Sunday, December 23, 2007

Acne Medicine Removes Pen Marks?!?!

Well here's a new one from the "Baby Toolkit" blog. Apparently, acne creams that contain benzyl peroxide, in combination with sunlight, remove ink marks from plastics without causing damage to the underlying material or painted highlights.

Of course, it sorta makes you wonder about putting the stuff on your face and walking into direct sun, though! Nevertheless, a handy tip for exhibits folks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Vischeck: A Colorblindness Design Tool

Vischeck is a cool website that allows you to simulate (as well as correct for) colorblind vision of documents and websites.

A nice way to be aware of another segment of our audience.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Black Balloons Energy Saving Campaign

Cool/Scary YouTube video that represents CO2 emissions as black balloons.

Open Source Web Design

Need to design and implement a simple website without going HTML crazy?

The folks at Open Source Web Design have gathered a whole set of downloadable templates and links to simple web tools so you (yes, you!) can make a simple website for an exhibit or whatever you like.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Smart Mob Fixes Broken Historic Clock

An article from the Independent details the exploits of a group of Parisian professionals called the UX who snuck into an historic building called the Pantheon to repair an antique clock that had been inoperable since 1965.

Perhaps they could hire themselves out to the museums of Paris?


As one of their charter subscribers, I've always admired the DIY ethic of Make Magazine and their burgeoning empire. Each issue of MAKE is filled with enough cool project ideas, hacks, and tips to keep even a dedicated gizmologist busy for several months! You have to love a magazine that details how to make a kite-based aerial photography rig from popsicle sticks and a disposable camera, s one simple example.

The MAKErs have also spawned a sister magazine called Craft, a great blog site, and best of all, an annual event called the Maker's Faire (sort of a Woodstock for makers and tinkerers.) The first Maker's Faire happened in the San Francisco Bay Area last year. This year besides the SF MF, MAKE added an additional event in Austin.

If you don't already know about MAKE, check them out! (A subscription or one of their project kits makes a great gift.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chart Chooser: Graphs for Creative Types

Often creative types aren't very adept at utilizing tools like Excel.

Never fear! The folks at Juice Analytics have released a brilliant tool called "Chart Chooser".

Basically, Chart Chooser lets you pick types of filters such as "Comparison" and/or "Trend" for the data you'd like to graphically illustrate.

Then, you are offered choices of elegant, colorful Excel or PowerPoint templates you can download and manipulate to your heart's content.

Excellent for exhibit labels or infographics as well as when you have to present a report!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Metal for the Masses!

A quick tip via Make Magazine:

If you need a small quantity of metal(s) for your prototypes or projects check out Speedy Metals

They are happy to handle small orders!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

George W. Bush exhibits?

Just wondering ... what sorts of exhibits our current Prez will have in his Presidential Library?

Post your ideas here!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Science On A Shoestring

A great set of articles from Nature outlines many interesting examples and applications of "Science On A Shoestring" from around the world.

One of my favorite examples is the $4.00 bamboo microscope (pictured above) produced by the non-profit group in India called Jodo Gyan

Saturday, October 20, 2007

SketchUp for Exhibits

If you don't already know about SketchUp, the free** tool from Google, temporarily stop reading this post and point your browser to the SketchUp site to download your favorite flavor.

(Once you start using SketchUp, their blog is well worth checking out as well.)

I know a fellow exhibit developer that calls SketchUp "AutoCAD for Dummies." While SketchUp may have a much more straightforward learning curve than other 3D programs, the results are beautiful and professional even for a clod like me. (The drawing above is a simple SketchUp rendering that I created for a museum project.) So download SketchUp and give it a whirl!

I'd be interested in setting up a network for sharing SketchUp models and projects related to exhibits and museums. Is anyone else interested?

**Once Google bought the original SketchUp company they started offering a free "basic" version, and charging for the "pro" version (although non-profits, like museums, can get the pro version at a reduced rate.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Sometimes even the most creative exhibit developers get stumped.

How about a fun website or e-mailing service that gives you an "idea-a-day"? OK, OK, not every idea is a keeper, but it's still a quick jolt for your designer brain in the morning that doesn't involve caffeine!

