If I only could say one thing to someone finishing an installation and about to open a new exhibition or an entire museum building, it would be:
"Please, resist the urge to make changes and WAIT."
In the emotion-charged weeks leading up to opening day, it is amazing how often well-meaning board members, staff members, or funders will offer all sorts of suggestions for last-minute changes to carefully planned exhibits, graphics, and environments that have often gone through months (or years!) of planning, design, and testing. Most of the time this hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing happens before a new museum or exhibition has even been formally opened for business.
It's human nature, I suppose, to view everything through the hyped-up lens of "perfection," but take a minute, take a breath, and just get ready to observe what actual visitors will do when your project actually opens.
There are two specific instances before opening when you should NOT wait to make changes:
1) When there are clear Safety Factors at play -- exposed electrical elements or sharp corners at little kids' face height, for instance. If there is an aspect of a new installation or building that raises safety concerns, those things need to be addressed right away.
2) When Functionality is in question. When an exhibit or building element is clearly not working properly -- an exterior door doesn't close, a video monitor doesn't properly display content -- those are also the types of things that clearly can't wait.
But there are many other things that fall outside of Safety and Functionality concerns -- in those "gray area" cases, please do yourself (and your project!) a favor and WAIT until after you see how things really play out once you are open for business.
As a former executive director once told me, "Once the museum's open, it's open forever!"
You will need time after opening to continue to thoughtfully consider how to change, improve, and evolve what has been set into motion. But that process should be informed by careful observation and consideration, not knee-jerk reactions fueled by pre-opening jitters.
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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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