Monday, July 19, 2021

Design Inspiration: Mariko Kusumoto




Mariko Kusumoto was born in Japan where she studied art before continuing her education in San Francisco. Today, from her Lexington, Massachusetts studio, Kusumoto combines a love of the ocean, creative shapes, and found objects to create their work.




I'm especially inspired by the combinations of materials that Kusumoto uses to evoke oceanic plants and animals.




To find out more about the range of Mariko Kusumoto's work, click on over to her website or Instagram account.






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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, July 9, 2021

Museum Spirit?


Although he could have lived anywhere in the world, Louis Armstrong lived in a modest brick house on 107th Street in Corona, Queens from 1943 until he died in his sleep there in 1971.  I could have ferreted out that information on the Web, but instead, I learned about Louis Armstrong by actually visiting his house, which is now a museum and National Historic Landmark. With bar none, the coolest kitchen (below) I've ever seen.


Mrs. Armstrong's kitchen


There's something interesting in visiting a place and feeling, if not exactly the "ghosts" of the past, at least the "spirit" of the people who passed that way before you.  I have felt that way in visiting Graceland and the Mark Twain house, but also in very particular outdoor locations like The Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, or the shiny, silvery "bean" in Millennium Park in Chicago.  There was something very evocative in all of those spots  --- almost as if each one of those spaces had a "personality."

One of the best things I've ever heard said about the original Exploratorium was that it felt like you'd walked into Frank Oppenheimer's workshop after he just stepped outside for a minute.  The feeling that real people, with real interests and foibles, have created something for you to experience is one of the most powerful, and most authentic, of museum experiences.

This authentic museum "spirit" is not something that just casually occurs, or manifests itself through some sort of formulaic exhibit development process.  But when all the elements of such a museum experience come together, they form something that really cannot occur in any other medium.



As a little bonus about "Pops" here's a cool remembrance by Ricky Riccardi, the Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, about the last music Armstrong listened to the day before he died.



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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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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Questioning the Core


One of the worst trends to come out of the continuing collision between COVID and museums is the notion of invoking the "core" purpose of an institution as a rationale for eliminating staff positions.

When a museum centers, and privileges, its building(s) and collections over its staff and visitors it sends a clear message, "We value stuff over staff, and buildings over programs."

When COVID forced the closure of precious museum buildings, institutions were forced to de-center their physical locations and create different types of offerings in the virtual world.  It has become clear that valuable, and in many ways, more accessible, programs can be offered by cultural organizations that are building-independent.


So how would museums be different:

• If they favored Staff over Stuff?  

• If collaborations with communities de-centered (both physically and mentally) museum buildings?

• If the notion of "core" went beyond just buildings and collections, and meaningfully encompassed staff and programs?



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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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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Thanks Dad! (Connecting Childhood Memories to Adult Careers)


Father's Day is a meaningful day for me, not only because I have four great kids, but because it gives me time to think about my father, Orlando Orselli, who died in 2001.  My dad certainly helped set many of my ideas about work and parenthood, and I'm thankful for that.

My dad worked most of his adult life for The Ford Motor Company, first at the Rouge Plant, and then at the World Headquarters building (The "Glass House") in Dearborn, Michigan.  He was a Stationary Steam Engineer, which basically means he worked with BIG boiler systems.

Even though he didn't go to college, my dad instilled a love for books and learning, and the importance of education, upon myself and my two younger brothers while we were growing up in Detroit.

Because he worked the midnight shift, he made time to go on school (or scout or Boys Club) field trips during the day and then take a nap before he would drive to work later that night. He thought it was important that my brothers and I helped him fix things around the house and knew the names and uses of the tools in his basement "workshop".

When people ask me how I got into the museum business, I am sure memories of the day when my father took me when I was little (by myself, without my mom and brothers, for some reason) to Detroit's "Cultural Center" to visit the Historical Museum (the streets of "Old Detroit"!) and the Children's Museum (things I could touch!) and the Institute of Arts (Mummies!) all in one long afternoon may have something to do with it.  Many, many family trips involved museums, or zoos, or nature centers.

Even though my career choice in museums might have puzzled my father a little bit, he always told me, and other people, how proud he was of the work I was doing.

Please never underestimate how important museums can be to people, especially kids and the adults they will become.