Go to the idea-a day website to find out more.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Early Childhood Exhibit: Little Sky Country

You may have read my earlier report about "Little Sky Country" an Early Childhood Gallery in the soon-to-be-open museum called "ExplorationWorks" in the "Big Sky Country" of Helena, Montana.

Well, now the gallery has been installed, as you can see on this Flickr page

The gallery was a collaboration with DCM Fabrication (of Brooklyn, NY) and the staff and volunteers of ExplorationWorks.

One unique thing about ExWorks is that their LEED-certified building was also a "community build" project. (Sort of like a modern barn raising!) In keeping with the eco-friendly theme, we were also able to make use of great "green" materials throughout.

So, if you're ever in "Big Sky Country" make sure to save time for some "Little Sky" too!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Exhibition Design: Why Your Project Costs Too Much

I've just gotten the details on another RFP that I've been short-listed on. Whoopee!

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm has waned now that the actual exhibition scopes and budgets have been released.

I'm all for inexpensive exhibits and production budgets that are frugal, yet allow for creativity. (There's a reason I edited The Cheapbooks for ASTC!)

That being said, it is clear from following the time and money trails backward, that a large part of the client's funding that could have gone into "hard goods" (that is to say ACTUAL EXHIBITS) instead were frittered away on fancy master plans and consultants.

Let me pause the blog to state "THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES!"

Clearly, every exhibition project needs money and often fundraisers and consultants to help raise that money. But you have to wonder when the majority of a project's funds go into overhead, consultants, fancy fundraising packets, etc. rather than the exhibits and programs for visitors.

If you want great exhibits, spend your time and money on the exhibits!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

William Gibson: EBay as Guest Curator?

William Gibson, the godfather of cyberspace has a cool interview in the Washington Post.

In it, Mr. Gibson contends that there is a great opportunity for people to become connoisseurs due to the inadvertent curatorial power of eBay: "Every hair is being numbered -- eBay has every grain of sand. EBay is serving this very, very powerful function which nobody ever intended for it. EBay in the hands of humanity is sorting every last Dick Tracy wrist radio cereal premium sticker that ever existed. It's like some sort of vast unconscious curatorial movement."

Maybe eBay is another way to deploy the power of "Web 2.0" into museums?

In any event, an interesting interview.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Instructables.Com = Exhibit Inspiration

If you don't already know about "" check it out!

This site gives step-by-step instructions for all sorts of cool and wacky projects ranging from a Giant Match(!) to simple mechanical devices and technology hacks.

If you ever get stuck for exhibit inspiration or programmatic ideas this site is a great resource.

Have fun ... and be careful!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Road Posting: Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

A quick posting from the road, as my family and I vacation in Michigan.

We had fun visiting the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, a great museum that started out in a historic 1882 Fire House and has continued to expand to take up most of the block and adjoining buildings in the past 25 years. Well worth a visit!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Two Music Tools From Apple

Here are two music-related tools available from Apple that should be of interest to exhibit developers. I could imagine either program being fun to noodle around with in a Music Gallery or a Multi-Media Lab.

The first tool, Logic, is actually a tool that's been around since the Atari days and has recently been acquired by Apple. Some people have described Logic (or its current incarnation, Logic Pro) as "Photoshop for music." I suppose that's because there is a strong visual underpinning to how Logic works. In any event, it seems like a great tool to let museum visitors play around with.

The other music tool (coincidentally with a strong visual component as well) is the new part of Apple's GarageBand program called "Magic GarageBand." Magic Garage Band lets you move visual representations of musical instruments on or off a "stage" to build up (and then record and/or transcribe) musical compositions. It's just been released, so I've only just started fooling around with Magic GarageBand, but it seems to hold great potential.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Trackstick: A New Visitor Studies Tool For Museum Evaluators?

The website called has listed an interesting GPS-enabled app called "Trackstick."

Basically, it's a clip-on battery-powered device about the size of a pack of gum that tracks and records movements (tech specs say it has a 2.5-meter accuracy.)

The really slick thing though, is that the Trackstick coordinates with Google Earth (and similar online mapping programs) to create a visual record of the path(s) that anyone wearing a particular Trackstick traveled!

