Friday, July 3, 2020

Celebrating Creativity During A Pandemic


Sometimes it is hard to turn away from the "pit of despair" that seems to characterize life during the July 2020 pandemic reality in the United States.


But wait!  It is not all doom-and-gloom!  Artist Federico Tobon, of wolfCat Workshop, has used paper clips, cardboard, scraps of wood, and tape to create wonderful and whimsical little mechanical sculptures, some of which are featured in this post.


Tobon also created a video collection of some creations entitled "29 automata in 6 minutes" which you can see on YouTube or embedded below.



You probably have all the materials you need at home right now to put together your own pandemic plaything -- why not give it a whirl?





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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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Monday, June 22, 2020

My "Pandemic Project”


When the restrictions and precautions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic took hold on Long Island, where my family and I live, it immediately became apparent that we were entering strange new territory. The notion of “working from home” and having meetings and conferences remotely, was not that different from much of my usual consulting workflow, but two other things soon became apparent.

First, as every museum conference I was scheduled to speak at or attend was canceled or postponed, the notion of “social distancing” on a professional level became very real, very quickly.  I missed the opportunity of seeing museum friends and colleagues in-person!

Secondly, and related to professional social (and physical!) distancing, I missed the back-and-forth of sharing and learning from each other – which strikes me as one of the underlying strengths of the museum field that sets it apart from many other professions.

So, what to do?  Well, what I did was to take up with new vigor the idea of “Museum FAQ”  videos (FAQ is tech-speak for “Frequently Asked Questions”) that, quite honestly, I had started a while ago but had left aside.  Now I started contacting museum colleagues to find out if they would be willing to have a conversation with me via Zoom (of course!) about a museum topic that would draw upon their personal experience and expertise.

To my delight (and relief!) folks readily agreed, and now I have started to build up a freely available library of videos on my POW! YouTube channel that covers a wide range of topics from Museum Management to Exhibit Design to Science Communication. Even though the videos are being recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, the topics covered, and tips and techniques shared, are truly “evergreen” in the sense that they will still provide interesting and useful information for, hopefully, years to come. 

While I continue to record Museum FAQ videos, three videos, in particular, stand out for me.

Christian Greer, President & CEO of the Michigan Science Center, brought forward a thoughtful (and timely!) discussion about managing in times of transition.  I was struck by how eloquently Christian shared tactics for balancing the foundation of Mission with the flexibility and creativity needed for turbulent times.

On a completely different topic, Amparo Leyman Pino shared successful ways she has used language as an interpretive tool in museums. Amparo moved beyond the more familiar multilingual labels to the ideas of blended language and language-neutral environments.

Lastly, exhibit designer Margaret Middleton shared a fun and informative way to think about creating more inclusive museums by walking us through how to plan for better infant care and feeding areas as a model for the process.  

I hope you’ll click on over to the POW! YouTube channel to view some Museum FAQ videos for yourself – and, better yet, please let me know if there are new topics that we could have a Museum FAQ conversation about together to share with our museum colleagues on YouTube!  (Don't forget to hit the big red "Subscribe" button when you get to YouTube!)

(This post was adapted, with permission, from a piece I submitted for the online version of Informal Learning Review, Special Issue #2  June 2020 p.26)



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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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Monday, June 15, 2020

Tasty Failures



The other day one of my sons wanted to cook up a little surprise for our family.  He worked hard to make some onion bhaji based on a recipe that one of his college friends taught him.  (You can try making some of your own bhajis by following this recipe.)

Everyone enjoyed our special appetizers and found them quite tasty, but I noticed my son was a little upset and I asked him what the problem was.  He was disappointed that the bhaji hadn't turned out exactly how he had hoped and had actually thrown some of them away because he didn't think they were "good enough" to serve.

We are often our own worst critics, and many times the fear of "less than perfect" paralyzes our work. 

Sometimes parts of an exhibition or a new program won't be completed or be *perfect* on opening day -- and while that might gnaw at us as creators, our visitors are usually focused on the 99% of what's working well, not the 1% that's missing or imperfect.

Let's continue to learn from our failures, but let's also take time to savor our successes.



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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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Monday, June 8, 2020

Every Minute and Every Dollar is a Vote


The ways we spend our time and money indicate our priorities.

One of the strengths of museum workers is our capacity to share information and resources as well as sharing of ourselves to help others.  With that in mind, I'm going to offer one suggestion for where to spend your money and another suggestion for where to spend your time.


A Place to Spend Your Money

Please consider contributing to the Museum Workers Relief Fund to help our colleagues in need.  From their GoFundMe page:

"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."

Museum Workers Releief Fund logo



A Place to Spend Your Time

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I've started a Museum FAQ video project to share ideas with museum workers through a series of YouTube conversations with museum thinkers from around the world.  Please check out the Museum FAQ YouTube page and let me know your suggestions for future Museum FAQ topics.





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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 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.  




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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" 



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!

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"