Thursday, December 26, 2013

Two Pivots in Time: End of 2013 Exhibit/Design Inspiration

We're nearing the end of one year and the start of the next.  I always find this pivot point in time a great opportunity to look both backward and forward, so I guess that's why I felt compelled to share both of the inspiring projects below with you --- each is connected to the past, but is also pointing toward a different (brighter?) future.

Bunker 599 is a reinterpretation of one of the 600 surviving WWII era bunkers along the New Dutch waterlines.  As you can see in the video below (or on YouTube here) the artists involved in the Bunker 599 project literally dissected the bunker to create a piece that clearly relates to the past, but does something else as well by making you look at the light and spaces inside and around the original bunker in different ways.  (Thanks to Kiersten Nash for pointing out the Bunker 599 project!)

Write-A-House is a project that plays with the pivot of time in a different way.  As detailed in the recent Detroit Free Press story, the Write-A-House crew are providing houses (that's one pictured at the top of this post) in the Detroit neighborhood of Hamtramck (for free!) to writers who agree to document their experiences there for two years.  It's seems like a forced gentrification experiment, but getting artists and folks committed to re-populating Detroit and taking care of its busted-up supply of houses seems like an idea worth watching.

What inspired you in 2013, or what projects are you excited to see unfold in 2014?  Let us know in the Comments Section below.

Here's wishing all my ExhibiTricks readers a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year and opportunities to find their own pivots in time!

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.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

ReWind: Many Ways To Say Thanks (and extra Thanks!)

This is the time of the year that many blogs and websites give you their "Top 10 Whatever List."  But given that I don't like those kind of lists (especially the bogus "Top Ten Science Museums" or "Top Ten Children's Museums" lists that seem to pop up in "family" magazines all too often) I thought I'd "ReWind" one of this year's most popular posts instead --- all about ways to thank donors and sponsors in interesting ways --- and couple it to the end of the year "thankful mood" that naturally seems to accompany the Holidays and the New Year.

So, THANKS ExhibiTricks Readers and Subscribers!  I really appreciate the thousands (!) of you who plug into this blog each and every week.  If you have ideas or suggestions for ExhibiTricks in the upcoming year, feel free to email me.

As a bonus for those of you who go in for calendar year transitions, here are two fun "Museum Year Resolutions" ---- things you can do for yourself and the museum field:

1) The first is to contribute to ExhibitFiles (if you haven't already!) and post a review or case study to add to your own professional portfolio, but also to expand the museum field's record of exhibits descriptions and exhibition criticism.  Get started by heading over to the ExhibitFiles website.

2) The second is to join Experimonth.  What's Experimonth? A place to complete monthly challenges and collect data for curious and playful scientists!  It's a project spearheaded by the brilliant Beck Tench, so what are waiting for?  Head over to Experimonth website!

And now, without further ado, here's one of 2013's most popular posts,  

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.

Last month I 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Dinner Party Of Ideas

One of my favorite things about museum people is their genuine capacity for sharing --- be it time, information, or expertise. 

One of my favorite things about this blog is the opportunity to give a forum to colleagues through the ongoing interview feature on ExhibiTricks.

After hundreds of entries since I started blogging back in 2007(!) I've built up quite a "back catalog" of posts, including interviews with some of the most talented and thoughtful folks in the museum biz.

You can find their interviews by using the "Search Box" on the right hand side of this page (and searching for the word "interviews" natch!) but I thought I'd highlight a few you may have missed if you're a newer ExhibiTricks reader, or some that are just worth another careful read.

Think of it as a "Dinner Party of Ideas" with some of the coolest museum people in attendance.  Click on one of the dozen names below (in alphabetical order!) to start the flow of ideas and inspiration.


Sean Duran

Christina Joy Ferwerda

Rachel Hellenga 

Erika Kiessner

Brad Larson

Kathy McLean

Dana Schloss

Nina Simon

Dan Spock

Jason Jay Stevens

Harry White

Lyn Wood

Do you know someone you'd like to see interviewed for the ExhibiTricks blog?  Send me an email with your suggestion(s)!

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.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Monday, December 2, 2013

What's Your "Real World" Museum Advice?