This seems like a great tool for evaluators and exhibit developers to get a handle on where visitors travel in zoos, botanical gardens, and large outdoor historical sites as well as around museum sites.

Has anyone out there tried one of these? I'll present my own impressions in a future posting.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Astronaut: A Cool Way to Use Flickr's API

Felix Jung, a clever creator at avovision, has developed this slick Flash-based interface that uses Flickr's API (Application Programming Interface) to "grab" images based on Flickr tags to coincide with a song called "Astronaut" by Dan Frick.

Here are a few things Jung had to say about his creation: "Listening to Dan's song, the speaker makes me think of someone fairly isolated - far away either due to distance or time or both. When thinking of Flickr, I think of a multitude of people, all of them interacting with one another - sharing photos, comments, and memories. I liked the juxtaposition of someone singing about solitude, but having his words represented by... well... by everyone else. By the rest of the world.

Each time the Flash file is loaded, new images are randomly pulled from Flickr. I've hard-coded 53 keywords at set points in the song, and when the page is first loaded... calls are made out to Flickr to retrieve these keywords. With each call, I vary the parameters a little bit.

Let's say I search for the word "astronaut." In searching, I randomly apply a sorting method (date posted ascending, date posted descending, date taken ascending, etc). This randomized sorting method allows for different photos to show up in my results (each search should result in about 50 matches). From there, I randomly select one image, add it to the queue, and move on to the next word.

In some cases, I've taken a few liberties with my searching. Instead of sticking exactly to the lyrics, I've substituted words in certain places, either to elicit an effect or due to the fact that the word itself wasn't returning enough results. I've tried searching all text, but found that searching specifically for matching tags proved the most accurate." (You can read Mr. Jung's entire blog posting about his project here.)

I think there are some amazing exhibit and exhibition possibilities for museums and multi-media artists to make use of this approach to tap into existing public Flickr images (including those currently posted by museums.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Cool Tools for Exhibits Folks

Everybody needs cool tools!

Here a few favorite websites in the "Making Things"folder of my browser bookmarks. Enjoy!

Let's start with Kevin Kelly's website, appropriately titled "Cool Tools" It's a compendium of continuously updated useful tools and techniques submitted by actual users. I always find something to stoke my gadget lust here.

Next up is Instructables a website devoted to sharing simple projects and hacks. Sort of a Web 2.0 for DIY geeks. Big fun!

Last is a one-trick pony called "This to That (Glue Advice)" It's just two simple pull-down windows that let you choose which material you want to glue to another material. CLICK and it gives you suggested adhesives (with links.)

Am I missing one of your favorite sites?

Let me know, and I'll include it in a future posting.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Magical Yellow Book
(NOT Harry Potter!)

If I could only have one catalog on my exhibit resources/supplies shelf it would hands-down be the big yellow book from McMaster-Carr.

The widgets and gizmos they sell have gotten me out of many an exhibit jam. I love the fact that you could buy a railroad car wheel here if you wanted/needed to (and get it delivered the next day!)

Check out their searchable website, but try to get a copy of the paper catalog to peruse as well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Green Exhibits

One of the building trends in the museum business is GREEN.

Clients and visitors are, rightfully, concerned about the materials used to create both museum buildings and exhibitions. In many ways, children's museums have been leading the way in the green revolution.

Brenda Baker and her colleagues at the Madison Children's Museum have been concerned about the types of materials traditionally used in exhibits (lots of plastics and volatile chemicals) and have really worked hard to create more eco-friendly displays. One great product of their work is the website a wonderful compendium of information for everyone concerned about green materials.

The other program that children's museums lead the way in is LEED certification of their buildings.

What is LEED? The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings. LEED gives building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

Several notable examples of new, or soon-to-be-completed, building projects from the children's museum world can be found in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, and Helena, MT.

Unfortunately, green buildings and exhibit supplies are often more expensive than their "non green" substitutes, so it takes a real commitment on behalf of clients and designers to push green design. But, thanks to websites such as we all can have a better idea of what our eco-friendly design options are.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Small Giants (Is Smaller Better? Part 2)

In the excellent book Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big author Bo Burlingham contends that there is more to "growing" a business than getting bigger (and getting bigger quickly!)

