Saturday, January 22, 2022

2 Cool Tools: Cleanup.pictures and ClipDrop


Even if you are not a graphic designer, you probably need to occasionally "tweak" images for your work -- tasks like simply removing backgrounds or removing individual objects from photos.

To that end, allow me to recommend two tools, Cleanup.pictures and ClipDrop.

Cleanup.pictures is an intuitive online tool that lets you remove objects, people, text, or defects from images.




ClipDrop actually uses AR (Augmented Reality) to allow you to accurately remove the backgrounds from photos you take, or existing photos on your device.  ClipDrop then lets you drop the clean image directly onto your desktop -- which is super cool!




I hope you enjoy exploring these tools.  Which "cool tools" do you use to help your workflow?  Let us know 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"

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Can Museums REALLY Change?


As the New Year starts, in the midst of an ongoing worldwide pandemic, many museum workers are wondering if cultural institutions can make the changes needed to move into the post-COVID era.

An article I wrote entitled, "Can Museums Really Change?" was published in the most recent issue of Informal Learning Review -- a celebration of 28 years of that journal's existence.

You can access my entire article for free here, but I'll touch on some of the key challenges (and possible solutions) in this excerpt below.

I'll begin by posing the same question here that I used to start my article, 


"If someone you knew and cared about (like a relative or mentee) asked whether they should pursue a career in museums right now, what would you say?"


What are the things museums and other cultural institutions need to focus on to become stronger, more equitable, and more community-centered organizations?

Here are five things that I've been thinking about:


1) Staff > Stuff

One of the first ways museums could begin to become more genuinely people-centered (instead of merely talking about it via their social media accounts) is to clearly prioritize staff over “stuff.” This requires museum management and boards and museum organizations to act as if they care more for the people working at a museum than museum collections or buildings. (Of course, you need trained staff to care for collections and facilities properly, but that’s an entirely different story).

Pay continues to be the most significant ongoing issue in the museum world. It is wrong, if not downright immoral, to hire someone for full-time work at a museum and to knowingly pay them less than a living wage. And many museum workers are woefully and deliberately underpaid. Let’s pause here to acknowledge that many museum administrators are master rationalizers and can spin stories to justify some of their staff needing to work one (or more!) jobs in addition to their full-time museum employment to make ends meet. 

So rather than relying on someone’s rosy notion of what a “living wage” means in different parts of the country, why not use a common yardstick? Fortunately, MIT has developed a free Web-based Living Wage Calculator (https://livingwage.mit.edu/) that anyone can use to determine what a living wage means in different parts of the U.S. All museums should commit to offering their employees a living wage. 



2) Flatten the Org Chart!

The traditional “top-down” hierarchical business structures of most museums contribute to the isolation of museum departments and functions. Instead of creating collaborators moving toward common goals, most museum org charts create multi-level “silos” that compete for limited resources – often pulling in different directions. Front-line and public-facing museum workers often feel that decisions handed down from the “higher-ups” are arbitrary or “out of touch” with the operational realities of running the museum.

Worse yet, museum employees facing severe issues such as the reported instances of sexual harassment or even physical abuse(!) from managers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art were routinely ignored or dismissed, (https://hyperallergic.com/579531/philadelphia-museum-of-art-concludes-workplace assessment-after-allegations-of-abuse/). The museum management hierarchy simply sought to protect itself. 

Hierarchical structures in museums also contribute to pay inequities across departments. Shouldn’t the roles of Education, Exhibits, and Development departments be viewed as equally important to museums’ purpose and function, and therefore compensated equitably? Museums can systemically change staffing and management approaches by “flattening” their org charts and promoting workers’ and departments’ true interdependency.

What would a museum system built on self-organization principles look like in practice? At its core, “self-management” means knowing what you are responsible for and having the freedom to meet those expectations however you think is best. “Self-organization” is being able to make changes to improve things - beyond what is required of you. Simple in theory, but everyone has to truly commit for it to work!

Examples from the for-profit world include the company Zappos, which details the approach it took in successfully changing to a form of a self-organizing structure called a “Holacracy” in this Web article: https://www.zapposinsights.com/about/holacracy.