In January, I'll again have the pleasure of teaching the graduate class in Exhibition Development at Bank Street College.

While I'm continually impressed by the high caliber of the students I work with, I always feel compelled to share "real world" museum advice with them --- especially with the job market so tight.

So I'd like to harness the brain power of my ExhibiTricks readers and ask you to please share (anonymously if you'd like) in the Comments Section below one bit of advice about the museum business that will help my grad students (and other emerging museum professionals) as they move forward and consider their place in the museum ecosystem.

Thanks very much!

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.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Steal Like An Artist

Some books just leap out at you and make you read them. 

"Steal Like An Artist" by Austin Kleon has been one of those kind of books for me --- packed with ideas, quotes, and anecdotes that really resonate with me and my creative practice.

Rather than giving the whole book away in this blog post (which would really feel like stealing) I'll share one idea, one quote, and one way of working that will give you a sense of what author Kleon is up to.

The idea "Don't wait until you know who you are to get started" is one that appeals to me very much. There's a tiny "kick in the butt" inside that idea:  "You're ready! Just start making stuff!"  But there's also something inherent in that idea that as both a parent and a teacher is appealing to me too:  "It's ok if you're young and don't have it all figured out, you can still make/do cool stuff." 

How about this quote from Jack White: "Telling yourself you have all the time in the world, all the money in the world, all the colors in the palette, anything you want --- that just kills creativity." As Austin Kleon, points out, the right constraints can lead to your very best work.  Embrace and work within those boundaries and see what you can make happen.

One of the ten axioms about creative work in Steal Like An Artist is: Be boring. (It's the only way to get work done.) Kleon shares several anecdotes in this section of the book about how regular habits and taking care of yourself (and the people around you) give you the mental and physical fuel to fire up your creative work.  (There's a reason Patti Smith tells young artists that its important to go to the dentist!)

So grab a copy of Steal Like An Artist (It's probably best to buy it at Amazon or your local bookshop, than actually stealing it!)  I think you'll find lots of good stuff inside to drive your own creative practice forward.

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.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Newport News: Impressions of the 2013 NEMA Conference

The 95th Annual NEMA (New England Museum Association) Conference just finished up in Newport, Rhode Island.  Having never been to Newport before, I couldn't help thinking of something Mark Twain said in his autobiography:

"Newport, Rhode Island, that breeding place, that stud farm, so to speak, of aristocracy; aristocracy of the American type."

And since the first night's evening event was a fabulous party held at The Breakers, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt's "summer cottage," it was hard not to see the point of Twain's quote.  

But despite being surrounded by many incredible historic mansions, the 2013 NEMA Conference itself was quite accessible and filled with lots of practical information.  The conference theme (which was crowd-sourced last year) was "Who Cares? Why Museums Are Needed Now More Than Ever."
This year, NEMA offered a conference app, and many session handouts were made available via a download section of the NEMA website. 

Obviously I couldn't attend every session and event at the Conference, but here are some impressions of the things I did see and participate in:

Is Your Museum Ethical?  Hats off to Session Chair Rebecca Smith for being willing to raise a set of tricky issues that come up in the museum business.  The session was well-attended with good opportunities for session attendees to participate in resolving hypothetical ethical dilemmas.  Julie Hart, from the American Alliance of Museums, also spoke about resources available from AAM in this regard.  Check out the PDF handouts from the session on the NEMA website.

Telling a Better Story Outside the Walls of Your Museum  Session leaders gave some great tips on "setting the stage" for indoors experiences with outdoor installations.  Among many pieces of common sense advice that stuck with me were exhortations that "little impressions add up" so maintenance and repair, especially of outdoor exhibits and signage are important, and that it is important to test outdoor components, especially those involving digital technology or electronics, to ensure they work as intended.

Creating Experiences for Visitors to "Think with Their Hands"  Of course I'm biased since I was a presenter at this session with colleagues from Art, History, and Children's museums, but this deliberately "hands-on " session gave participants many different ways to think about how content could be translated into meaningful gallery activities and/or exhibits by letting visitors (and staff!) "think with their hands."  One resource mentioned during this session was the Great Big Exhibit Resource List, a constantly evolving list of exhibit materials and suppliers.

