Thursday, July 13, 2017

4 Things Exhibit Developers Can Learn From Trevor Noah

I knew a little bit about comedian Trevor Noah from his role as host of The Daily Show.

But I've learned a lot more about how growing up as a mixed-race child in apartheid-era South Africa shaped Trevor Noah's life by reading his memoir, "Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood."  Noah's book is an entertaining read that sheds light on a set of experiences that are by turns hilarious and harrowing.

As I was reading Born a Crime, I kept thinking about four key aspects of Noah's narrative that are worth keeping in mind when crafting the stories to share in your next exhibition project:

1) Make it personal  Too often museums tie themselves in knots trying to be "neutral" or by presenting what they hope is an unbiased editorial voice about the subjects of their exhibitions. That's bogus.  The very fact that an institution has chosen to interpret a particular set of ideas in an exhibition belies the notion of neutrality.  Trevor Noah shares some deeply personal incidents in his memoir, and that's part of what made it resonate with me.

2) Show your emotion(s)  Haven't you ever met someone who was so enthusiastic about an unlikely subject that you couldn't help getting enthused as well?  You and your team are intrigued and excited by the ideas and objects (or the "stories and stuff") in your exhibition, so share that emotional connection with visitors so they can get pulled into the experience as well.

3) Humor makes messages memorable Trevor Noah describes himself first and foremost as a comedian so you would expect Born a Crime to be funny.  But Noah's humor is gentle and always in the service of carrying a message forward.  How can you be a little more playful in delivering your content, and pushing past the "stuffy" stereotype that many people hold about museums?

4) Provide unexpected information I learned many new things about South Africa from reading Trevor Noah's book, but I never felt as if I was being lectured to.  The content in many museum exhibitions feels as if it is merely checking off a series of messages approved in airless meeting rooms.  If you can't get sincerely enthusiastic about presenting novel exhibition content, why do you think your visitors will care about it?

Narrative is such an important resource in the exhibit developer's toolbox that it's wonderful to encounter examples of great storytelling like Born a Crime that can provide inspiration for our own museum work.

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!)