3) Communities as True Creative Partners

Whose stories are museums telling, and who is visiting museums to experience the exhibits, programs, and events related to those stories? As researchers like Susie Wilkening have shown (http://www.wilkeningconsulting.com/data-stories.html), museum visitors are concerned about a broad range of issues, but can museums provide what their communities want and need – and in a timely way? There are large groups of people that museums are simply not reaching. Visitors to cultural arts organizations, including museums, continue to trend older and whiter than the demographic directions the U.S. general population is heading.

How can museums counteract the notion that “museums are not for me”? I would contend that rather than trying only to present stories, museums also need to engage with their communities as real creative partners. That way, museums no longer become the only authorities and sole judges of the value of certain stories over others. This systemic shift to co-creation with communities may well upset museums with a “Curators Uber Alles” approach, but the realities of demographics point in a different direction.

An excellent example of a museum that sought to reinvent itself with a more community and visitor-centric approach is the Oakland Museum of California (https://museumca.org/). A free PDF of a book outlining their work, “How Visitors Changed Our Museum” is available through the OMCA website: https://museumca.org/files/HowVisitorsChangedOurMuseumBook.pdf.

Another way museums could become more community-minded is to foster more cooperation and resource-sharing between museums in the same geographic area. A great example of exactly this kind of local cooperation is the Chattanooga Museums Collaborative: https://www.nten.org/article/sharing-back-offices-in-the-cloud-the-case-of-the-chattanooga-museums-collaborative/.



4) Money Changes Everything

Given the continuing mismatch between cultural institutions’ operational needs and the available funding sources; the COVID-19 crisis has made even more evident the weak financial positions of so many museums.

This raises a sort of “museum lifeboat” question – should unsustainable museums be allowed (or even encouraged) to go out of business so they don’t take away limited resources from more vital institutions?

This is a tricky proposition since many museums really can’t survive without constant (if erratic) infusions of cash from both private and governmental sources. The long-term systemic solution here is to create reliable public funding streams for all museums through political pressure, both at the local and national levels. We should support and vote for politicians that view museums as necessary to civic life as libraries, police stations, or garbage trucks. A politician that continually tries to eliminate organizations like IMLS, NEH, and NEA is no friend to museums.

More systemic public funding of cultural organizations would also reduce the dependence of museums on wealthy donors and reduce the systemic and ethical dilemmas caused by balancing selling objects from the collections versus preventing the firing of staff -- which brings us back to “staff versus stuff” again. Although in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, “stuff” seems to be winning the battle -- if you consider examples such as the Museum of Modern Art (with an endowment of over one billion dollars) terminating every single contract of all 85 of its freelance educators in April 2020 or the Royal Academy in the U.K. that is refusing to sell one Michelangelo statue to save the jobs of nearly 150 museum workers in September 2020.



5) Leaving the "Numbers Game" Behind

Ultimately, to change the current museum “system,” we need to leave the “numbers game” behind. The notion that admissions numbers are an accurate measure of a museum’s worth or a way to measure the value of a museum visit to a visitor may be a more severe sickness impacting the museum world than even COVID-19.

Randi Korn’s book, Intentional Practice for Museums: A Guide for Maximizing Impact, offers meaningful alternatives to the museum admissions figures “numbers game.” Many museum leaders and boards continue to be deluded by an “edifice complex.” The reckless rush to build larger and grander new museums without considering whether we can sustain those new buildings has to stop. If we cannot sustain (parse that word in as many ways as you like) existing museums worldwide, should we really be adding to the number of new museums?



Final Thoughts

All of the challenges and possible systemic solutions highlighted above bring us back to the original question: Can Museums Really Change?

Can we bring the required sense of urgency and the necessary hard decisions to the tasks ahead? Museums have talked a great game for years (even decades!) about systemic inequities and failings in the museum field – often with little, if any, real change. The current moment requires not just talk but timely, and creative, actions.

Are we prepared to leave people behind (whether directors, board members, or staff) who cannot evolve and adapt to the changes needed in the museum field? No matter how much you like an individual personally, or how well they may have fit their role in the past, sometimes folks just don’t grow along with your organization. And then it only deepens the pain to delay conversations about moving on.