Gaming in Museums: From Low-Tech to High-Tech  This active session gave us opportunities to play with and evaluate actual museum game concepts.  We also discussed the broad concept of "barriers to entry" and ways to make games and museum game installations most broadly accessible. You can check out a session handout here

Valuing Neurodiversity: Interns with Asperger's Syndrome in a Museum Gallery Guide Program  Of course museums and museum people constantly strive for accessibility in our programs and institutions, but it is often difficult to think about the practical steps needed to accomplish those goals.  This session provided great background information, as well as practical tips and case studies, on how to provide access and opportunities for people on the autism spectrum.  Two takeaways here were to break tasks into small chunks, and to look for ways to minimize "surprises" or unexpected situations for people along the spectrum (whether visitors, staff, or interns.) Great handouts available via the NEMA website. 

Perfecting Your Elevator Speech  The title is pretty self explanatory, but Dan Yaeger, the Executive Director of NEMA gave a funny and engaging presentation on a topic that we could all probably benefit from thinking about a little more.  Excellent handouts here.

The two last things I'll speak about are: 

1) The "Demonstration Stations" (short demos on focused topics that took place in the Exhibit Hall) which seemed from all reports to be a resounding success.  I think this idea could be replicated at other museum conferences as well.

2) The PAG (for Professional Affinity Groups) Lunch Sessions were another great way to network and gather with colleagues from like-minded  groups (like Exhibits folks, or Museum Directors).  The Exhibitions PAG described several interesting exhibits collaborations, including the "Curiouser" exhibitions that took place at the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium at Roger Williams Park.

Of course it wasn't all work!  I got a mini-lesson on how to balance on the "spinning globe" ball from circus and vaudeville master Reg Bacon (pictured below) during Friday's coffee break!

All in all, I found this year's NEMA Conference to be extremely well-organized --- filled with many opportunities to learn, as well as many chances to network with peers.  Major, major kudos to the NEMA staff and this year's conference organizers for a job well done!  I hope to meet more ExhibiTricks readers in Cambridge, MA at the 2014 NEMA Conference.

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.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Moving Minds and Bodies: An Interview with Christina Ferwerda

Christina Ferwerda is an independent professional who bridges the worlds of museums, education, and movement. Her practice drawing from museum experiences, and moving (dance, yoga) has been an important part of her development as a teacher and a learner.  Working in Museum Education for over 10 years fueled Christina's desire to make varied cultural spaces more user-friendly for people of all ages, and led her to start working in Exhibition Development.  She currently works with partners in New York City (her home base) and North America as well as on projects abroad.

I was excited and pleased that Christina was able to provide this interview for ExhibiTricks!

What’s your educational background?  Well, I had a really hard time deciding what I wanted to do - I think as you grow up, there is a certain pressure to know what you want to "be" when you get older.  I started college as a journalism major, but found the field so cutthroat and competitive: it was a real turnoff. Therefore, my undergrad degree became a mishmash of a variety of fields - journalism, art history, studio art, and theater. I was surprised that Marquette University let me graduate! Now that I work on exhibit development, I can see how all of those fields fit together, but at the time I just wanted to finish, and felt like that combination of fields represented a path of some kind.

After I finished undergrad, I moved to Paris (by accident! I went for vacation and didn't return for 2 years). While there, I studied French history and culture at La Sorbonne. And when I moved to New York, all of these experience came together with a graduate degree at Bank Street College of Education. It became clear that my skills could be used to create education programs and exhibits for everyone to enjoy.

What got you interested in Museums?  I grew up in a very small town in New Hampshire, and therefore museum-going didn't really figure into my young life - I spent most of my time finding bird feathers in the woods with my sister. However, in college I started to notice how much imagery and art helped me understand and express myself. When I went to Europe for the first time in 1998, I went to basically every museum I could find. And the true, transformative experience came when I found a late Picasso painting "The Matador and the Nude" (1970). I sat in front of that painting for about 2 hours, just thinking about the various shapes, lines, emotions and experiences that must have informed its making. After that, I was hooked. Today I go to tons of museums, as well as performances of various kinds.