As the subtitle of the book suggests, companies featured in the book (such as Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe companies, Clif Bar, and Anchor Steam Breweries) have come to the conclusion that simply making a business larger is not nearly as important as keeping high standards -- and not confusing one goal for the other.

One interesting aspect of Small Giants is that the different companies came to their conclusions related to high quality not being directly related to business size by a variety of paths. Some companies and founders/directors/employees seem to have always had an intuitive sense of the mission of their particular business and were willing to pass up growth if that meant sacrificing their original principles. Other people running companies that grew too fast, or grew for the wrong reasons, only came to embrace "quality over quantity" after suffering personal and business disasters as a result of growth for growth's sake.

I often think of this constant tug of war as it relates to museum expansion projects.
Sometimes upon hearing of a campaign to make an existing museum "bigger and better" I often wonder if they couldn't accomplish increased visitation and income by "just" becoming better. Admittedly, that is hard and incremental work that doesn't lend itself to sexy capital campaigns.

What do you think?

What are some of your favorite museum examples of "small giants"?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Wellcome Images

The Wellcome Trust in the UK has created a website of medical and medically-related images under a
Creative Commons license (such as the chick embryo image shown here.)

Great stuff for exhibit developers and designers!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Swapping for Exhibits

Many museums, especially children's museums, like to include books in their exhibit areas. One difficulty with providing visitors with subject-related materials to enjoy during their visits is stretching the already tight exhibit supplies budgets to make this happen. is one website that lets you "swap" existing books to gain points to exchange for books on the site. They have many types of books (not just paperbacks!)on a variety of topics including science, history, technology, etc. So clean out your old books to get some to use in your exhibit galleries! I like the idea and have happily used the PBSwap website. It's worth checking out.

In a similar way, I wonder if there is a way to "repurpose" surplus exhibit materials or devices between museums. We tried to start up such an exhibits exchange several years ago via ASTC, but it sort of petered out.

I wonder if now that we are in the brave new era of "Museum 2.0" there might be a way to "swap" exhibit materials that weren't being used at one museum to another interested institution.

If anyone would like to help start something like this up, let me know!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

IMAX or IMIN? (Is smaller better? Part 1)

A recent discussion on the ISEN-ASTC listserv dealt with visitors' visceral (sometimes literally!) reactions to big-screen theatre shows.

While there is no argument that such shows are often lots of fun, are they really the best way to allocate a museum's precious resources?

John Bowditch, from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum coined the excellent term "IMIN" as an alternative to the often overwhelming confluence of bombast and technology employed inside museums.

It is interesting that many visitor studies show the value of human-scale interaction inside museums. Also, formal and informal surveys of visitors' positive memories of museum experiences invariably relate to a positive interaction with one or more museum staff members.

If "human scale" experiences in museums are so important, why do so many museums continue to tout big screens and blockbusters? I'm afraid the field has often let funders and fundraising call the tune rather than visitors --- it's "easier" (so the common wisdom states) to raise money for BIG stuff rather than more subtle experiences. But even interesting human-scaled experiences can use technology and be "sexy" to donors, like this installation from the Royal Ontario Museum.

How to break the BIG cycle? Create more small museums and small experiences that set out to "whelm" visitors rather than "overwhelm" them.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Magic Tape: Promising New Lighting Material for Exhibits?

Check out "Magic Tape" from Elshine s.r.l.

I am trying to latch onto a sample to noodle around with.
(I'll insert a critique once I've tried it.)

What sorts of exhibit applications could we use this stuff for?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Paul Orselli in The Wall Street Journal!

Yes, even before it may be sold to Rupert Murdoch, I got a small mention in today's Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 29th)

Carl Bialek, WSJ's "Numbers Guy" wrote a piece about how "countdown clocks" are used (or misused) in museum exhibits and other public venues.

If you read down to the end of the article, you'll notice my comments as they relate to museum exhibits.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Beach (or Airplane) Business (mostly) Books for Exhibits People.