Perhaps everyone in the museum field should take a lesson from the dinosaur skeletons on display in so many of our institutions – if you don’t adapt, you will surely become extinct!




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"

Monday, January 3, 2022

New Thinking Tools for the New Year


As 2022 dawns, I inevitably think about upcoming creative challenges and new ways to solve problems, so I was delighted to discover a website that gathers a range of interesting problem-solving tools together.

Untools.co is a visually-oriented website filled with various thinking and design tools to help people solve problems and make decisions. 



If you have a challenge but are unsure where to start, some helpful “prompt questions” on the Untools website will direct you to different thinking tool options.

Adam Amran is a product designer who gets paid to solve problems, but he couldn’t find a good place on the Web where different creative thinking tools were collected, so he created Untools.co 






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"

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

2021 in the Rearview



I don't know about you, but I'm happy to put 2021 in the rearview mirror.  Yet, despite the many challenges that came over the past 12 months, some recurring positive aspects of my work and professional practice continued to poke through the gloom.

Here are some good things I'll be carrying with me and considering some more in 2022.  (Each title link below brings you to a related 2021 ExhibiTricks post.)



I always enjoy being inspired by and sharing the work of creative folks.  I especially enjoyed the wonderful cable tie sculptures made by Sui Park.






Taking a little time to prototype and test ideas is such an important part of making great exhibits, but so often overlooked or "rationalized" away.  Make a New Year's resolution to use more TAPE!





Some museums have it, and some don't.  What can you do in 2022 to imbue your work, and the places where you work, with authentic museum spirit?






I think one of the major strengths of museum workers is their willingness to share -- their ideas, their time, their hard-won lessons learned. So I was delighted this year to work with ASTC to release all four volumes of the Exhibit Cheapbooks out into the wild for FREE! (Of course, you can always check out the "Free Exhibit Resources" section of the POW! website for articles, videos, and other cool stuff!)




Here's wishing ExhibiTricks readers and subscribers a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2022!




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"

Monday, December 6, 2021

Exhibit Design Inspiration -- Literary Clock


Maker (and manager of the electronics workshop at the Royal Academy for Arts) Jaap Meijers released this Instructable that shows how to repurpose an old e-reader into a very special type of clock -- a Literary Clock!

What is a "Literary Clock" you might ask?  It's a device that tells the time by quoting "timely" passages from literary works.  The "literary time" updates every minute, so for instance at 9:23 in the evening, it will read:

My father met me at the station, the dog jumped up to meet me, missed, and nearly fell in front of the 9:23 pm Birmingham express.

This is an incredibly inventive concept, and I kinda want to see one in every library.  If you don't have an old e-reader handy, you can still use this Web-based version called "Literature Clock" that was developed by Johannes Enevoldsen, inspired by Jaap Meijers' original idea.





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"

Monday, November 22, 2021

Giving Thanks (in Museums)



This is the time of the year in the U.S. that we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday meant to remind us of all the people and things in our lives that we have to be thankful for.  Despite the turmoil in the world, I do feel very thankful for my family, my work, and the friends I share my life with.

I'm also very thankful for ExhibiTricks Readers and Subscribers!  I really appreciate the thousands of you who read this blog each and every week.  If you ever have ideas or suggestions for ExhibiTricks, feel free to email me.

And now, without further ado, here is one of my favorite posts about ways of thanking our donors, community supporters, and stakeholders:

Many Ways To Say Thanks

Most donor recognition installations in museums are really ways to say thanks.  And who could argue with that?

But you can thank someone with the equivalent of a cheap mass-produced card you grabbed on your way home, or with the donor recognition version of a homemade loaf of bread accompanied by a carefully chosen book inscribed to the recipient.

In the past, I've asked museum folks for images of interesting and thoughtful examples of donor recognition.  I received an avalanche of images --- many more than I'll include in this post, so I've gathered all the images that I've received into a free PDF available for download from the POW! website.

