Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Museum/Exhibit/Design Tool: TerraSlate Waterproof Paper



Life (and Exhibit Development!) is often a series of compromises -- choices between two ends of the spectrum.

While working on a Historical Museum project, our team was faced with how best to display facsimiles of 19th Century receipts. We wanted visitors to be able to pick up and read the information (such as the costs of grocery items and canal boat supplies) without the installation becoming too fussy.  

Since the receipts were installed as part of a historic Tavern setting, we wanted the objects and exhibits to feel more integrated into the space, so there was no heavy lamination or tethering of packets of papers to tables.

The "in-between" exhibit tool choice we made was to color laser print scans of the receipts onto waterproof and rip-proof TerraSlate paper. The final outputs are durable, and they will be straightforward for the client to reprint in the future, as needed.  (Examples of some of the final receipts are pictured at the top of this post.)

Check out the TerraSlate website for more info about the range of products they sell.

What are some of your favorite "in-between" exhibit tools? Let us know 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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Monday, May 9, 2022

Back on the Museum Conference Circuit!



Since 2019, Museum Conferences have been a little different.

Fortunately, in-person conferences are coming back and I'm hoping to see old friends and meet new colleagues out on the road!

I'll be attending InterActivity in St. Louis put on by the Association of Children's Museums from May 16 to 18.

I'll also be in Heilbronn, Germany, for the ECSITE Conference, convened by the European Network of Science Centres & Museums from June 2 to 4.

If you are at either conference, please say hello!  (We might even take a picture like the one at the top of this post from a past conference in Pittsburgh!)



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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 28, 2022

Great Web Resource: The Dinosaur Database


Inevitably, when you work in any sort of science-adjacent museum, the topic of dinosaurs comes up. 
Does your museum have any?  What are the latest discoveries?  What did a Parasaurolophus look like?

A great web resource for anyone interested in dinosaurs is The Dinosaur Database.  There you'll find a broad collection of dinosaur names, pictures, and facts. This site was built using resources and databases assembled by hundreds of paleontologists over the past two decades.

So take a step into the past by clicking over to The Dinosaur Database!




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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 17, 2022

Happy (Museum) Easter (Eggs)


I'm on the road in California, but in honor of the season, here's an encore post -- a homage to museum "Easter Eggs."  Enjoy!
 
Museum designers often add "Easter Eggs" to their work.  But not the brightly dyed or chocolatey varieties --- these are more akin to the hidden "Easter Eggs" that you may stumble across (or deliberately search out) inside video games, crossword puzzles, or DVDs.

For visitors, it's fun to feel like you've found a little "secret" inside a museum building or exhibition, and for designers, it's a little "trick" to reward visitors for carefully observing and examining things inside the museum.

"Exhibits as advent calendars" as Dan Spock has observed (to mix religious holiday metaphors a bit!)  So here are a few of my favorite museum easter eggs:


• Secret Elves at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science: Artist Kent R. Pendleton worked on many of the Museum's dioramas, but supposedly he wasn't allowed to sign his name to his work.  Instead, Pendleton included little "elfin" figures hidden throughout many of the displays.  There's a great blog posting about Pendleton's retro easter eggs!






• The Magic House Mouse:  The Magic House Children's Museum outside St. Louis has some wonderful exhibits, but one of my favorite "hidden gems" is the tiny decorated mouse hole near the baseboards in one of the galleries.  If you were just whizzing around you might not ever see it, but if you're willing to get down on your hands and knees you might see (as in the photo below) a "presidential" mouse:





• The "Hidden Tunnel" at Casa Loma:  Casa Loma is a gigantic historic house/castle outside Toronto that is filled with enough crazy details to keep even little kids interested during the self-guided tours.  One of the things I remember from a family visit (nearly 40 years ago!) was the cool secret tunnel, nearly 100 feet long, that was hidden behind a pivoting wall section (just like in all those scary movies --- but this was real!)  that led to the Casa's underground wine cellar:





Of course, some museums, like The City Museum, also in St. Louis, or the Museum of Jurassic Technology in L.A., are practically interlocking collections of "easter eggs" or in-jokes, but that's certainly one aspect that makes them so popular.