Here's a set of books for your Summer list that I've read or re-read recently.

The first set of books are primarily from the "business section" but I've found great lessons for idea generation, better collaboration, and ways to leverage tools like the Internet to make better exhibits (and let people know that you make better exhibits!)

The last couple of books are excellent novels by two gifted writers.

Seth Godin's Free Prize Inside! is a quick read that lobs lots of great ideas your way. The main idea being that making great products is the best form of advertising.

The Black Swan The author stresses how our brains are wired for narrative -- to tell stories. We look for order and repeatability, even though the "odds" are on the side of randomness.

Rule The Web Think you know everything there is to know about the Web? Guess Again ... and learn some new tricks from this book!

Made to Stick The two brothers who researched and authored this book set out to discover the common traits of "ideas that stick." Ideas, like "The Great Wall of China is the only human-made object visible from outer space", even when they are shown to be incorrect, maintain a life of their own, and keep getting repeated because their ideas "stick" with people.

While the traits the authors come up with seem fairly obvious (Sticky Ideas usually have aspects of Emotion and Unexpectedness embedded in them...) the examples and questions the brothers Heath raise provide a good checklist to shift merely good ideas or exhibits into "sticky" ones.

The Creative Priority Jerry Hirshberg shares his experiences as founder and president of Nissan Design International and imparts some great lessons in how to motivate everyone in an organization to make creativity their priority.

A Death In Belmont From the author of "the Perfect Storm" comes this account of how Junger's family intersected with Albert DeSalvo, the presumed "Boston Strangler" during the 1960's in Belmont, a suburb of Boston.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay If you've never read anything by Michael Chabon, this book is a good place to start. Weaving threads of reality and fiction as he outlines the lives of those creating "fictional reality" in the golden age of comic books in NYC.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Making a "Little Sky" in Big Sky Country

I've just returned from beautiful Helena, Montana where I've been working with the fine folks from ExplorationWorks! (an emerging museum of science and culture) set to open later this Fall of 2007.

Aside from their wonderful community-built "green" building next to the cool Montana-themed Great Northern Carousel downtown, we've been working together over the past few visits to help ExplorationWorks find its unique voice, rather than just replicating things they've seen in other museums.


Which brings me to the topic of perennial favorite exhibit themes for start up museums like "grocery stores" or "mini hospitals." As I've said before, I'd be quite happy never to see another "grocery store" exhibit inside a museum! It's not that I have any problem with these "exhibit chestnuts" per se, but rather the idea that having a mini grocery store is a substitute for doing the real hard and creative work of finding your own "institutional voice." I realize it may be tempting to get the local grocery chain to donate money to outfit a space with kid-sized baskets and bins of plastic fake food, and their logo plastered all over everything (naturally!) but is that really the best possible use of your valuable exhibit space? Personally I'd say you've just created an "entropy exhibit" rather than a grocery store exhibit.

And, don't get me started, on all the amazing learning about nutrition, "cultural diversity" ("we have plastic ethnic food in our store") and the like, that's supposed to occur in these spaces. Little kids like to take things out of containers and pile them up or put them into other containers. PERIOD. I have a toybox in my living room that my kids use for this purpose, but I wouldn't call it an exhibit!


But, getting back to our friends in Helena...I almost had an existential exhibit developer crisis when Suzanne Wilcox, the Director at ExWorks said she wanted to change some things around in our initial design for their Early Childhood Gallery (called "Little Sky Country") and include a mini Post Office and set of stores. HORRORS! Was I going to be forced to give up my strongly held beliefs in the name of making a living? Fortunately not, and I think the resolution we came to in Montana could be useful for other museums considering mini "anythings" in the exhibit galleries.

Mostly we realized that the specific "wrapper" for different exhibit components was not as important as promoting a flexible design architecture that could support the content and desired visitor behaviors such as role-playing, sorting, decision-making, etc. So rather than trying to create a miniature urban "mini Main Street" in the midst of a nature-themed early childhood space, we created a single flexible structure with a Foresty facade whose signage and "props" could be changed and experimented with. (A few initial ideas include "Ma Nature's Cafe" to explore what animals eat, and "The Nest Depot" to discover what sorts of materials animals use to build their homes.)