Just click on the "Free Exhibit Resources" link near the center-top of any page on the website, and you'll see an entire collection of free goodies, including the newly added link called "Donor Recognition Examples."  Once you click on the link you'll get the PDF of images. (Be patient --- it's a BIG file.)

So what sorts of images and examples of donor recognition did I receive?  They fell into several larger categories, namely:

• Frames and Plaques

• Walls and Floors

• Genre Specific

• Mechanical/Interactive

• Interesting Materials

• Digital Donor Devices

So let's take each of the six categories and show a few examples of each.


FRAMES and PLAQUES

I'm sure you've seen lots of bad examples of this donor recognition approach, but there is a lot to be said for the simplicity (and creative twists!) that can be employed using this technique.

The image at the top of this post is a nice example of "helping hands" (but still essentially plaques) in this category from the Chicago Children's Museum.

I like the use of colors and the physical arrangements in the following two examples. The first pair of images comes from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh (with bonus colored shadows!)








The next is a sert of back-lit elements designed by Skolnick A+D Partnership for the Children's Museum of Virginia --- The entire unit is essentially one big lightbox!





Light is also used as a strong element in the image below from Macalester College.  The folks from Blasted Art used Rosco's Lite Pad product to create the glowing text.





Lastly, I like this simple example from the MonDak Heritage Center.  Just frames, but it does the job nicely.






WALLS and FLOORS

Sometimes donor recognition wants to be BIG, in an architectural sense, so interior or exterior walls are used  --- and sometimes even floors!

Here are two exterior wall examples that stood out.  The first from the Creative Discovery Museum

And the second from the Oakland Museum.  They are both colorful and animate nicely what would otherwise be a big blank wall.


 Here's a nice interior wall from Discovery Gateway, in Salt Lake City


Each of the pieces is back-laminated graphics on acrylic.  (Here's a detail.)






Of course, even the best-laid donor recognition plans can get circumvented by operational issues!



And lastly, here's a floor example from The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History.  It's the Periodic Table with donors in each element.







GENRE SPECIFIC

Several people sent examples of genre specific donor recognition designs.  A popular motif is to use collection objects or images, especially in the case of Natural History Museums.

Here is the Specimen Wall from the California Academy of Sciences.  It's an elegant  low-tech solution that features specimen reproductions encased in laminated glass. The wall was conceived by Kit Hinrichs and realized in collaboration with Kate Keating Associates, with fabrication by Martinelli Environmental Graphics and glass by Ostrom Glassworks.






Here's a clever use of old school tabletop jukeboxes to recognize donors to radio station WXPN put together by Metcalfe Architecture & Design in Philadelphia.





MECHANICAL / INTERACTIVE

In the same way that interactive exhibits are fun and memorable, donor recognition can be too!

Gears are a popular motif in this regard.  The first image (Grateful Gears) is from an installation at the Kentucky Science Center, while the second is from the Madison Children's Museum.










INTERESTING MATERIALS

Sometimes the design element that gets people to stop and actually read the donor names are the unusual materials that the donor recognition piece is made of. If the materials relate to the institution itself, so much the better!


This first image comes from the San Francisco Food Bank







The next is from the Museum Center at 5ive Points, in Cleveland Tennessee which has a strong history of copper mining.  So this intricate donor recognition piece is made from copper!






I love this clever use of miniature doors and windows at the Kohl Children's Museum.  You can open doors and windows to reveal additional information about donors.






The last entry from this section is the truly striking three-dimensional "Donor Tree" from the Eureka Children's Museum in the UK.





DIGITAL DONOR DEVICES

As with all museum installations, digital technology plays an increasing role --- even in Donor Devices.

One unit that stood out was this digital donor recognition device at the National  Historic Trails Center that solicits donations in real-time and puts up digital "rocks" on the rock wall screen of different sizes --- depending on the size of your donation, of course!  A really neat idea that beats a dusty old donation box,  hands down.




As I mentioned earlier, these images are really the tip of the iceberg.  So please check out the entire PDF of all the images I received by heading over to the "Free Exhibit Resources" section of my website.

Also, if you have some other really good examples of donor recognition installations or devices, feel free to contact me and email them along, and I can share them in future ExhibiTricks posts.




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"