What are some of your most memorable Museum Easter Eggs?  Let us know 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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Thursday, April 7, 2022

"Don’t be the best. Be the only.”


'Tis the season when publications like USA Today and Parents Magazine trot out their click-bait "Best Museum" lists, and when museum staff everywhere cajole everyone they know to vote (repeatedly!) for their institution.

How can you compare two completely different museums, say the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and claim one of them is the "best" art museum?

The people who seem most interested in these "best museum" lists are executive directors chasing donors or museum marketers looking to gain some flimsy PR bragging rights.

As that great museum philosopher Jerry Garcia once said, 


"Don’t be the best. Be the only.”



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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, March 30, 2022

New Project -- JOT@Exhibits Videos!



I've just started a new video project called JOT@Exhibits (Just One Thing about Exhibits.)

The video series will feature exhibit designers and developers who want to share "just one thing" about exhibits in a short video.

I hope you'll check out the very first JOT@Exhibits video in the series with Amparo Leyman Pino (embedded below) or on the POW! YouTube Channel.


If you'd like to record your own JOT@Exhibits video with me, please contact me with your ideas!



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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, March 22, 2022

Museum/Exhibit/Design Tool: Artvee



If, like me, you are often looking for public domain images to use in museum graphics or other design projects, Artvee is a great online resource to explore.

Artvee is a website that allows users to browse and download high-resolution, public domain artworks. The images are drawn from a worldwide variety of museums and other cultural institutions, like the New York Public Library.


Although you can freely search Artvee, the website also has created categories and collections of images, including, Book Illustrations, Mythology, and Artists, among many others.

I've sprinkled a few downloaded images from Artvee throughout this post, but you should check out the website yourself and bookmark it for future projects!




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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Monday, March 14, 2022

What's On Your Three Lists?



“The best laid schemes o' mice an' men ... "

Robert Burns could have been a museum planner.  Despite the best laid schemes for our museum and exhibit projects, things often do go awry.  Whether it happens during the initial stages of value engineering (often providing neither "value" nor "engineering") or just before the opening of a new building or exhibition, the harsh realities of schedules and budgets often squeeze our hopes and dreams like a vise.

In an effort to shake myself out of the funk that often accompanies different parts of the exhibit/museum development process, I've taken to creating three lists for myself and suggesting that clients do the same.

What are the titles of those three lists, you ask? 

• Things that MUST happen before opening

• Things that would be NICE to happen before opening

• Things that ABSOLUTELY WON'T HAPPEN until after opening

Exactly which things you put on your lists will vary from project to project, and situation to situation.  (It's a pretty sure bet your new museum will need working front doors on your first day, but if a few staff office chairs arrive a week late, it's probably not a reason to cancel the opening gala.)  But to proceed otherwise, as if everything on all the punch lists and wish lists and to-do lists will happen before opening, is at best, a rookie mistake, or at worst, a one-way express ticket to Looneyville.

So pause a moment to process the bad news you just got from your General Contractor (or Director or Fire Marshall or Lead Designer ...) take a deep breath, and gather your team together to start putting together your three lists.

Your project (not to mention your health and sanity) will be better for it.






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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, March 5, 2022

Cool Museum Exhibit Design Tool: Spoonflower Custom Fabrics


Spoonflower is a cool website that lets you turn your ideas into real fabric creations!

Spoonflower gives people the power to print their own designs (like the one above) on fabric, wallpaper, or gift wrap. The idea is that you upload a digital image (or use the Spoonflower imaging tools) to the website and then Spoonflower prints the design on a range of materials (of your choice) that they ship directly to you.

You can see some real-life examples and read commentary on using different materials and techniques via the Spoonflower blog

All in all, Spoonflower's services provide another interesting resource to add to your design toolbox! 



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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, February 16, 2022

4 Things Museum Exhibit Designers Can Learn From Wordle


Wordle is a massively popular online word game.  Whether you play the game or not, there are four important aspects of Wordle that every exhibit and experience designer should keep in mind.

1) Approachability
The rules and gameplay of Wordle are easy to learn and easy to understand.  There are no long and complicated instructions.  In fact, an experienced player could explain the game to a brand-new player in seconds.  Intuitive experiences are ones that a wide range of users can engage with right away.