Thanks Dad!


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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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Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Exhibit Cheapbooks are now FREE!



The four Exhibit Cheapbooks are now available for FREE online!  

That's right -- nearly 100 free exhibit "recipes" contributed by museum colleagues from all over the world are now available to download as PDFs from the POW! website.  (Did I mention that they're FREE?)

A little history --the idea for the Exhibit Cheapbooks started during sessions at the annual Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Conference with the purpose of sharing "cheap" exhibit ideas and creating a written record of how to replicate these simple and successful exhibit components.

The very first "Cheapbook" was compiled and edited by Paul Orselli and published by ASTC in 1995. Subsequent volumes appeared in 1999, 2004, and 2014.

The Exhibit Cheapbooks have always celebrated the "sharing" nature of museums. You will find varied exhibit ideas from museum colleagues from around the world inside each volume. 

Sincere thanks to everyone who has shared their ideas and expertise by contributing ideas over the years! And special thanks to ASTC for allowing all the Exhibit Cheapbooks material to now be shared freely online.

Think of all these Exhibit Cheapbooks entries not as detailed shop drawings, but rather as creative jumping-off points for your own exhibit building.

So what are you waiting for?  Click on over to the Exhibits Cheapbooks Download Page and start making cheap exhibits!


Have fun!



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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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Sunday, June 6, 2021

Creative Inspiration: The Physics Videos of Julius Sumner Miller


"I'm Julius Sumner Miller, and physics is my business!"

So starts every short video in this wonderful series (now on YouTube) that strives to show and explain different aspects of physics.  

"Demonstrations in Physics" was an educational science series produced in Australia by ABC Television in 1969. The series was hosted by American scientist Julius Sumner Miller, who demonstrated experiments involving a wide range of physics topics.  

Despite the deliberately "old school" approach, and the rudimentary production techniques, the videos are tremendously engaging -- and yes, educational!

Professor Miller is a perfect teacher -- filled with enthusiasm, and with an array of clever homespun gizmos designed to illustrate the points of physics he discusses.

You can see an example of Professor Miller at work in the embedded video below, or by clicking over to YouTube.  Highly recommended!




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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 28, 2021

Two Projects (Red Dress and REDress)


I'd like to commend to your attention two different RED projects that use art to address important social issues.


The first, The Red Dress Project, conceived by British artist Kirstie Macleod, provides an artistic platform for women to tell their personal stories through embroidery.

From The Red Dress Project website:

"During 11 years, from 2009 to 2020, the Red Dress traveled the globe being continuously embroidered. It has been embroidered on by 200 women and 2 men, from 28 countries, with all 111 commissioned artisans paid for their work (the rest of the embroidery was added by willing participants/audience at various exhibitions/events). 

Embroiderers include women refugees in Palestine; victims of civil war in Kosovo, Rwanda, and DR Congo; impoverished women in South Africa, Mexico, and Egypt; women in Kenya, Japan, Paris, Sweden, Peru, Czech Republic, Dubai, Afghanistan, Australia, Argentina, Switzerland, Canada, Tobago, USA, Russia, Pakistan, Wales, Colombia, and the UK, as well as upmarket embroidery studios in India and Saudi Arabia.

Most of the women are established master embroiderers, a few are artists turned first-time embroiderers. They were encouraged to tell a personal story they would like to share through embroidery, expressing their own identities, adding their own cultural and traditional experience. Some chose to create using a specific style of embroidery practiced for hundreds of years in their family, village, or town."

You can see many more images of The Red Dress Project by clicking over to their website or by watching the video embedded below or via YouTube.




The second project, The REDress Project, although similar in name, pursues different aesthetic and social goals, namely to create an installation art project that draws attention to the more than 1000 missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada.  Artist Jaime Black uses hanging red dresses installed in various indoor and outdoor spaces to mark the absence of these missing and murdered women.



From the artist's statement:

"The REDress Project focuses around the issue of missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. It is an installation art project based on an aesthetic response to this critical national issue. The project has been installed in public spaces throughout Canada and the United States as a visual reminder of the staggering number of women who are no longer with us. Through the installation I hope to draw attention to the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Aboriginal women and to evoke a presence through the marking of absence."


