martinez, currently the Senior Vice President for Historic Sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, challenged us all to think like Museum J.E.D.I.s -- with that acronym standing for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.  (The Museum J.E.D.I. is also the name of Omar's podcast, where conversations meet at the intersections of museums and social justice.)

Omar's talk touched on many honest (and tough!) things for museum workers to act on, but the title of his talk was drawn from the following quote by Dr. Cornel West,

"Justice is what love looks like in public." 



3) Decolonizing the Collection and Spiritual Carte of Artworks

Marie-Anne Redhead, Curator of Indigenous and Contemporary Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery - Qaumajuq traveled from Canada to share the continuing work of decolonization at her institution.

A part of Marie-Anne's talk that I found especially interesting was the work of "renaming" existing artwork in the WAG's collection.  To find out more about "Interrupting the Institution" click this link to go to the WAG website.



4) Building Sensory-FriendlyMuseums

One of the last sessions I attended in Syracuse was presented by Charlotte Martin and Ava Locks, and focused on creating more sensory-friendly experiences. 

We created "Sound Maps" (like the one I made shown below) during the session to help us become more aware of our sonic surroundings.  

Charlotte also shared this link to the Intrepid website filled with great accessibility resources, including the accessible digital publication,  "Making History Accessible: Toolkit for Multisensory Interpretation", which offers a range of digital and physical/tactile solutions to help make interpretive content at historic sites and other educational facilities more accessible.







Of course, I also had time to see some exhibitions in Syracuse, including the excellent "Hoop Dreams" at the Everson Museum of Art (with a basketball court interactive section where you could shoot baskets!)



Thanks to the MANY Staff and Board for putting on a great conference in Syracuse!


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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Saturday, April 8, 2023

Floored (Twice!) at the National Postal Museum


I got "floored" (twice!) during a recent visit to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

Over the next few months, I'll be doing some workshops with the staff at NPM and during some recent time on the museum floor I got into a conversation with one of the Security Staff named Murph.

Murph was super friendly and told me things about NPM's exhibitions and visitors that she's been observing over the past five years that she has worked at the museum.  (Someone has even posted about Murph on YouTube!)

One of Murph's favorite things to bring to visitors' attention is the floor in the main atrium of the Postal Museum. Many people literally walk right past the design of the tiles that represent letters with different-colored "stamps" in the floor's center section. (See the image at the top of this post.)

Murph also pointed out the border tiles (one shown below) that represented the back of an envelope -- perfect for a Postal Museum housed in a historic Post Office building!



To be honest, even though I had visited NPM before, I don't think I ever really paid attention to the floor tiles. But thanks to Murph, I did!

However, the other thing that "floored" me that day was being smacked in the face with my own bias about security staff in museums.  I guess I always imagine that museum security staff are surly and just staring out into space -- just "holding up the walls" for their entire shift.

However, it was clear from speaking with Murph that not only was she enthusiastic about her work at the National Postal Museum, but that she had also read every label and looked carefully at every artifact inside all of NPM's exhibitions.  

So the next time you visit a museum, keep an eye out for those special, small details, and lend an ear to the security staff while asking them about their favorite things to see and do inside.

Who knows? You might get "floored" in a positive way, too!



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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

FUN and можело



I've just finished up a fantastic week of workshops with museum folks and independent cultural professionals from Bulgaria.  This first iteration of the "MUSA Academy" was sponsored by the America for Bulgaria Foundation (ABF) and I was joined by my brilliant teaching partners, Jamie Lawyer, and Christina Ferwerda.

Although I'm still processing all the wonderful things that happened and all the cool ideas that popped up this week, two things stand out right now -- the very American idea of FUN and the Bulgarian concept of можело (pronounced mozh-eh-low.)

можело is built on the notion of "we can do this" or "this is possible" but I also think about the word as a way of focusing on "starting somewhere" rather than just completely giving up due to challenges involving money and time, or institutional support.

An interesting example of an "old school" museum that has incorporated both fun and можело is the National Museum of Natural History located in the capital city of Sofia, Bulgaria -- specifically the exhibition gallery containing insect specimen cases.

As you can see from the photo below, the left side of the gallery is dominated by row after row of glass-fronted cabinets containing thousands of mounted insect specimens arranged in taxonomic groups. It feels both overwhelming and daunting.




However, if you turn to the right, a different vista beckons you through a set of insect-themed graphical curtains.




Inside this space is a fun gallery that puts insects found around Bulgaria in context by using large, colorful graphics representing different insect habitats. 




Throughout the space, you can also take closeup looks at representative insect specimens displayed in acrylic tubes.




Anchoring each section is a fanciful portrait of another representative insect species (including its scientific name!) like the dragonfly painting at the top of this post or the honeybee below.



While I wish the entire insect gallery was more like this one area, I realize that shifting a 130-year-old museum is a massive task. However, I give the staff, designers, artists, and fabricators kudos for finding a way to insert a bit of FUN and можело into the National Museum of Natural History.





P.S. to find out even more about FUN in museums, check out this wonderful YouTube interview with Christina Ferwerda and her colleague Helen Divjak!



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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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