2) Desireability
Wordle is only available to play once a day.  I think the fact that you can't really "binge" Wordle builds up a level of anticipation in players and creates something they look forward to.

3) Flexibility
Even though Wordle is fairly simple to play, the design and structure of the game invite players to try a variety of strategies.  Some people always use the same starting word, while others try different words every day.  Some players think it's important to use vowels right away, while others think exactly the opposite.  Like many design challenges, there is usually not just one right answer or approach.

4) Shareability
Lastly, even though Wordle is an online game, it lends itself to social dynamics.  Many people (myself included!) share their daily scores with family or friends, and the big "SHARE" button that pops up at the end of every game encourages that social sharing.


If you don't already play Wordle, give it a try.  Who knows, it might inspire your next design project!



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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Monday, February 7, 2022

Synchronizing Art and Science Activities -- A Guest Post from Bernie Zubrowski


Bernie Zubrowski is an artist and educator whose work at the Boston Children's Museum (including the "Bubbles" and "Raceways" exhibitions) continues to influence museums around the world.

Recently Bernie created a website that shares ideas about synchronizing art and science activities, and he was kind enough to share his thoughts on the subject in the guest post below:



In recent years, the role of the arts in education has gained increasing attention. Some educators have argued for the inclusion of art with STEM subjects now promoting STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math). There have been a number of long-term studies that have established the benefits of more art activities in the school day justifying this inclusion. 

Some current approaches integrate art into science or science into art.  A quick internet survey of activities that integrate art and science indicates insufficient time is allotted for art skills, expression, and the development of scientific concepts.  A report by Hetland and Winner (2001) summarized various research on the impact on students learning regarding the transfer of skills and knowledge from the arts to other subjects. Significantly, they advocate for art education as a separate undertaking in itself, because "The primary justification for art education should remain the intrinsic importance of the arts and the skill that they develop." (p. 15).  Likewise, science educators recognize that an in-depth investigation is necessary for students to fully grasp basic concepts.
 
These considerations lead to a need for an in-depth approach, where skills and concepts can be developed in an authentic manner while there is still an integral connection between art and science. One possible approach is to explore and investigate a common phenomenon, artifact, or organism, where there are parallel synchronized investigations in the art and science class. Light and shadows, mirrors, mobiles, or pond organisms, among others, are examples where there can be synchronized investigations. 

Leonardo DaVinci is an exemplar of this approach. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of DaVinci, he points out that at times DaVinci gave his full attention to exploring phenomena such as air and water movement, without regard to its artistic import. However, these explorations would later shape how he painted natural scenes.

This synchronized approach would have a parallel structure where students in science classes explore the properties of light by developing physical science concepts, and in art classes by exploring the properties of light to create drawings, paintings, and sculptures that express their affective reaction. The explorations in art can result in a personal connection to the phenomenon, adding to the students’ motivation. In science, the investigation can lead to a deeper understanding of a part of the natural world.

In other parts of the website, there is an extended and in-depth development of a rationale for this approach and its pedagogical implications. There are also outlines of investigations showing how Art and Science activities can be synchronized. 




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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, January 28, 2022

Three Mistakes to Avoid When Designing Spaces for Children

Photo credit: Matthew Clowney

Margaret Middleton is an independent exhibit designer and museum consultant. Middleton developed the popular Family Inclusive Language Chart and consults with museums on implementing inclusive practice. See their work at margaretmiddleton.com and follow them on Twitter @magmidd

Margaret was kind enough to share the guest post below based on their design work and contributions to the recent book, Welcoming Young Children into the Museum



Increasingly traditional museums for “general audiences” are listening to calls to improve their offerings for young visitors. As a former children’s museum designer, I am thrilled to see art museums and historical sites taking children’s museum experiences seriously. From kits of tools for looking at art to special labels and activities integrated into gallery experiences to dedicated spaces for little ones to learn through play, every effort to serve young visitors and their families is an important step in making the museum a place for everyone.

At the same time, there are a few common mistakes that museums make in their endeavors to serve toddlers and pre-schoolers. Here I focus on three mistakes I see most often and how to avoid them. All the recommendations I make here are drawn from the book Welcoming Young Children into the Museum by Sarah Erdman and Nhi Nguyen, for which I contributed a chapter about exhibits. Written by and for museum practitioners, this book is a thoughtful, useful guide to meeting the unique needs of children 5 years old and under in the museum.   