You can find out more about the REDress Project by visiting Jaime Black's website or by viewing the video embedded below or on YouTube.




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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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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Animal Crossing and International Museum Day!


Today's Guest Post about Animal Crossing and International Museum Day is by Tom Gille.


Today is International Museum Day, and although it might seem odd, I was reminded of this by a video game!

You may be familiar with Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH) it's a very popular game for the Nintendo Switch. With 32 million copies sold worldwide and an award for Best Family Game of 2020, it has a huge and extremely loyal following among children and adults.

I began playing to have another way to spend time with my 5-year-old granddaughter. She loves it, as do her parents - they've also gotten aunts and uncles involved.

If you don’t know anything about ACNH, it’s a simulation game that allows players to move to a deserted island. Without going into greater detail, it's a real-time game that is tied to your time zone and season. The sun rises and sets as it does at your real home, and it snows in winter, etc. You can gather and craft items, customize the island, and form it into a community of anthropomorphic animals. 

One of the items you get to work on is the island museum:


 
You build the collection yourself by digging fossils or collecting insects:


 and buying famous works of art:


Just be careful who you buy the art from - the museum doesn’t accept fakes, and a knowledge of the actual art can help you spot them before you buy.

Since it's a real-time game, international holidays are celebrated with special events - things like Easter and Christmas (called Egg Day and Toy Day) and many others - and for today they have a Stamp Station event at the Animal Crossing Museum. (You can see some stamp stations in the pictures above.) Once you visit each of the stations in the museum halls you receive a special plaque for that hall.

 
Visitors are even greeted with a speech by the museum director:

“May 18th is International Museum Day, and to honor it, we’re holding a stamp rally! International Museum Day is a day to understand the wonder that only museums can provide. As a collecting place for all types of knowledge, museums are a critical resource for learners far and wide. Indeed, they can spark imaginations, making difficult ideas easier - and perhaps even more fun - to grasp. But to put it simply, International Museum Day is a day for getting to know your local museum!”

 


The grey-haired guy with the beard and glasses is my character, named Grumpdalf by my granddaughter. The museum director is a funny character named Blathers, a wise owl who gets carried away by his topics and talks a lot. He's also terrified of bugs, though he will accept them and tell you a lot of interesting information about them, and anything else you bring in. (It may be throwing a little shade to call him Blathers but it does fit many museum folks I know. It certainly fits me!)

Whether you play Animal Crossing: New Horizons or not (the event runs through the end of the month) take Blathers’ speech to heart and celebrate the wonder your local museum can provide. I couldn’t have blathered it better myself.


And just in case you think ACNH doesn't truly take museums seriously, here's a picture of the back of a fossil  -- what other video games use accession numbers?!?




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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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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Design Inspiration: Real-Time Data Sites


I love real-time data visualization websites!  In addition to being a perfect blend of science, art, and technology, the web-sights provide a soothing thrum of information that I find mesmerizing and relaxing.  I also think these sites are great inspirations for museum/exhibit/design ideas.

Some of my favorite real-time data sites are listed below:


Wind Map  gives a real-time visualization of wind speeds in the U.S. It's like a giant video infographic!  A more three-dimensional view of wind around the entire globe is available on the earth website (pictured at the top of this post.)



Line of Sight provides a way for you to track satellites and other human-created space materials flying over your current location.


While you are up in the air, check out planefinder.net  a site that lets you pick out the location of commercial aircraft during their flights.



Coming back to Earth, you can track tectonic activity by seeing the geographic locations of active earthquakes and volcanoes at this site, or view National Weather Service satellite data, including infrared, visible light, and water vapor views.



Finishing up on the terrestrial side, EarthCam is a website that lets you easily choose and view real-time webcam feeds from interesting places around the world.



I'll finish out this post with a digital "eye candy" site. Google Trends Hot Searches gives you a constantly scrolling feed of current trending searches on their popular search site.



I hope clicking on these sites gives you some inspiration and enjoyment!  Did we miss any of your favorite real-time data sites? Let us know about them in the "Comments" section below!



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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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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Creating A Worldwide "Museum Memory" Tour



The continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on museums, and museum-goers, has me remembering many of my favorite museum experiences.

