Monday, September 25, 2023

Don't Demolish the Ontario Science Centre!


In April 2023, the Ontario provincial government announced that it plans to demolish the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto and construct housing on the museum site. The plan includes moving the "contents" (like amazing site-specific exhibits!) from the Ontario Science Centre to the "redeveloped" Ontario Place project. This controversial declaration of demolition without public consultation is opposed by heritage, housing, and environmental advocates alike, including the National Trust for Canada.  (You can read more about the situation in this article from the National Trust.) 

From the outside, the whole plan seems like some fishy political deal.  Many, many of my Canadian museum colleagues have spoken out about this action.  

I'd also like to speak out about this plan, but for a more personal reason.

Around 1971, my family took a trip to Toronto.  Just a few years before, in 1969, the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) opened up and immediately started changing ideas about what an interactive science museum could be.  (In one of those zeitgeist-y moments in history, the Exploratorium in San Francisco opened in 1969 also.)

I'm not even sure how my parents found out about OSC and knew to take my two younger brothers and me there, but from the moment we rode the escalators "through the trees" to enter the exhibit halls we were all excited and showing each other new things we had found.  In addition to the interactive components, I know I was especially fascinated by the live demonstrations --- somebody just blew a hole through a brick with a gigantic laser!

After we returned home to Detroit, I wrote a "fan letter" to the scientists at Ontario Science Centre and asked them if they could send me science experiments that I could do at home.  To my delight, a week or two later, I received a kind reply on official OSC letterhead with a little booklet of cool chemistry demonstrations. WOW!

One of the experiments explained how to create a "carbon snake" with sulfuric acid(!) and sugar.  I showed my grade school science teachers the letter and chemistry experiments and asked if they had any sulfuric acid I could borrow.  They did! So I took the big brown glass bottle with the faded label home as fast as my purple Sears bike with the banana seat would carry me.

I didn't have any beakers, but my mom thought an empty Mason jar would do the trick.  So I went into the basement laundry room with my supplies and started pouring sulfuric acid into the jar that had some sugar in the bottom.  Once the acid hit the sugar, bubbling and smoking commenced, and an evil-looking black cylinder snaked up and out of the mouth of the jar accompanied by the strong smell of burning sugar.  "Look! look!" I said to my family as I showed them the "carbon snake."  I tried other variations of the experiment with different amounts of sugar and acid to see how I could change the resulting "snake."  Everything was going great until I had the bright idea of quickly pouring some of the sulfuric acid into the jar with sugar in it and then screwing the lid on to see what would happen.

BOOOOOM!


Thank goodness the laundry sink was deep and made of sturdy metal since I hadn't been wearing any gloves or goggles.  After the smoke cleared, I cleaned up all the broken glass that the deep sink had captured after the jar exploded (and after my mom was done freaking out!) I learned a valuable (and memorable!) lesson about the effects of containing a strong exothermic reaction in a closed jar.

Somewhere along the line, that letter and booklet of chemistry experiments have gone missing, although I had kept them for a long time.  I often wonder if any museum would be foolish enough to send some kid experiments using sulfuric acid anymore. Probably not.

I also think of all those letters I sent to museums (in pre-email and Web days!) asking for a job when I was about to graduate from college.  And how much the letters that offered even a small bit of encouragement or an idea or suggestion meant to me, especially compared to the obvious form letter rejections --- or no response at all.

Those messages that we as museum workers send, intentionally or unintentionally, can have a big impact on our visitors, and our potential future colleagues.

Electronic communication and the worldwide reach of the Web means that I often get messages from people asking for advice or for jobs, and I really try to give a thoughtful answer to each one of those folks who took the time to write me --- because I still remember how much receiving that letter from the Ontario Science Center meant, and I suppose still means, to me.

Thanks, Ontario Science Centre for putting me on a path to a career in the museum business!  

I hope you get to stay right where you are now for another 50+ years.




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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, September 18, 2023

Are (Some) Art Museums Becoming More Playful?



I recently read with great interest some articles excitedly announcing the opening of the "81st Street Studio" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As the avalanche of press coverage makes clear, the 81st Street Studio is a fun and playful space for children and their adults that deals with many science-focused experiences.  An exhibition space geared towards Play, Fun, and Science in (gasp!) an Art Museum?

For Heidi Holder, chair of education at the Met, much of the business of this prestigious Art Museum is Science, especially in the Research and Conservation departments. Holder wanted the new exhibition space to allow young visitors to do what they normally can’t do in the Met’s existing family programs: drop in unscheduled, and touch what they see.

Of course, all this sounds very much like the sort of thing that both Children's Museums and Science Centers have been doing successfully for many years with much lower budgets and much less breathless press coverage.  (Note to the New York Times -- there are other types of museums in addition to Art Museums!)

One of the articles also mentioned that Cas Holman, an artist well-known for creating playful toys and spaces, will be bringing new play-focused exhibition experiences to the Queens Museum in 2024 (Check out this previous ExhibiTricks post about Holman's work on the "Wobbly World" exhibition at the Liberty Science Center.)

It may be that all this news of "play" and "touching" in Art Museum spaces will have some purists clutching their pearls and decrying the "dumbing down" of the museum-going experience. 

Nevertheless, it seems like Art Museums are catching on to the value of creating some playful, active spaces for children and their adult caregivers (and other young-at-heart visitors!) as an additional way to enjoy the artful content inside -- without preventing curmudgeons their opportunities to gaze pensively at 19th-century oil paintings inside the hushed galleries elsewhere.