1. “Kids” as a single visitor category

The needs of a preschooler are typically very different from the needs of an elementary-age child and museum experiences should reflect this in activities, labels, and physical space.
 
To meet young children’s developmental needs in the museum, define who you mean by “children” and create activities with specific ages and stages in mind. Children 5 and under are typically not yet reading or writing and they are physically smaller than upper elementary-aged children. Be sure that the accompanying furniture you choose and the labels you write match the developmental stage of the activity.

For example, if you’ve designed an activity for preschool-age children like block stacking or color matching, be sure the activity doesn’t require reading and the seats are no higher than 12”. Use an anthropometric chart like this one (https://universityfc.com/table-and-chair-sizing-chart/) to choose appropriate-sized furniture and hang heights for your audience. (We include an anthropometric chart on page 99 of Welcoming Young Children into the Museum.) Write accompanying labels for adult caregivers to read aloud to their child(ren) to help them facilitate the activity or to give context so adults can understand how the activity meets the learning goals of the exhibit.
 
 

2.  Focusing only on facts

Successful programs and exhibits for young children don’t only emphasize imparting content.
 
Instead of offering watered-down versions of content for grown-ups and aiming for only fact-based learning outcomes, museum experiences that center young children should meet them where they are developmentally. For young children, every day is a learning experience as they see new things for the first time, learn new words, and practice life skills that adults take for granted, like zipping up a jacket or navigating a staircase.
 
Consider experiential, relational, and attitudinal goals instead. In other words, focus not on what content a child retains but on what a child does, with whom, and how they feel about it.

(From Welcoming Young Children into the Museum, p 92.)











3.  Under-Staffing

Staff play an essential role in whether young children and their caregivers feel welcome in the museum.

You can plan thoughtful spaces with developmentally-appropriate activities, but just as much attention needs to be given to the staff who will care for the space. Gallery guides need to be given adequate time in their schedules to tidy up the exhibits, resources to swap out broken or worn parts, and training to engage with young children. And if staff were hired before you introduced special exhibits for young children, they may not be prepared to serve this new audience. Regular training can help docents get comfortable working with young children and their families. Chapter 6 of Welcoming Young Children into the Museum details the ins and outs of staff training including anti-bias/anti-racist pedagogy and how to support marginalized staff members.

Positive museum experiences can help young children make positive associations with learning and opportunities to see significant adults in their lives demonstrating their own curiosity about the world. And for adults who care for young children, child-friendly museum experiences provide space for bonding, making memories, and sharing their interests and values. Welcoming young children in museums is not easy, but it’s worth it. It’s an iterative process and mistakes are inevitable so keep listening to your visitors and trying new things. Good luck with your new initiatives!


Thanks, Margaret for sharing your thoughts with ExhibiTricks readers!



AND NOW FOR THE FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY!

If you would like a chance to win a free copy of Welcoming Young Children into the Museum there are two different ways to enter:

1) Simply send an email to < info@orselli.net > with the subject line "I want to win a book!" before February 13, 2022.

2) Just click the link at the upper right of the main ExhibiTricks page that says "Sign up NOW for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" and sign up before February 13, 2022.

On February 14, 2022, we will randomly choose one email submitter and one new subscriber to the ExhibiTricks updates to receive their books.  GOOD LUCK!

CONTEST UPDATE: Congrats to Susan K. and Judy H. for being the book winners!


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"

Saturday, January 22, 2022

2 Cool Tools: Cleanup.pictures and ClipDrop


Even if you are not a graphic designer, you probably need to occasionally "tweak" images for your work -- tasks like simply removing backgrounds or removing individual objects from photos.

To that end, allow me to recommend two tools, Cleanup.pictures and ClipDrop.

Cleanup.pictures is an intuitive online tool that lets you remove objects, people, text, or defects from images.




ClipDrop actually uses AR (Augmented Reality) to allow you to accurately remove the backgrounds from photos you take, or existing photos on your device.  ClipDrop then lets you drop the clean image directly onto your desktop -- which is super cool!