I'm really excited about what POW! (in collaboration with DCM Fabrication in Brooklyn) has in the "works" for the big ExplorationWorks grand opening of Little Sky Country in late Fall 2007!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

London (Exhibits) Calling

A recent report of a mention of the Exhibit Cheapbooks by Ian Russell during the recent ECSITE Conference in Lisbon, Portugal got me thinking about the differences between museums and exhibit development, here in the US, and "across the pond" in the UK.

"Boffins" are greatly appreciated in the UK. Museum and exhibits people, like the chaps at Science Projects in London, really love to tinker and prototype, and it shows in their exhibitions. Here in the US, many museum folks talk about prototyping, but I'm not sure how much of it actually occurs.

Exhibit meetings, just for the sake of having a meeting, seem to be disdained in the UK. Unlike the US Exhibit Development process, which seems to thrive on meetings. In the UK, BIG, The British Interactive Group, runs regular Fabricators' Weeks where exhibit folks crash around with each other in workshops filled with materials to create as many working prototypes as they can before a big public showing on Friday. Sort of like a Science Fair for adults. (Except with pubs and pints thrown in.)

Many museums in the UK tend to approach things in a simpler, more playful way than US Museums. (except the Science Museum, with its bridges made of glass, looking like the NYC Apple Store. Although even there, the older exhibits like Tim Hunkin's exhibition called "The Secret Life of the Home" are excellent. I guess they have more twee designers in charge, and less boffins, there now.)

Perhaps museum visitors are more "polite" in the UK than their US counterparts. There seems to be a less obvious presence of guards and protective barriers in all types of museums in the UK, even surrounding "valuable" objects. It makes me wonder if environmental cues in museums don't help reinforce expectations of visitor behavior. (It is always comical to see how visitors delight in "foiling" the protective barriers around exhibits by shoving bits of trash, oft-times printed material provided by the museum, inside. It's almost as if each piece shoved inside is saying "HA! you tried to keep me out, but I got in anyway!" Unfortunately, the protective barriers are often such a pain to remove that the poor museum staff must leave the junk inside for long periods at a time, detracting from the exhibit objects.)

The UK Interactive Museum Community has had the advantage of learning from the triumphs (and failures!) of the older US Interactive Museum Community. Rather than trying to recreate models formed in the US, museum folks in the UK have put their own distinctive twist on things, gathering things to use from colleagues around the world, and creating their own distinctively UK museum and exhibit models. One example in the Science Center field is Techniquest , located in Cardiff. For a US visitor familiar with Science Centers, poking around TQ is a strange and wonderful experience, both like and unlike a US Science Center at the same time.

So I say "Cheers!" to our museum colleagues in the UK. You all have a reason to be "chuffed" about your work.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

POP! goes the Exhibit Design

Museums, being the notoriously cheap places that they are, can often benefit from helping their exhibit makers discover interesting and inexpensive new materials to use for their own devices.

One interesting resource in this regard is the world of POP Design. (I'm just a kid from Detroit, so when I hear the word "pop" I always think of a cold carbonated beverage like Faygo Redpop.)

But in this case, POP stands for "Point of Purchase." Think about all those shiny (sometimes motorized or moving or lit) displays near the chips or cold tablets or ball point pens that you see in all the stores you go to. Now multiply that single display for Doritos by thousands (or millions!) of copies worldwide and you'll begin to get a small sense of the scale of the POP industry.

So, what does this have to do with developing museum exhibits? Just this: once any material has been manufactured in sufficient volume (to be used in POP Displays, for example) the unit price goes way down. Low enough for museums to become interested in using color-shifting plastic, inexpensive digital audio repeaters, or scented laminates(!) in new exhibit components.

What other unusual trade organizations or groups could we in the "Exhibits Biz" learn from?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The RFP Issue of NAME's Exhibitionist

I'm the Guest Editor of the most recent issue of The Exhibitionist
(The National Association for Museum Exhibition's twice-yearly professional journal.)