Why Yoga AND Exhibits?  Great question - so many people ask me about that, and are curious about how I can make a living doing both.  So many of the experiences that museums provide center around providing a very concrete bit of information in a creative way - as institutions strive to help the public understand complex ideas and opinions. The goals of a regular yoga practice are very similar, however the ideas that are being communicated are often very philosophical and internal. What interests me is the intersection of the two - the very generalized idea and the personal embodiment. Making physical shapes that are connected to things we see and concepts we understand bring a more developed grasp of the information.

A very simple example that I use very often in teaching yoga is to cue my students to imagine that they are in a comic book, as Superman, and that their foot or hand is being accompanied by the word "POW" in the jagged text box. The visual informs a very physical and concrete movement and a sensation of energy in that part of the body, and the movement of the body brings a real visceral understanding of the image.

Tell us a little bit about how your “non-museum” skills/activities inform your exhibit design work?  I think the most important connection for my personal work is through yoga.  I really learned about having  a "practice" - coming back to the same ideas and goals, but constantly trying to explore and be inventive with them to find new and interesting approaches. Very often when I'm working on complex projects, I'll find a related movement goal and try to push the two forward together. This past winter, when we were working on the first children's museum in Bulgaria together,  I was struggling with language and the language barrier. Therefore, I chose a complex yoga pose that is highly connected to creativity and expression (the famed Scorpion pose). Of course, as you practice, you embody and think about those goals. I found a great method of communication that worked for the project and moved it forward.

What are some of your favorite online (or offline!) resources for people interested in finding out about the intersection between movement and museums.  Of course, there are quite a few resources online to learn about the latest in movement research and museums. However, I tend to try and go to as many things as I can in person - performances, exhibits, and especially performances or movement classes AT museums. The two fields are starting to intersect and overlap more and more, as the divide between performance and art becomes blurred into performance art. I also find it incredibly important to watch the way people travel and move within an exhibition - are they comfortable getting on the floor, or attaining a different view of an object, and is that posture available to them? I learn quite a bit that way.

I've recently been a bit disappointed in yoga classes that are offered in museums and cultural institutions - its such a rare opportunity to draw from the surroundings, and I haven't often found classes or teachers that make reference to the artwork or setting that surrounds them. I'm hoping to see a more conscientious connection between the two in years to come.

What are some of your favorite museums or exhibitions?  I'm a huge fan of Olafur Eliasson - I will go and find his exhibits whenever and wherever I can. His work has a really nice physical and visceral quality. I saw him speak, and he discussed striving for his work to have a "wow" moment, followed by an "aha" moment - one gets excited and hooked, but that curiosity fuels a revelation. That goal shines through his work and is something that I try to keep in mind when I'm thinking about yoga classes or museum experiences - that the experience should be physically and mentally exciting, and that the experience will feel more complete if there can be an educational realization tucked in there somewhre. I think the museum I've been to the most is MoMA, I like the way that sightlines and divisions of space create little "surprise" moments with art. To me it feels very personal, like I'm getting a special showing of the artwork. 

Can you talk a little about some of your current projects? Well, I'm about to head to New Orleans to install Moviehouse NOLA, a small social history and contemporary art exhibit. It's been a very challenging and rewarding process, building an exhibit about movie theater history there. I'm also continuing to work on a children's discovery room for the Florida Museum of Natural History and of course, continued work on Muzeiko, a children's museum in Bulgaria. They are all at different stages of development, so it definitely keeps me on my toes!

I'm also continuing to work on bringing movement to spaces infused with meaning - I just taught at a Zen monastery, and will be leading another retreat there in July. The movements are based on Zen philosophies and the life of the Buddha, and I'm working with an amazing co-teacher Kristen Mangione.

If money were no object, what would your “dream” exhibit project be? Ha, this changes every day for me! Recently, though, I've been thinking a lot about "the walking man" - a concept that Bill T. Jones used in exploring his last piece "A Rite."  Walking is so mundane, yet we rarely think about it. I'm sure there is some amazing research about culture, body language and walking . . . .

Thanks, Christina for sharing your thoughts and insights!  You can find out more about Christina Ferwerda and her work moving minds and bodies via her website or Twitter feed (@rationallunatic).