I hope you enjoy exploring these tools.  Which "cool tools" do you use to help your workflow?  Let us know 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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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Can Museums REALLY Change?


As the New Year starts, in the midst of an ongoing worldwide pandemic, many museum workers are wondering if cultural institutions can make the changes needed to move into the post-COVID era.

An article I wrote entitled, "Can Museums Really Change?" was published in the most recent issue of Informal Learning Review -- a celebration of 28 years of that journal's existence.

You can access my entire article for free here, but I'll touch on some of the key challenges (and possible solutions) in this excerpt below.

I'll begin by posing the same question here that I used to start my article, 


"If someone you knew and cared about (like a relative or mentee) asked whether they should pursue a career in museums right now, what would you say?"


What are the things museums and other cultural institutions need to focus on to become stronger, more equitable, and more community-centered organizations?

Here are five things that I've been thinking about:


1) Staff > Stuff

One of the first ways museums could begin to become more genuinely people-centered (instead of merely talking about it via their social media accounts) is to clearly prioritize staff over “stuff.” This requires museum management and boards and museum organizations to act as if they care more for the people working at a museum than museum collections or buildings. (Of course, you need trained staff to care for collections and facilities properly, but that’s an entirely different story).

Pay continues to be the most significant ongoing issue in the museum world. It is wrong, if not downright immoral, to hire someone for full-time work at a museum and to knowingly pay them less than a living wage. And many museum workers are woefully and deliberately underpaid. Let’s pause here to acknowledge that many museum administrators are master rationalizers and can spin stories to justify some of their staff needing to work one (or more!) jobs in addition to their full-time museum employment to make ends meet. 

So rather than relying on someone’s rosy notion of what a “living wage” means in different parts of the country, why not use a common yardstick? Fortunately, MIT has developed a free Web-based Living Wage Calculator (https://livingwage.mit.edu/) that anyone can use to determine what a living wage means in different parts of the U.S. All museums should commit to offering their employees a living wage. 



2) Flatten the Org Chart!

The traditional “top-down” hierarchical business structures of most museums contribute to the isolation of museum departments and functions. Instead of creating collaborators moving toward common goals, most museum org charts create multi-level “silos” that compete for limited resources – often pulling in different directions. Front-line and public-facing museum workers often feel that decisions handed down from the “higher-ups” are arbitrary or “out of touch” with the operational realities of running the museum.

Worse yet, museum employees facing severe issues such as the reported instances of sexual harassment or even physical abuse(!) from managers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art were routinely ignored or dismissed, (https://hyperallergic.com/579531/philadelphia-museum-of-art-concludes-workplace assessment-after-allegations-of-abuse/). The museum management hierarchy simply sought to protect itself. 

Hierarchical structures in museums also contribute to pay inequities across departments. Shouldn’t the roles of Education, Exhibits, and Development departments be viewed as equally important to museums’ purpose and function, and therefore compensated equitably? Museums can systemically change staffing and management approaches by “flattening” their org charts and promoting workers’ and departments’ true interdependency.

What would a museum system built on self-organization principles look like in practice? At its core, “self-management” means knowing what you are responsible for and having the freedom to meet those expectations however you think is best. “Self-organization” is being able to make changes to improve things - beyond what is required of you. Simple in theory, but everyone has to truly commit for it to work!

Examples from the for-profit world include the company Zappos, which details the approach it took in successfully changing to a form of a self-organizing structure called a “Holacracy” in this Web article: https://www.zapposinsights.com/about/holacracy.



3) Communities as True Creative Partners

Whose stories are museums telling, and who is visiting museums to experience the exhibits, programs, and events related to those stories? As researchers like Susie Wilkening have shown (http://www.wilkeningconsulting.com/data-stories.html), museum visitors are concerned about a broad range of issues, but can museums provide what their communities want and need – and in a timely way? There are large groups of people that museums are simply not reaching. Visitors to cultural arts organizations, including museums, continue to trend older and whiter than the demographic directions the U.S. general population is heading.

How can museums counteract the notion that “museums are not for me”? I would contend that rather than trying only to present stories, museums also need to engage with their communities as real creative partners. That way, museums no longer become the only authorities and sole judges of the value of certain stories over others. This systemic shift to co-creation with communities may well upset museums with a “Curators Uber Alles” approach, but the realities of demographics point in a different direction.