I have many museum memories, but if I had to think about just one that I keep coming back to, it would definitely be the series of frescoes, collectively called the Detroit Industry Murals, created by Diego Rivera and housed in a sunlit space inside the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Besides being a registered National Historic Landmark, Rivera's frescoes have been compared favorably to those in the Sistine Chapel. But the reason I enjoy the frescoes in the Rivera Court has so much to do with the powerful feelings of awe and appreciation I feel every time I walk around that space.

I share this post in the hopes of creating a worldwide "museum memory" tour of sorts. 

Please tell me about the museum experiences that are meaningful to you by sharing your own thoughts, images, and links.





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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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Sunday, April 25, 2021

Museum FAQ Videos on YouTube

My "Museum FAQ" video series, started as a bit of a pandemic project, but now consists of nearly 60 (and counting!) freely available videos that cover a wide range of topics from Museum Management to Exhibit Design to Science Communication.

The topics covered, and tips and techniques shared, are truly “evergreen” in the sense that they will (hopefully!) still provide interesting and useful information for years to come. 

While I continue to record new Museum FAQ videos, three conversations, 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 fun and informative ways 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! 



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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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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Don’t be that "best"


"Best Museum" lists are the worst!

USA Today regularly publishes something purporting to be "The Best Museum in Every State" list.

Aside from the incredibly stupid premise -- how would you compare two completely different types of museums, say the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and claim one of them is the "best"?

The people who most often seem interested in these "best museum" lists are executive directors chasing donors or museum marketers looking to churn out another press release.

Is there anything more pathetic than someone begging you to cast an online vote so that their museum can gain the "best" museum designation in the western suburbs of Boston or in small towns east of the Mississippi?

Do we really want our work recognized by giving ourselves flimsy PR bragging rights because of some bogus "best of" list?

You don't claim the title of "the best" for yourself in some cheesy marketing stunt -- instead, you do the hard work every day, with every visitor, to create amazing experiences so that they give you the title of "the best" by coming back to your museum, again and again, and telling their friends and family to do the same.




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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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Sunday, April 4, 2021

5 Accessibility and Inclusion Insights from Producing an Exhibition During COVID

Redefine/ABLE Exhibit logo


In this Guest Post,  Drs. Audra Buck-Coleman, Naliyah Kaya, and Cheryl Fogle-Hatch share the learnings and insights they derived from shifting a multi-site, cross-platform exhibition to an online experience due to the COVID pandemic.

 
Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility, a collaborative, multi-site project, began as an exploration of how an exhibition could achieve maximum inclusivity for multiple audiences. University of Maryland design students collaborated with members from the disability community to create an exhibition that via its messages and delivery would challenge ideas of accessibility, disability, and inclusion. The project was scheduled to open in two different physical spaces and on a website at the end of March 2020. Instead, the nation shut down for the virus and we had to suspend the exhibition. By early summer, with no end in sight for the Covid-19 restrictions, we pivoted Redefine/ABLE to be an all-digital, virtual and social media exhibition, “installing” content across a project website, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Second Life

The Peale, a project partner, hosted virtual programming. Reflecting on this grand experiment a year after its first scheduled launch, we offer five insights from what became of our coronavirus-induced “Plan B.” We share these in hopes of informing how museums and cultural institutions might successfully approach accessibility and inclusion during and after the pandemic.


 
1. Discarding misconceptions can increase inclusion.

As the Covid-19 lockdown realities began to evolve in March last year, we surveyed the digital options with no real satisfying results. None of the spaces we found offered the in-person experiences we had planned, and they lacked the humanity we felt was necessary for the content. We instead kept our fingers crossed that the launches of the physical spaces would only be slightly delayed. By the end of May it was clear we would not be able to offer these installations, so Dr. Nancy Proctor recommended that we install the exhibition content in Second Life (SL). This option had never come up while we were other seeking options for the project. In fact, upon hearing about SL, Audra scoffed. Her knowledge of the space was tainted by recollections of condescending comments from colleagues. Further, when she told another colleague about this expansion of the project, they asked, “Isn’t Second Life dead?” Given SL’s profile, it seemed like an unsuitable space.

