Friday, May 29, 2020

“We Knew How to Do This” - Creating #MuseumSurvivalKit




In this guest post, two of the founders of #MuseumSurvivalKit, Michelle Moon and Sarah Pharaon, were kind enough to share how the project came about, as well as news about the upcoming Museum Survival Week!



“We Knew How to Do This” -  Creating #MuseumSurvivalKit

Even in the time of Zoom, somehow the best ideas are born in casual meetings over drinks. During a virtual happy hour - one of the more enjoyable Zoom calls we found ourselves on with seemingly never-ending frequency - a group of us fell into talking of our colleagues, some working from home, some furloughed or laid off. We spoke of friends whose interpretive portfolios consist largely of work developed at history museums, where over years, they learned and honed skills of the past that they used, season after season, to connect visitors to a history they loved. We joked about how those interpreters would survive the zombie apocalypse far longer than us: they know home remedies, have sourdough starters, and can hand-craft weaponry. 


And we laughed, and changed topics, and ultimately ended the call. But the idea that museums might be a source of real survival skills stayed with us after we all pressed “leave meeting” that night.  




Taking It Seriously 

The next day, we had an email exchange, checking with one another. Had we stumbled on a good idea? We knew that museums are full of the skills and stories our fellow humans used to manage the challenges of their lives - in crisis times, in hardship, under oppression, and just responding to the demands of everyday life. Telling these stories is what we do. But in this time when museums are considered “non-essential,” did people know that they can turn to our institutions to rediscover some of the inspiring, creative, and practical strategies our communities and our ancestors have developed over time? We asked ourselves: What if we made #MuseumSurvivalKit a Real Thing? Did it have enough juice that others would want to take part? Did we have the skills to produce it? Did we have the energy, in such a crazy busy time, to give it a shot? We weren’t really sure - but we decided to go for it. And we got right to work. 

Production was fast-paced, a Stone Soup of contributions from each of our strengths. Each of us found a place to add something needed: text drafting from Michelle Moon, graphic design from Sarah Pharaon, website creation by Tobi Voigt, and outreach strategies from Melanie Adams and Jackie Barton, with many encouraging and critically constructive emails in between. Many of us learned how to do things for the project we would have, in the past, asked colleagues at our organizations to help us with.  Most of us had other things to work on, but the idea was compelling, and the work was fun - a bright spot in a dark time. 



Celebrating Abundance

Part of the promise we saw in #MuseumSurvivalKit is that it highlights the assets and strengths museums bring to the public conversation - working against the scarcity mindset that plagues our field. All of us have recently been part of conversations driven by a desperate sense of competition - “How will we survive in the pandemic environment? What is [insert institution] putting out? We need to get this out fast, before [insert institution]! We need to grab that SBA and PPP and CARES money before it runs out! ” This project aims for collective contribution, explicitly encouraging participating organizations and individuals to freely share their work under a collaborative identity while highlighting what makes them and their teams unique. It pulls from the idea that we need not compete for visitor attention, but rather, that we can create a sense of abundance by focusing on the field’s work as culture bearers.   



Moving at the Speed of Trust 

Once the project launched on May 6, we stood back a little stunned at what, with our first-round contributors, we had all just created. It had come together so quickly and in such a satisfying way. There was something about this that felt different from many of the projects we do as museum workers. Because we knew one another and respect one another’s work, we were able to go into it with a high level of trust, and (as trust has been shown to do) that gave the work speed. 



Off the Leash (Or Giving Ourselves Permission) 

We also reveled in the project’s independence. There was a heady sense of freedom in being able to create something that required no approvals, no vetting, no organizational buy-in - we just did it, with no need to ask anyone’s permission. Rarely do museum professionals get to enjoy such profound nimbleness.

It helped us to better see the strengths and weaknesses of institutional review: there are times it really does help to have lots of eyes on a project, to expose it to critical views, to vet it for representation and other equity needs, and to invite wider shaping influences. But that process also can come at the cost of experimentation. Here, we got a chance to try working leaner and more iteratively; instead of trying to get it perfect out of the gate, we worked with it responsively once it was out in the world, making tweaks as we went and observed how it was being received. There’s a good chance museum workers will be doing more of this in our new environment of short-term planning horizons. It’s a good muscle to exercise. 