An excellent example of a museum that sought to reinvent itself with a more community and visitor-centric approach is the Oakland Museum of California (https://museumca.org/). A free PDF of a book outlining their work, “How Visitors Changed Our Museum” is available through the OMCA website: https://museumca.org/files/HowVisitorsChangedOurMuseumBook.pdf.

Another way museums could become more community-minded is to foster more cooperation and resource-sharing between museums in the same geographic area. A great example of exactly this kind of local cooperation is the Chattanooga Museums Collaborative: https://www.nten.org/article/sharing-back-offices-in-the-cloud-the-case-of-the-chattanooga-museums-collaborative/.



4) Money Changes Everything

Given the continuing mismatch between cultural institutions’ operational needs and the available funding sources; the COVID-19 crisis has made even more evident the weak financial positions of so many museums.

This raises a sort of “museum lifeboat” question – should unsustainable museums be allowed (or even encouraged) to go out of business so they don’t take away limited resources from more vital institutions?

This is a tricky proposition since many museums really can’t survive without constant (if erratic) infusions of cash from both private and governmental sources. The long-term systemic solution here is to create reliable public funding streams for all museums through political pressure, both at the local and national levels. We should support and vote for politicians that view museums as necessary to civic life as libraries, police stations, or garbage trucks. A politician that continually tries to eliminate organizations like IMLS, NEH, and NEA is no friend to museums.

More systemic public funding of cultural organizations would also reduce the dependence of museums on wealthy donors and reduce the systemic and ethical dilemmas caused by balancing selling objects from the collections versus preventing the firing of staff -- which brings us back to “staff versus stuff” again. Although in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, “stuff” seems to be winning the battle -- if you consider examples such as the Museum of Modern Art (with an endowment of over one billion dollars) terminating every single contract of all 85 of its freelance educators in April 2020 or the Royal Academy in the U.K. that is refusing to sell one Michelangelo statue to save the jobs of nearly 150 museum workers in September 2020.



5) Leaving the "Numbers Game" Behind

Ultimately, to change the current museum “system,” we need to leave the “numbers game” behind. The notion that admissions numbers are an accurate measure of a museum’s worth or a way to measure the value of a museum visit to a visitor may be a more severe sickness impacting the museum world than even COVID-19.

Randi Korn’s book, Intentional Practice for Museums: A Guide for Maximizing Impact, offers meaningful alternatives to the museum admissions figures “numbers game.” Many museum leaders and boards continue to be deluded by an “edifice complex.” The reckless rush to build larger and grander new museums without considering whether we can sustain those new buildings has to stop. If we cannot sustain (parse that word in as many ways as you like) existing museums worldwide, should we really be adding to the number of new museums?



Final Thoughts

All of the challenges and possible systemic solutions highlighted above bring us back to the original question: Can Museums Really Change?

Can we bring the required sense of urgency and the necessary hard decisions to the tasks ahead? Museums have talked a great game for years (even decades!) about systemic inequities and failings in the museum field – often with little, if any, real change. The current moment requires not just talk but timely, and creative, actions.

Are we prepared to leave people behind (whether directors, board members, or staff) who cannot evolve and adapt to the changes needed in the museum field? No matter how much you like an individual personally, or how well they may have fit their role in the past, sometimes folks just don’t grow along with your organization. And then it only deepens the pain to delay conversations about moving on.

Perhaps everyone in the museum field should take a lesson from the dinosaur skeletons on display in so many of our institutions – if you don’t adapt, you will surely become extinct!




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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!

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Monday, January 3, 2022

New Thinking Tools for the New Year


As 2022 dawns, I inevitably think about upcoming creative challenges and new ways to solve problems, so I was delighted to discover a website that gathers a range of interesting problem-solving tools together.

Untools.co is a visually-oriented website filled with various thinking and design tools to help people solve problems and make decisions. 



If you have a challenge but are unsure where to start, some helpful “prompt questions” on the Untools website will direct you to different thinking tool options.

Adam Amran is a product designer who gets paid to solve problems, but he couldn’t find a good place on the Web where different creative thinking tools were collected, so he created Untools.co 






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"