These ideas were reinforced when Audra first “stepped” into our assigned SL exhibition space. The room was cold, digital, inhuman. However, as we worked with SL builders Eme Capalini and Gentle Heron, the once-nondescript gray box of a room transformed. It was rewarding to witness visitors moving about a room that felt very much alive, warm, and inviting. Further, SL offered us a way to produce the project content that largely represented our physical space plans.

In some ways, the SL space was more accessible and accommodating, too. We received visitors at all hours of the day and from far-flung geographical locations. They could drop in at their convenience versus having to abide by pre-set hours, they did not have to worry about affording parking or entrance fees, and they didn’t have the hassles of negotiating traffic. It also connected our content to the SL community. These days augmented and virtual reality garner the most attention for ways to consider immersive spaces, but SL has minimal technical requirements and doesn’t require expensive gadgets. In this sense, it was more inclusive as well.

The SL installation had more than 400 new and returning visitors within the first 6 weeks of the launch. This was more than we expected for our two physical spaces combined and more traffic than our social media accounts and website. It was gratifying that so many could access this work. The Second Life option was one that we had initially dismissed. Fortunately, it didn’t stay that way.

Sixteen human-looking Second Life avatars are standing in the illustrated room. Introductory information about Redefine/ABLE is on the main panel closest to tour leader, David London. Nine large wooden-framed panels with exhibition information are posted around the space.

David London, the Peale’s Chief Experience Officer, leads a tour of the
Redefine/ABLE Second Life installation during an open house event.
     Second Life gave us the ability to create a close-to-real-life installation that complimented the other project platforms.




2. Embracing humility, ignorance, and discomfort can inform universal design. 

Learning how to navigate in Second Life was challenging, but it also gave us a sense of how those with different abilities are challenged to navigate inaccessible spaces. “Inept” barely scratches the surface of how Audra and Naliyah felt entering Second Life. Audra had only a cursory knowledge of the space, little of it positive. Trying to figure out what we were supposed to do and how we were supposed to do it was humbling and frustrating. Everyday actions such as walking, sitting in a chair, and navigating stairs were suddenly foreign. We also had to learn how not to run into things: walls, bodies of water, other avatars. During a pre-opening press event, Naliyah ran into another guest’s avatar. Thankfully, everyone we ran across (and ran into!) was understanding and accommodating. If only real life were as forgiving.

As with physical spaces, digital spaces have cultural expectations. We were oblivious of SL’s. Audra first indiscriminately created her SL avatar, choosing from a set of standard options. Eme and Gentle kindly let her know that anyone who had been in SL more than two weeks would immediately spot her default look and thus would not take her seriously. She needed a makeover, but she did not have any SL money, an understanding of the SL currency, or knowledge of where to purchase outfits nor how to change into them after she did. Thankfully Eme was there again with her abundance of patience to guide her through the process.

Practically everything about being in the SL space was foreign: navigation, infrastructure, social expectations. As professionals in real life, we are generally regarded as knowledgeable and accomplished. In SL, we were anything but, and it was spectacular. We were incompetent not by choice but because of how SL was designed. How frustrating—if not impossible—it must be for those who use a wheelchair to try to navigate spaces without ramps or elevators or for those who cannot see to attempt to gain information via websites that aren’t accessible. We knew of the importance of universal design before SL, but learning the space was a pointed reminder. We cannot take for granted that physical and digital spaces are accessible. Unfortunately, universal design is not standard. Putting yourself in a space not easily navigated can be an effective reminder of why it should be.


Cheryl is seated at left. Two students are standing in front of different designs and seen talking through different ideas. Other students are seated on the wooden floor. Many printouts are taped to the wall.
Cheryl, at left, sits in on an on-location physical exhibition planning
session with the design students. Engaging stakeholders and
members with disabilities throughout the exhibition design
process helps to achieve increased accessibility. 




3. Asking questions and engaging others can foster trust and confidence.

Sometimes non-disabled designers and curators try to anticipate what people with disabilities would prefer or need rather than asking them. Society has stigmatized some disabilities to the point that others feel reluctant to approach people about their needs. Other members may feel superior to those with disabilities. They know what they want. They don’t have to ask. Both scenarios can lead to paternalistic solutions that infantilize the disabled. Rather than assume or avoid, just ask! Even better if you can engage people with disabilities in the design and curation process at an early stage.