The non-hierarchical nature of our relationships was important as well.  With no one “managing” the project and no one “reporting” to each other, the initiative moved forward as the product of a team of equals. We made decisions by consensus and saw a surprising degree of alignment in our working styles, values, and preferences - especially given that none of us had worked together before.  We, as Sarah’s mom says, “threw spaghetti at the wall” and were happy to move forward with whatever stuck. Because none of our professional reputations were at stake, we were okay with whatever mess the spaghetti made. Perfection was not our aim.  



It’s All About Resilience 

#MuseumSurvivalKit is more than a set of how-tos. It’s an affirmation of human resilience. From the beginning, we defined “survival” expansively - as Melanie Adams said, “it’s not just about canning and butter churning. I think of people sitting with their community and making a quilt together, giving emotional support to one another.” So far, #MuseumSurvivalKit contributions have included things like wild foraging and natural rope making - but people are also using the hashtag to talk about Black hair care, conflict resolution, zine-making, and mixing historical cocktails. Survival is just as much about telling stories, providing mutual aid, making music, getting along with one another, and collective problem-solving as it is about finding food in the forest or boiling maple syrup. Every person and every community and every historical era has something to teach us about surviving, and thriving, in challenging times. And we can use all the knowledge they are willing to share. 

And as museum professionals, the project was an exercise in resilience for us, too. It was good to spend time together and be creative. In a time of seemingly unending bad news, for the culture and particularly for our field,  it felt good to focus on positivity and to design something our colleagues might find joy in. 



Next Step: Museum Survival Week

The project is continually evolving, as we learn from our experiences. To spark the next round of participation, we have created Museum Survival Week, June 1-7, 2020.  During this week, we encourage everyone to take part, not just museums. Are you an individual who’s learned something with, in, or from a museum? It’s your time to shine! You’ll find all the participation details here, and please follow #MuseumSurvivalKit during the first week of June to see what others share. Together, and drawing on the rich resources of our cultural heritages, we will get through this.  




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.

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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Sunday, May 24, 2020

3 Pandemic Diversions


Design and Creative Expression can help us overcome any number of challenges.

Perhaps especially during these stressful and isolating times, I've looked for things that provide me with comfort and enjoyment, that give me a chance to pull away from the pains of the pandemic -- even for a moment, and that help me appreciate the creative human spirit.

To that end, here are three things that I've found that provide me with inspiration and ideas, while also providing glimmers of brighter days ahead.  I hope you'll enjoy them, too.



Care Cards

Care Cards are a beautifully-designed set of kind thoughts and helpful little activities put together by the digital collective First and Foremost. You can install Care Cards on your computer or phone to provide random bits of positivity.  In a similar vein, check out the "Oblique Strategies" cards by Peter Schmidt and Brian Eno. Here's an online version -- just click to see a new card.





The Repair Shop 

The Repair Shop is a show on Netflix that may be the perfect respite for museum workers away from their jobs and their closed institutions.  The series is actually filmed on the grounds of a UK museum (the Weald and Downland Living Museum in Singleton, West Sussex) and involves the same set-up for every episode -- a core band of expert restorers bring three treasured (and sometimes severely damaged) family heirlooms back to life.

The objects on the show may not all be "museum quality" but each item is deeply meaningful to the people who bring them to The Repair Shop.  Along the way, you learn about the fascinating histories of the objects, as well as coming to understand the processes and techniques used for their repair and restoration.  The entire program is positive and gentle in a delightfully British way.




Norah Jones on YouTube

I've always enjoyed the music that Norah Jones makes and have long admired her as an artist.  So I was delighted to find that she has been sharing songs and mini-concerts (she takes requests!) on YouTube from her home -- which might be the most enjoyable type of "work from home" recordings ever.

In addition to the wonderful songs, it's nice to get a better sense of the person behind the music in the less-guarded, more intimate surrounding of Jones' own home.

You can click on over to the Norah Jones YouTube page, or enjoy the embedded sampler below.






Do you have your own special things that are helping you get through these tricky times?  Please share them in the "Comments" section below.