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.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Monday, October 28, 2013

ASTC 2013 Takeaways. Making Good (not "Breaking Bad") in Albuquerque.

The annual gathering of the international clan of Science Center professionals descended on the beautiful desert locale of Albuquerque, New Mexico last week.

While the sessions and presentations during the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) conference (and in the hallways, bars, and exhibition hall!) were eclectic and varied, there did seem to be clusters of topics that kept popping up.

And chief among those topic clusters was the whole Make/Maker Making/Tinkering "movement."  There were several sessions that dove into both celebrations and concerns about how, or whether, to bring a Maker Space to your museum. 

One session that I was part of entitled "Is There Science in a Maker Event?" chaired by perennial gadfly Hooley McLaughlin of the Ontario Science Center raised issues of content over process that were ably countered by two thoughtful Making/Tinkering advocates in Karen Wilkenson from the Exploratorium and Lisa Brahms from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.  There was lively interaction with the audience, but ultimately no firm resolutions (other than suggesting that Hooley needs to visit some more Maker Spaces!)  Other Make-minded sessions explored whether the Maker "buzz" was just a fad, as well as the best ways to work with local communities to create Make spaces and events.

Personally, I find the whole Maker movement an exciting opportunity for museums if pursued with strong community input and realistic expectations about internal logistics (As two simple examples: YES, Maker Spaces should be staffed!  NO, Maker Spaces aren't just a place for a bunch of 3D printers!)

Speaking of 3D printers, there were several vendors in the Exhibit Hall, and several museum colleagues as well who were talking about ways to use 3D printed versions of natural history objects (including scaled-up models of microorganisms!) in really interesting ways.  I'm working on a Discovery Room project that could really benefit from that.

Lastly, another place where I think the Maker/Museum intersection is really going to explode (aside from the current Children's Museum and Science Center booms) is inside History Museums.  If there was ever a place to tie together the making process with actual "made" products, in context, History Museums are it!

Another big thread throughout ASTC 2013 was thinking more carefully and critically about engaging various communities, from the early stages of the process, in our museum work.

Rather than replay all the sessions regarding community engagement, I'll share three links to resources worth checking out in this regard:

Sparticl is an online resource building a community to share the best science resources.  Sparticl has been designed primarily for teens, but it's really a great resource for everyone --- providing access to the best science on the web, curated by experts.

An excellent session about European collaborations between museums and community groups and governmental organizations introduced me to the PLACES project.  Check out their website to see the wide-range of ways that museums are finding to create cities of scientific culture.

Another great online community (which I'll be writing a more-detailed post about soon) comes from CAISE (Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education) in the form of the Web portal called, which is sort of the "one stop shop" for STEM information, evaluation reports, and resources.

In a way, I'm still digesting all the thoughts and conversations from Albuquerque, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that ASTC 2014 will be in Raleigh, North Carolina from October 18 through 21, 2014, and that session proposals for the Raleigh conference are due this November 15th, 2013.

You can check out the ASTC website for more info, and I hope to see you there!

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.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wellbeing, Civility, Community, and Creating Exhibitions (AND a Contest!)

Creating Exhibitions is both the title of a new book, and the name of a recent symposium that was hosted by Polly McKenna-Cress (one of the co-authors) on the campus of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

While the Creating Exhibitions book is a "must buy" for any museum professional involved in designing or developing exhibits, the three keynote speakers at the symposium touched on (perhaps) less obvious aspects of our work in museums.

Dr. Mark O'Neill, Director of Policy and Research, Glasgow Open Life Museum in Scotland spoke eloquently about the connections between the museums he works for and the communities those institutions serve. One unexpected connection (at least to me) that Dr. O'Neill raised was the relationship(s) between regularly engaging in cultural activities (like visiting museums!) and public health.  Here's a link to a paper on the subject published in the Journal of Public Mental Health.

Keynote speaker Elaine Heumann Gurian, Senior Consultant, The Museum Group,  discussed "Social Collaborations: The Civility of Museums."  Elaine's talk dovetailed nicely with Mark O'Neill's --- especially in the sense that we should be creating museum exhibitions and programs not simply "for ourselves" but rather to find deeper ways to engage with our communities, and to promote civility through our exhibitions and public spaces.