The theme of the issue is RFPs (Request For Proposals.) How did I end up guest editing an issue of The Exhibitionist about RFPs?!?! I can’t stand most of the paperwork associated with the exhibits process – a lot of it seems devised by lawyers and bean counters to thwart creativity and excellent end products, not encourage them.

However, one thing that motivates me even more than my distaste for paperwork is the need to finish a project once it gets started. From the very start of the four years I served on NAME’s board, I kept hearing about a mysterious, unfinished document called “The RFP Cookbook.” I came to understand that over nearly 10 years some of NAME’s, and the museum field’s, most thoughtful and creative practitioners had been writing, re-writing, and trying to assemble this definitive tome regarding RFPs.

Well, for various reasons, The RFP Cookbook never seemed to be able to get off the ground, and frankly, after hearing about it for four years, I wanted to help pull the project together or drive a stake through its heart. After my fellow board members took the sharpened stick out of my hands, I became a somewhat reluctant, at least initially, editor of this collection of practical articles about the many facets of the RFP process.

I found during the editing, and reading and re-reading of the articles, that the RFP process can help focus fuzzy ideas and create excellent collaborative teams. However, like many other steps along the exhibition path, the RFP process can be handled poorly or adroitly. Often having complete information and being able to benefit from the experiences of peers makes the difference. 

Even if you aren't already a member of NAME (hint, hint) check out the downloadable examples. You never know when YOU might be called upon to put together an RFP!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Food" for thought: Cultural Exhibits

Many museums are interested in creating or hosting exhibitions on "cultural" topics. However, many such exhibitions often run the risk of reinforcing cultural stereotypes, or focusing on the strange habits, customs, clothes, of "other" people. (Adding plastic pineapples and plantains to your grocery store exhibit does not mean you now have a cultural exhibit!)

Two wonderful books that may well provide interesting starting points for creating more thoughtful (and thought-provoking!) cultural exhibitions are:
Hungry Planet: What the World Eats
Material World: A Global Family Portrait

Monday, June 11, 2007

Some new "spins" on a familiar exhibit

Last month during the ACM and AAM museum conferences in Chicago, I had a booth in the ACM Marketplace. The fellow in the booth next to me was Steve Divnick. While I had never met Steve personally before, I certainly knew his product, the Spiral Wishing Wells, since I had purchased several of them over the years for museums I have worked for.

During the course of the day in the Marketplace, I overheard a lot of people talking about how much money their Wells have raised and how much they appreciate Divnick’s service. I really got a great sense for Steve’s enthusiasm for the Spiral Wishing Wells, and his sincere desire to help museums raise money in a fun way with a device that also demonstrates science. Also, I got to see the first public showing of his new and improved models including the “Seven Footer” Wells with eight launch ramps molded right into the funnel. If you haven’t seen the new Wells, you will be surprised at the innovations. (Click image above for a larger picture.)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Paul Orselli and POW!

Paul Orselli’s interest in sharing ideas with people and creating interactive devices began when he was a child growing up in Detroit. While earning his B.S. in Anthropology and Zoology from the University of Michigan and his M.A. in Science Education from Wayne State University, Paul realized he could have a job making “cool stuff” by working in the museum business.

For more than 30 years, Paul has worked to create inventive science museums and playful children’s museums, including director-level positions at the Discovery Museums in Acton, Massachusetts, the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, and the Long Island Children’s Museum.

In 2002, Paul became President and Chief Instigator of POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop.) POW! was created to utilize Paul’s talents and collaborative resources to help museums and other cultural institutions develop innovative exhibit components, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Paul has consulted on museum projects throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle East. His clients include such notable organizations as the New York Hall of Science, the Exploratorium, the National Science Foundation, and Science Projects in London.

In addition to regular presentations at national and regional museum conferences, Paul has also been the editor and originator of the three best-selling Exhibit Cheapbooks, published by ASTC, and has served on the board of NAME (National Association for Museum Exhibition).

Paul lives on Long Island with his wife and “in-house exhibit testing crew” of four children.

Great Big Exhibit Resource List

For the past few years I've been gathering (and adding to) a resource list of Exhibit Supplies and Suppliers.

Check it out at:

If any of your "favorites" are missing, let me know and I'll add them to the list!