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.

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, May 16, 2020

The Museum Workers Relief Fund



I don't know about you, but I've about reached my limit reading thought pieces prognosticating on the "new normal" of museums or bone-headed ramblings about "touchless" museums and "untouchable" museum endowments.

There are thousands of museum worker colleagues who need concrete financial support NOW rather than high-minded essays about an uncertain future.

To that end, the collective Museum Workers Speak has put together a Museum Workers Relief Fund for the mutual aid of museum workers in need.  In the words of their website:

It has become clear to us that when our institutions will not stand in solidarity with us, we must stand in solidarity with one another.



If you would like to donate (as I already have) to the Museum Workers Relief Fund, you can follow this link to do so.

As an added incentive, for every ExhibiTricks reader who donates at least $10.00 by or before May 31, 2020, I will set up a one-hour Zoom call (at a mutually convenient time) to discuss anything you like.

Think of it as a super-cheap consulting call with me to talk about museum exhibit possibilities, museum careers, or whatever else springs to your mind.

So click on over to the Museum Workers Relief Fund page NOW, make your donation, and then email me your receipt so we can compare calendars for that Zoom call!



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.

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!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Critiquing Online and Virtual Exhibitions

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more museums are creating virtual exhibitions or producing online material to complement existing exhibitions. With this wave of digital material, I thought it would be useful for museum professionals to provide critiques or reviews of these digital exhibitions in order to help these digital exhibition formats grow and evolve.

By a happy coincidence, several graduate students from the Exhibition and Experience Design Program at The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City recently wrote about online exhibition materials and agreed to share their critiques, as well as their general insights about online and virtual exhibitions, here on the ExhibiTricks blog.



Bhawika Mishra is currently pursuing A Master's in Exhibition and Experience Design from FIT and comes from the culturally diverse country of India. Observing how people interact with their virtual and physical environment drives Bhawika's design decisions. The collaborative power between art and science and its result really interests her.

Bhawika wrote a critique of the online exhibition, "Measure Your Existence" from the Rubin Museum of Art.  You can find Bhawika's full design critique here.


Bhawika shared these thoughts about online and in-person exhibition experiences:

Online exhibits provide a virtual experience with the ability to teleport participants into a virtual world where you have the virtual superpower to experience, create, and interact with things at your own convenience.

The user navigation around the website is crucial and similar to the circulation in a physical exhibit. The website and software design follows the same design principles as the physical exhibit. The online exhibit also provides extended visitor experience though online shops, audio, podcasts, virtual meetups and also providing virtual assets like stickers, certificates.

The online exhibit format is flexible but takes away sensory and tactile experiences.

Online exhibits are available 24/7 and have the option for special launches for certain audiences, whereas the physical museum exhibition can only be experienced during the museum's open hours.






Selen İmamoğlu is currently pursuing her Master's in Exhibition and Experiential Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She graduated from the Department of Interior Architecture and Environmental Design at Bilkent University and did her internship in the commercial design industry.

With a passion for creating the connection between people and feelings, she gets inspired by the surroundings and small details in everyday life that can be seen by attentive eyes. She loves exploring, observing, and reflecting.   

Selen critiqued the exhibition called "Partners in Design" which was produced by The Stewart Program for Modern Design.  You can find Selen's full presentation here.


Here are Selen's thoughts about virtual exhibit experiences:

It was a great experience to do a critique assignment on a virtual exhibition since it enabled me to gain a different point of view. I realized that virtual exhibitions have a structure and utilize design tools considering visitor experience, just like conventional exhibitions. 

However, despite knowing the efforts to make this "an experience" for the visitor, I am still not sure if this is more distinct than a regular museum website. Overall, it is great to have these alternative ways of reaching the unique content prepared for others to take, especially in these crazy times.







Sammi Kugler is from Long Island and went to SUNY Purchase for her undergraduate degree, where she received a BFA in photography. Sammi mainly does large format photography and loves to work in the darkroom, developing and printing. She also enjoys making installation art, printmaking, and experimenting with new methods of art-making. Sammi really enjoys working with props to tell a story and affect the way people feel. 