As Elaine eloquently stated during her remarks:  "Museums, by themselves do not make up the civic landscape but I choose to believe that all public institutions have a cumulative and aggregative role in creating a more peaceable and respectful environment for its citizens and visitors.  While museums constitute a small part of the whole, fostering peaceful transaction between strangers is, I believe, a foundational building block toward general civic peace."

The last keynote speaker, Peter Kimelman of The FLUX Foundation, discussed the approach to art and design encapsulated by the Foundation's guiding principle: "Building Art Through Community, Building Community through Art."  In addition to sharing examples of FLUX Foundation's work (such as site-specific installations at Burning Man) Peter also described the interactive work (pictured at the top of this post and on the Creating Exhibitions Facebook page) that was created specifically for the symposium.

All in all, the symposium sessions and interactions served as both an exciting kick-off to the new Creating Exhibitions book as well as a fitting tribute to the late Janet Kamien (who served as the book's other co-author.)

And speaking of the new Creating Exhibitions book, here's the CONTEST where you can win your own free copy of the book! All you have to do is either become a new email subscriber to the ExhibiTricks blog (just click the link on the top right side of this blog page to get started)  
leave a note (in the Comments section below) about an important aspect of creating exhibitions that you think is overlooked.  So either subscribe or leave a comment by Friday, October 25th and I'll randomly select one winner from that combined pool to win the book!

UPDATE: Susan Wageman was the lucky winner of the book contest.  Watch your mailbox for your prize, Susan!

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.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Exhibition Inspiration: Moviehouse NOLA

It's always inspiring (and exciting!) to come across exhibition projects involving smart, enthusiastic people doing things outside the typical "museum box."

And Moviehouse NOLA, a project involving the history and personal stories behind classic New Orleans movie theaters, is definitely such an exhibition project!  (Check out the Kickstarter video at the top of this post or click here to view.)

I've become really intrigued by this developing creative enterprise, so I'm pleased that two key members of the team behind Moviehouse NOLA, Isabella Bruno and Christina Ferwerda, were able to answer some questions and provide more details about this innovative exhibition experience that will open soon in New Orleans (hence the "NOLA" in the title.)

What's the story behind Movie House NOLA? 

Christina: Moviehouse NOLA is a site specific pop-up exhibition that explores the history and reuse of movie theaters in New Orleans. Recent books, newspaper articles, and documentary films have brought attention to the history of these buildings around New Orleans, which have been torn down or repurposed.

In exploring the stories of these buildings, what we've found is that the story of the theaters opens an interesting dialogue about HOW people used to go to the movies, and the purpose that these experiences had in shaping lives. We wanted to highlight the personal stories as well as encourage visitors to think about movie history in New Orleans and what they would like the spaces to be today.

Isabella: I'd also add the idea of Moviehouse NOLA being a really "ground-up" process to make an exhibition, that works faster than a standard institutional exhibition. We have more latitude in content development (aka an x-rated section only for adults, because it's important to not ignore adult theaters as echoes of New Orleans' Storyville past.) We can be *almost* impulsively responsive to opportunities that appear in front of us (like the fact that we might still add a Saenger Theatre uniform with only 3 weeks until opening, just because it's so cool and recently has become available to us).

Its "ground-up" nature can also be seen in the make-up of our supporters, people who love the content so strongly that they invest in its dissemination, by contributing objects collected as artifacts, sharing their experiences as the beginnings of a growing oral history collection and becoming "micro-lenders" who invest in the project via Kickstarter. I think of crowd-funding as purchasing pre-sale tickets which have the added value of helping us buy sheetrock. We are building the exhibition one invested ticket-holder at a time.


Why do an exhibit on movie theaters of New Orleans?

Christina: The topic was ripe for discussion - its been a part of emerging conversation in New Orleans for about a year, and with the reopening of the Saenger and the Joy theaters this year, as well as redevelopment of the Carver theater in process, we want to bring this story to the general public so that they understand the significance of these spaces in the city history. Additionally, New Orleans has such an interesting link to the film industry, and currently the population of film industry professionals in New Orleans has very few options to actually see their own work.