“Nothing about us without us” is a slogan used by the disability community. Engaging disabled stakeholders can complicate an already complex project, such as exhibition design, but your results will almost certainly be better for it. The design students we worked with completed written reflections at the semester’s conclusion. They remarked on the value of engaging our disabled stakeholders in the design process. One wrote, “Being able to listen to our stakeholders’ personal experiences with disability is unmatchable. ... In my view, our stakeholders were a huge part of this project taking shape. The information and knowledge we gained from our conversations with them was invaluable.”

Also, there is a difference between asking a few questions and involving stakeholders throughout the process. As another student wrote: “I still think that people have good intentions, but the slogan ‘nothing for us without us’ really struck a chord with me. If I were designing a product for people with disabilities, I would’ve always asked for their opinion, but now I would really strive to have them on the team from the beginning. In hindsight, it’s really obvious that the target audience should be a part of the design process, but I really underestimated the importance of seeking feedback from the very beginning and listening to their wants and needs carefully throughout the process.”

Involve those with disabilities in things big and small. It might be to answer a few questions or to collaborate on producing an exhibition. But asking those whose needs warrant understanding and consideration is the best way to achieve inclusion and accessibility. The receptiveness of our disabled stakeholders to answer questions, no matter how trivial they might have seemed to the question poser, helped the students feel even more comfortable to ask more questions. The result was a stronger exhibition in content and form.

This screenshot from a Peale hosted programming event, which streamed through YouTube, shows six people from an event about the Digital Divide. Clockwise from top left are host Dr. Nancy Proctor, the Peale’s Chief Strategy Officer and Founding Director; Jen, the ASL interpreter; Azure Grimes, Project Coordinator with Libraries without Borders; Dr. Nettrice Gaskins, artist and educator; Debbie Staigerwald with The Arc Baltimore; and Daisy Brown, Storytelling Ambassador and Stoop Shoots project lead at the Peale.
This screenshot from a Peale hosted programming event shows
the host, Nancy Proctor, the four panelists, and the ASL interpreter.
The Peale arranged for ASL and CART transcription for all
events to make them more accessible. 




4. Normalizing accessibility and inclusion requires full-time dedication.

The Peale hosted exhibition programming and arranged for ASL interpreters and live CART transcription. One of the conversations we had when trying to arrange for these services was if we would have audience members who needed them and should we go to the expense if not. Other events often ask that if an attendee needs accessibility accommodations such as CART transcription or ASL interpretation, that they request it two weeks in advance of the event. This boiler-plate language comes across as a half-hearted effort to be inclusive. It puts the responsibility of requesting these services on those with disabilities rather than on event hosts. What if someone who needs these services did not hear about an event two weeks (or whatever timeframe) prior?
 
Ultimately the Peale staff decided to offer the services whether or not someone had requested them. The thinking was that to make future programming more welcoming and inclusive, you have to show you are committed. Although only a small percentage of the registered guests requested these services, this was a start and a much larger population than before. In addition, we had event speakers describe themselves so that those who were blind would get a sense of what the person looked like. These accommodations are now available for anyone seeking access to past programming. Audience members expressed their gratitude for these services. Further, the Second Life space and website also included alt text and other accessible features as much as possible. The Peale is now gaining a reputation for being inclusive and accessible. Since these programs, we’ve attended other Zooms and webinars where these accommodations are not provided. It’s disappointing and further reinforces the exclusion.

Far too often, inclusive practices are viewed as burdensome. They feel like a burden because we have been fighting the natural order of things by creating non-inclusive societies. We continue to try and reform problematic spaces, practices, language, and policies rather than embracing new ways of being and doing. Normalization takes time and a commitment from all of us to offer these accommodations as the default rather than the exception. We have the technological capabilities to standardize accessibility. Yes, these take time and resources but so do other efforts. We need to change our mindset that using these resources for accessibility accommodations means they are “lost” for other purposes. Prioritizing diversity and inclusion is a gain, not a loss. By committing to inclusion and accessibility today, we make this the default for the future.  

Redefine/ABLE content from Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Second Life, and the project website.
We installed Redefine/ABLE on different digital platforms. Gaining a true
sense of the impact of the project across these platforms was challenging.