Sammi critiqued "The Museum of the World" project from The British Museum.  You can find Sammi's full critique here.

After doing this exhibition critique, Sammi realized that we have the technology to make online experiences as interesting as in-person experiences. We just need to be thoughtful about how information is presented, and work harder to interact with users. 



Thank you to Bhawika, Selen, and Sammi for sharing your critiques!


Do you have your own thoughts about online exhibition experiences?  Please share them in the "Comments" section below!




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.

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"

Friday, May 1, 2020

"Feets-On" Museums?


Let me start out by saying I wasn't raised by wolves, so I know that "feets" is a word that doesn't technically exist in the English language, but I'm making a comparison to the oft-used term "Hands-On" and the terms "Feet-On" or "Shoes-On" didn't quite hit the mark.

Many people in the interactive areas of the museum business are justifiably concerned about visitors' reluctance to touch things when museums begin to reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic. Me too!

I was recently interviewed for the excellent Museum Archipelago podcast to discuss the future of hands-on museum exhibits, and afterward, it got me thinking about how many interesting exhibits I've seen people use or activate with their feet. "Feets-On" seems like a much better design-thinking experiment than the idea of an entirely "touch-free" museum, and I don't recall anyone ever being concerned about poking or touching something with their shoe-clad foot inside an exhibition gallery.

Bear with me here -- I don't expect to create an entirely "Feets-On" Museum (although it seems like a cool idea!) but I'm using the notion as a jumping-off point, some design inspiration. What other interesting interfaces could we use to retrofit old exhibit components, or create brand new exhibit experiences, that would be respectful of visitors' concerns after months of being told to physically distance themselves from others and to avoid touching anything?

So here's a walkthrough of some inspiring foot-activated or foot-integrated experiences to keep you on your toes! (Most, if not all, of these experiences could be activated by people using wheelchairs or walkers, too.)


Switch Mats
These industrial-strength mats respond to just a slight bit of pressure and could be a way to replace simple push-button activated exhibits.



Earthquake/Seismograph Jumps
A classic bit of Science Center exhibit interaction -- jump to see a seismograph register and create your own mini-earthquake!  It's a cool way to combine a real scientific instrument with pure fun.  (Muzeiko in Bulgaria also has a jump-activated volcano model!)




Walk-on Big Piano
If you've ever seen the 1988 movie, "Big" with Tom Hanks, you no doubt remember the scene of Hanks' character dancing on a giant piano keyboard.  A fun way to create music without your hands! Check out the aptly-named company, Big Piano, for more information on how to purchase your own Big Piano.




Floor Projections
There are a number of companies that create interactive floor projections -- everything from dinosaur digs to alphabet hopscotch.  Here's an image from the fine folks at LUMOplay of one of their dino dig experiences.




Stomp Rockets and Cars
"Stomp" exhibits can be designed to meet an important interactive exhibit design feature -- the automatic reset!  Here's a picture of a stomp car track from the Palouse Discovery Center.  Note how the racetrack is tilted upward so the cars automatically roll back to the starting line.



Balance Exhibits
Many sports exhibitions have a number of experiences that let visitors "think on their feet." Here's an example of an equilibrium test from Children's Museum Houston, but I've also seen surfboard and balance beam exhibit components, too.





"Shoe View"
A great idea I've seen in several exhibitions is a kiosk with a monitor at eye level but a camera at the foot/shoe level.  It immediately catches your attention because you expect the screen to show your face or upper torso, not your shoes.  This worked to great effect in the "Global Shoes" exhibition developed by the Brooklyn Children's Museum and Whirlwind Creative.  In this case, you were encouraged to look carefully at your own shoes and compare them to the many different types of shoes on display in the exhibition.




Footprint and Shoe Comparisons
People love to compare themselves to other people and animals.  Presenting visitors with a way to compare their own feet to a dinosaur, or an elephant, or a famous athlete makes for a great selfie moment!




Math Dance 
Even Math can become an opportunity to use your feet when you are working with a talented dancer like Mickela Mallozi (of the "Bare Feet" TV show from PBS.)  Mickela helped us develop a "Math Dance" interactive for the Discovery Museum in Acton, Massachusetts that lets visitors dance along to find the geometry and patterns in dances from around the world!