Will this be a travelling exhibit? (Or could this format be adapted to "cinema stories" in different cities?)

Isabella: YES! Definitely. The general idea is universal across most major metropolitan cities, even cities without large populations. The exhibition we've created is a kit of parts that can tell the story of any city that had glorious neighborhood theaters, cinema palaces, or drive-ins at one time. San Francisco has tons of old neighborhood theaters, marquees still standing but now the headlines read like a 99¢ or hardware store trip: "mops, brooms, kitty litter, sale items…" and on the flip-side, the Silver Moon Drive-In has been continuously operating for 60 years in Lakeland, Florida, just outside of Tampa. How did SF's close and Lakeland's stay open? There's big city and small town stories right there. We'd love to create Moviehouse SF, Moviehouse Lakeland and on and on.

If you could start your own theater, what would be the concept (drive in, single screen, multiplex, dollar, rep, etc), where would it be located and what would be the name?

Isabella: I would want to encourage more of the audience participation rituals experienced with cult flicks. One of my favorite high school memories was going to the the New Orleans Worst Film Festival and seeing Plan Nine from Outer Space. It is truly an abysmal film. The audio is almost totally raw, the continuity between props and settings assumes the audience is so dumb that at one point the shot goes from day to night IN THE SAME SCENE. Bela Lugosi passed away during the filming, so they hired another actor to just hide behind the cape and finish his role.

Yet, all these castrophes are made a billion times more enjoyable in present viewing of Plan Nine simply because I have the memory of an entire audience throwing paper plates into the air and booing every time the "UFO" appears in the sky…dangling from a single white string.  I think of John Waters' homage to Smell-O-Vision, when he released Polyester with scratch-and-sniff cards. Whatever the actual space is for my theater, it would be designed to encourage more rituals, improvisation, and participation by the audience.

Is there a NOLA theater or theater related story that has stuck with you?

Isabella: I think I accidentally answered this one in the question above! I'll add that the viewing of Plan Nine wasn't even in a theater, the festival took place in Benjamin Franklin High School on bleachers. For the film, that environment was just the PERFECT vehicle to transport me and I'll never forget it.

Christina: There have been so many great stories in researching this project. I know that one moment I will never forget is seeing Rene Brunet, in his interview, discuss his life in the movie theater industry, and say "I won't regret one day in this business." Hearing that from someone at that age really speaks to the place that these businesses had in the culture of New Orleans.

Could neighborhood theaters return?

Christina: Most of the Historians I interviewed felt that the time has passed for neighborhood theaters - they could never function, especially given the existence of television, Netflix, and other home viewing options. However, I sensed a real desire in a lot of interviewees and people I met while researching for at least some other options. And the more we find out, the more we hear about diverse underground or burgeoning projects that could provide New Orleans residents with some interesting options.

Isabella: Christina talked to many people about this and she has some thoughts from responses in New Orleans. Expanding beyond New Orleans, I hope that we begin to see a resurgence of recycled space in general, whether movie theater spaces or not.

I am truly in love with the work of MiLES, an organization in the Lower East side which is looking for ways to use time and space more efficiently by pooling resources in business infrastructure and available space. As a made up example, why can't a bar be a social club for retirees from 11– 4PM with a series of matinee movies? The bar space gets used in the hours that it can't be open and a service is offered that couldn't sustain the overhead of its own space. It's not just derelict, falling apart spaces that are not reaching their potential, there's wasted space all around us. We need to be more collaborative, conversational, and courageous in our thinking about how space can be utilized and how it can be programmed.

Thanks so much to Christina Ferwerda and Isabella Bruno for telling us more about Moviehouse NOLA! You can find out more about the project by visiting the Moviehouse NOLA Kickstarter and Facebook pages.

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY,  if you've enjoyed the ExhibiTricks blog and gotten new exhibit ideas and resources here over the years, I'm asking you personally to click on over to the Moviehouse NOLA Kickstarter and contribute!  (I'm already a Moviehouse NOLA supporter.)

If every ExhibiTricks subscriber reading this post (not to mention the thousands of weekly readers!) contributed at least $25 bucks to the Kickstarter right now, we'd show our support for innovative and interesting exhibition projects like Moviehouse NOLA, and easily put Isabella and Christina over their fundraising goal.