5. Trying and failing to capture the inclusion “silver bullet” is still progress.

It’s been 10 months since the digital versions of Redefine/ABLE launched. Were these efforts successful in engaging audiences in learning about disability and accessibility? Are they modifying their language to eliminate ableist terms? Are visitors now aware of the shortcomings of the Americans with Disabilities Act? Although the Redefine/ABLE spaces seemed to be good sources of information, we couldn’t be sure due to an inability to track such reactions. Yes, Google can tell us how many visitors came to the website, Twitter can tell us how many retweets we had, and so on, but what impact, really, did these platforms have? We implemented surveys and other participatory elements to try to track and engage audience members, but we had little participation. Trying to quantify and qualify an exhibition’s impact is difficult. This one, given its many platforms, was even more so.

How can we assess impact if we cannot easily know what thinking and rethinking the content stimulated? Counting visitors is a start, but to what level are they taking in the information? Do they spend a cursory amount of time with the information or ingest everything closely with furrowed brows? Does the information prompt them to make changes in their daily lives, have conversations with others about what they learned, or research other information? How did people with disabilities respond to the content versus those without? In past physical exhibits, we were able to solicit participation in feedback surveys on site, which led to a higher rate of participation. Assessment poses greater challenges as more exhibitions make virtual pivots. Asking visitors immediately post-tour to complete a questionnaire or offering on-the-spot swag to those who fill out feedback forms, is more arduous if not impossible.            

Not capturing the “aha moments” also meant the design students we worked with didn’t get a rich understanding of how audiences responded to their work. Testing the model is a big factor in learning. The virtual options truncated this. Did we find a silver bullet? Unfortunately, we can’t say -- as much of the results of our grand experiment remain largely inconclusive. As we continue to create virtual spaces, we also need to incorporate appropriate, inviting assessment tools to know what kinds of impact, if any, these spaces are having.

We featured people with different disabilities as part of the exhibition content. One of them, Marguerite Woods, said, “Inclusion is the natural order of things. … Diversity is kingpin. ... No one is better than or more than or less than. We all are. That perspective… will open opportunities for everyone. It doesn’t create burdens. It creates opportunity and creativity.” We couldn’t agree more. But diversity and inclusion take deliberate, constant attention. We aren’t fully there yet, but hopefully we are well on our way to achieving universal design.


We want to express our gratitude to Maryland Humanities, The Institute of Museum and Library Services, The Arts and Humanities Research Council in the United Kingdom, and the University of Maryland, College Park Friedgen Family Fund. This project would not have been possible without their financial support.


Thanks again to Audra, Naliyah, and Cheryl for sharing their experiences and insights with ExhibiTricks readers!



Author Bios

Dr. Audra Buck-Coleman is a designer, educator, author, and facilitator. She directs, curates, and collaborates on social design projects with underrepresented communities. This includes serving as project director for Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility, a virtual exhibit that addresses disability, inclusion, and ableism. Her work connects design students, cultural institutions, and underrepresented communities and their concerns within a social justice design context. The resulting exhibits empower minoritized communities by elevating their voices and concerns in public spaces. She is a former associate professor and inaugural design program director at the University of Maryland, College Park.
 
 
Dr. Naliyah Kaya is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Montgomery College. She has served as an advisor and as an evaluator for cross-cultural exhibitions including Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility. She also teaches TOTUS Spoken Word Experience as part of the Jiménez-Porter Writers' House Program at the University of Maryland, College Park where she was previously the Coordinator for Multiracial & Native American / Indigenous Student Involvement in the Office of Multicultural Involvement & Community Advocacy (MICA).
 
 
Dr. Cheryl Fogle-Hatch is the founder of MuseumSenses, a Baltimore-based advocacy studio that researches and develops multisensory experiences for galleries, museums, and other cultural organizations. She collaborated with the UMD design students to create Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility. Previously, Dr. Fogle-Hatch worked as an archaeologist, conducting research in museum collections. Cheryl has taught college courses in archaeology at the University of New Mexico, and she has designed and led hands-on science activities for high school students participating in programs of the National Federation of the Blind.




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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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Thursday, April 1, 2021

"Starry Not?" Museum Will Sell Van Gogh


One of the world's best-known paintings has been listed for sale.