I hope you've enjoyed this little walkabout through some "feets-on" design inspiration.

Let's all point our shoes in the right direction and start marching toward new interactive exhibit design ideas for when we all finally step into our favorite museums as they begin to reopen around the world!




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.

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"

Thursday, April 23, 2020

4 Resources for Building Stronger and More Resilient Museums



How Can We Build Stronger and More Resilient Museums?

I'm sure that's a question that many people who work in museums, and many people who love and visit museums, have been pondering.  Me too!  So I thought I would share four resources -- different positive jumping-off points to consider when thinking about the future of museums and other essential cultural institutions.


1) A Museum FAQ video conversation with Laura Huerta Migus

I was extremely fortunate to recently discuss the topic of building stronger and more resilient museums with Laura Huerta Migus, the Executive Director of the Association of Children's Museums, as part of the Museum FAQ video series.

Among the many powerful takeaways from our conversation were Laura's closing thoughts:

"I would ask people to not plan for what it looked like before but to take this as a real opportunity to reinvent yourself especially around being essential.  We’ve talked about museum experiences bringing joy and being restorative but we have a moment to really articulate and prove how we are of service and how we are healing environments and the places that we really occupy in society. 

And if we embrace that then we have an opportunity to come out of this so much stronger -- and not only as individual institutions but as a field. I think that's the challenge that I am holding to get myself through these weeks and that I see the leadership in our field really holding onto as well."


Please view our full video conversation embedded below or on the POW! YouTube channel or via museumfaq.com






2) Good examples of "Museums Stepping Up" from The Museum Group's email newsletter

I really like the idea of holding up positive examples of museum decisions made during difficult times, rather than the constant "drumbeat of doom" regarding layoffs and furloughs.

In that spirit, The Museum Group's most recent email newsletter offers up a compendium of museums and museum workers responding in thoughtful and creative ways to the challenges presented by COVID-19.  Like this museum shop in the UK selling groceries for their neighborhood, or Empathetic Museum publishing "How to Be An Empathetic Museum in this Troubled Time."

Definitely click here for a look at all the great examples in the free newsletter, and consider subscribing for a Museums Step Up "Part Two" in just a couple of weeks.




3) The book "Upstream" by Dan Heath 

NY Times bestselling author Dan Heath has written (or co-authored with his brother Chip) a number of interesting business and strategy books.  His latest offering, entitled Upstream is predicated on the notion that there are proven ways, grounded in both research and practical application, to "solve problems before they happen."

If ever there was a book for its time, it is Upstream. (The title comes from a story about two men walking near a river.  Suddenly they see a young child struggling in the water calling out for help.  One of the men swims into the river and rescues the drowning child. A few minutes later they see and hear another child in the river, and the other man dives in to save that child.  The same man immediately starts running away upstream.  His companion shouts,  "Where are you going?" The other man yells over his back, "I'm going to stop the idiot who keeps throwing kids into the river!"

Heath divides his chapters into the barriers to upstream thinking, questions for upstream leaders, and practical ways to apply upstream thinking to your own life. I found the ideas in this book especially useful during the current crisis.  You can find a free set of resources related to Upstream here.

(You can also purchase Upstream on Amazon, or other online booksellers.)




4) Museum Archipelago Podcast on "The Future of Hands-On Museum Exhibits"


I was happy to be interviewed by Ian Elsner for his Museum Archipelago blog on the future of hands-on exhibits.

I'll let you enjoy the full podcast yourself, but among the topics we discussed were how to use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to lose lazy design tropes that promote empty interaction (like flip labels!) and to be mindful of the perceptions that visitors will rightly have about interactive experiences when museums begin to re-open.


I hope you find these resources thought-provoking AND hopeful as you make your way through the pandemic and its aftermath. In the spirit of positivity and collegiality, I've decided to give away two copies of Dan Heath's new book, Upstream, to two lucky ExhibiTricks readers!  Simply send me an email with the message, "I want to win Upstream!" before April 30th for a chance to win.  I'll randomly choose two winners during the beginning of May.  Good Luck!



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.

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"