Let's make it happen!  Please click over to Kickstarter now and show your generous support.

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.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Quick Inspiration: Paper Toys!

One of my ExhibiTricks readers pointed out this neat website that features a range of clever paper toys and free PDF templates and directions to make your own creations.

Have fun!

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.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

30 Mini Hands-On Exhibits, 2 Weeks, 1 Portable STEM Museum

This week's post about an interesting exhibit approach is courtesy of Winifred Kehl.

Winifred is a science writer and museum exhibit developer who specializes in informal science education. She especially loves creative projects that help people engage with science & scientists (and vice versa!). You can find her online at

How do you come up with, prototype, and launch 30 hands-on science exhibits in 2 weeks?

More importantly – why? Why would any exhibit designer do this to themselves? Because it’s worth the crazy-making!

A couple months ago I read about the Uni Project on AAM’s blog.  Based in New York, the Uni Project is a portable reading room made up of lightweight cubes that lock together to form a freestanding bookshelf. Local libraries and museums have “curated” cubes, selecting and donating books. The Uni can be deployed in almost any public space – library common rooms, parks, etc. – and anyone can walk up, borrow a book, and sit down on one of the Uni’s portable benches to read. The idea behind the Uni Project is to showcase learning – make it visible! And encourage people to do more of it.

I loved the idea immediately. I contacted the creators about getting a Uni Project started in Seattle, Washington. It turned out that another group in Seattle – the Foundation for Early Learning – was interested in starting a Seattle Uni Project. Both FEL and I were interested in creating a STEM-themed Uni Project (that’s Science, Technology, Engineering & Math). They had already purchased the physical structure for a Uni Project and were looking for someone to curate activities for the cubes. The only catch – they needed to launch a prototype in just 2 weeks.

It’s a good thing that everyone agreed the launch would be a prototype, because this was a learning process for all of us. We brainstormed a list of age-appropriate STEM activities that might work in the Uni format, adapted from books and educational websites. I rounded up my craft supplies, dusted off my hot glue gun, and started building prototypes.

I quickly gained a renewed appreciation for mommy bloggers – they made it look so easy! Their model of a jellyfish made out of a plastic grocery bag looked so real it convinced me until I read the caption. Mine looked like a sad, failed kindergarten craft project.

“A” for effort… maybe.

Soon, craft supplies exploded over my entire living room. Felt, thread, buttons, and velcro crept from the table, across the floor, and over the couch.

At some point there just wasn’t time to fiddle with the prototypes anymore (that point was late in the evening before we launched). In the morning, we packed everything up and hauled it to a plaza in the middle of downtown Seattle.

Despite a classic Seattle drizzle, quite a few people were interested to see what we were setting up. After the canopy was up and the portable cubbies filled with activities, it didn’t take long for curious passers-by and families to explore our Uni cubes.

Some of our activities were obvious duds. The model of the Earth had very little interpretation, and wasn’t much fun to play with by itself. I suppose we should have seen that coming. Other activities were instant hits. The “dinosaur dig” boxes – clear Tupperware tubs filled with lentils, fake dinosaur bones, and paint brushes for “excavation” – were in high demand. (As a veteran of a few Dino Days at the Burke Museum, I had anticipated these being popular, and made two.) Other activities surprised us – the “balloon rocketship” activity was neglected in its box until the volunteers set up a demonstration and started helping kids tape their balloons to the straw and launch them. Suddenly, kids couldn’t get enough of it, and the volunteers were busy for the rest of the afternoon launching balloon rockets.

As the rain increased later in the afternoon, our audience melted away, but overall the launch seemed pretty successful. We managed to get some comment cards on what our visitors felt worked and what didn’t, and came away with positive reviews and a lot of ideas to improve the activities. The main observation I made during the afternoon was that parents needed much more detailed instructions than what we assumed they’d need. Our activities weren’t always as self-explanatory as we had thought they would be.

The FEL STEM Uni has since been deployed several times around Puget Sound.  I am eagerly awaiting another chance to see it in action. It will be interesting to see how the project matures.

Thanks Winifred, for sharing your experiences with the Uni Project approach!

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.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)