Spokeswoman Prima Kvitnya of the Museum of Modern Art confirmed that Van Gogh's "Starry Night" would be sold in an effort to convert physical art-viewing experiences to NFTs and full-room immersive video installations.

"This is just the start," Kvitnya said.  "We hope to eventually eliminate the need for viewing physical artworks, and instead offer only enhanced digital versions of everything in our collections."

Full story here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Contribute to the Museum Workers Relief Fund!



There are still thousands of our museum worker colleagues who need concrete financial support NOW.

To that end, the collective Museum Workers Speak has put together the Museum Workers Relief Fund for the mutual aid of museum workers in need.  In the words of their website:

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.



If you would like to contribute (as I already have) to the Museum Workers Relief Fund, you can follow this link to do so.  Also check out the new Museum Workers Speak Slack channel to chat, organize, send job leads, etc.

As an added incentive, for every ExhibiTricks reader who contributes at least $10.00 by or before April 15, 2021, I will set up a one-hour Zoom call (at a mutually convenient time) to discuss anything you like.

Think of it as a super-cheap consulting call with me to talk about museum exhibit possibilities, museum careers, or whatever else springs to your mind.

So click on over to the Museum Workers Relief Fund page NOW, make your contribution, and then email me your receipt so we can compare calendars for that Zoom call!



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"

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Design Toolbox: Get the Hook!


My wife recently asked me to place a hook in our back hall so she could hang up a special mop that picks up dog hair from our hardwood and tile floors.

While there were a number of hooks I could have chosen from my workshop, I enjoyed picking out the rubbery dog tail wall hook shown at the top of this post. Why? Well a combination of function and whimsy, I suppose -- combined with a visual cue that tells you something about the tool hanging there.

Anyway, this household chore, and my recent post about different types of tape, made me want to delve into a visual exploration of different types and styles of hooks -- mainly wall hooks. Since hooks often show up in both the public spaces inside museums (think coat rooms) and museum exhibition areas (hanging tools in Maker Spaces or smocks inside water exhibitions, for example) I thought I'd share some hooks I particularly like to provide some museum/exhibit/design inspiration.

The name of each hook below is a clickable link that brings you to a place where you can purchase each particular item -- along with a picture and brief description.  



The classic IKEA "dog tail" wall hook. Funny, relatively cheap, and functional.  Who could also ask for more?  (Also available from Amazon**)








Continuing with the animal theme, these sparrow-shaped hooks would be a great addition to a Nature Center or Natural History museum.








Toughooks are affordable unbreakable plastic backpack and coat hooks. The manufacturer is so sure you can't break them, that they guarantee these hooks for life.









The Shelfology website shows some elegant (if a little pricy) hooks.  I especially like the powder-coated steel Popsicle wall hook (pictured below) which comes in about 30 different colors, as well as the Doohooky wall hook.






3M Command™ Hooks

There are many types of 3M Command™ hooks and they are all designed to hold strongly on a variety of indoor surfaces, but leave no sticky adhesive behind.








Another inexpensive, minimalist winner from IKEA.  Simple, but does the job.







I love this clever design where each black "key" on the piano keyboard can flip down to form a hook.








Another minimalist design.  Sometimes you just need a simple stainless steel screw-in hook at a great price, and this is it.







When a design project has you climbing the walls, you might want to specify these whimsical wall hooks -- especially for a Children's Museum or other child-centered project.





Thanks for hanging in through this whole post!  I hope some of these items hooked you enough to provide you inspiration for future projects.  Have some other favorite hook suggestions to share?  Tell us about 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"



(** PLEASE NOTE: Some Amazon links may provide the author a small commission with no additional costs for the purchaser.)

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Exhibit Design Inspiration: Tim Hunkin's Secret Life of Components


The brilliant artist and gizmologist Tim Hunkin has done it again! 

Tim has created A series of YouTube guides for designers and makers entitled the "Secret Life of Components."  The subjects of the eight episodes are Chain, Switches, LEDs, Springs, Connectors, Hinges, and Glue. The eight videos will be released on a weekly schedule starting on March 4, 2021.

You can find out more about the genesis of the Secret Life of Components series as well as Tim's other amazing work by clicking over to his website.

You can also check out the first episode (about Chain) by viewing the embedded video below or by heading directly to Tim Hunkin's YouTube page.

Enjoy!




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"