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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, September 9, 2023

Conversations with Museum Pros on the POW! YouTube Channel



Over the past few years, I've been fortunate to chat with museum professionals from all over the world on my POW! YouTube channel.


There is a growing library of over 100 videos to choose from, so why not browse the POW! YouTube channel and discover what interests you?  And if you have recommendations for people that I can bring to my YouTube channel (maybe even yourself?) please let me know!




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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, August 30, 2023

Our Real Work


I keep this poem on my phone because it helps me reflect on my museum/exhibit/design work.


“Our Real Work” by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.



What helps you reflect on your own work?  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, August 21, 2023

Halls or Malls?


What kind of exhibition spaces (and, by extension, museum experiences) do you want to create for your visitors -- Halls or Malls?

HALLS

Many large museums (like the Louvre or the American Museum of Natural History) can feel like an endless procession of hallways. You sense that the gallery themes and spaces are changing around you as you walk along, but the experience feels a bit like one long, continuous march.  It can also be difficult for first-time visitors to gauge the length of their visit and how to break their time into manageable chunks. You will often pass weary-looking tourists who seem determined to walk through every square foot of gallery space because "who knows when they will come back to this museum again?"

MALLS

Other museums, even though they might be quite large -- like the Indianapolis Children's Museum, for example -- break up their exhibition spaces into discrete areas akin to the way malls are divided into different shops. It becomes easier for visitors to orient themselves and "dip into" a gallery and decide how much time to spend there before moving to the next space. These differentiated spaces also build up a physical and conceptual rhythm as part of the museum experience.


So maybe instead of overwhelming our visitors with exhibition halls, we might be better served just trying to "whelm" them with exhibit malls.







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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, August 11, 2023

ChatGPT and the Creative Process?

I'm on the road this week, so just a quick nod to this post on Nick Cave's "The Red Hand Files" about ChatGPT and the effort essential to creative work:




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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, August 1, 2023

"Old School" Exhibit Inspiration


A friend recently shared this super cool article about the development of the "Zenith Space Command" television remote control (pictured at the top of this post.)

Unlike modern remote control units that use infrared light, the Space Command did not even need batteries to function! 

Instead, when you clicked a button on this "old school" remote, a little hammer struck a tuned aluminum rod that created a slight audible click, but that also sent out an ultrasound tone to the receiver unit inside the television that controlled functions like volume and changing channels!

(You can see the operation of a typical Zenith Space Command remote by watching this YouTube video.  Below is an image from that same video giving an end-on view of the metal rods inside the remote's case.)


Since we so often default to digital or electronic solutions to exhibit design challenges, the Space Command is a reminder that often ingenious mechanical or analog exhibit design solutions await.

Here's to "Old School" Exhibit Inspiration!



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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, July 20, 2023

Museum Street Art?


I recently came across the work of an Amsterdam-based Street Artist called Frankey (whose work is shown throughout this post.)

I was at turns inspired and delighted by everything I saw on Frankey's website and Instagram page, but his work also got me thinking about how (and why) museums might like to install Street Art around their neighborhoods.

I'm not talking about bringing exhibits or other museum tropes to the streets (which are often boring) but rather engaging with artists to create Street Art that ties back conceptually to a museum in some way.

There are some things that often set Street Art apart from museum exhibits or commissioned public art pieces:

Street Art tends to be whimsical, not serious.






Street Art slows people down and rewards them for careful observation. 





And Street Art tends to provide wonderful unexpected moments.



How could you leverage a Street Art approach for your museum or next exhibition 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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Thursday, July 13, 2023

The Most Important Exhibit Development Question


What's the most important question to ask when you are starting to develop an exhibit or exhibition?

I'd say the most important question is, "WHO CARES?"

You may think the topic or content related to your exhibition is interesting, but will your audience?

To find out, you need to drill down into the WHO part of different kinds of Who Cares? questions.  


WHO are the people that come to your museum already?

WHO would you like to come to this new exhibition?  (Not necessarily the same answer as the previous question ...)

WHO might feel excluded (or even offended) by this topic?

WHO would be so excited by your exhibition that they would want to bring their family or friends back to see it?


The thing about finding the answers to WHO CARES? questions is that you need to speak with potential visitors about their ideas and feelings before you set too many design wheels into motion.  

And perhaps the most important variation of the WHO CARES? questions start internally.  If you and your project team can't generate sincere enthusiasm for the ideas in the exhibition under development, why in the world do you think your visitors will be interested in what you create? 



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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, July 3, 2023

Don't Let Them Off The Hook!


Here's a networking tip for you -- when you contact someone to ask about a job or to introduce yourself, don't just leave it at that.

Provide some additional value in the form of an article you've written, some information about a particularly interesting or innovative aspect of a recent project, or even a link to a Web article about the museum world that you found interesting.

Similarly, even if your primary purpose is inquiring about a potential job -- don't let them off the hook!  If you only ask about a job, and there's no job available, then that's the end of the conversation.  However, if you ask for some additional advice or ideas about your next steps, you might get some useful information that you otherwise might never have received.

For example, you might say or write, "Even if you don't have any current job openings, do you have any suggestions for colleagues I might speak with or recent books or articles I could read to expand my knowledge of the museum field?"  Most museum folks are generous and willing to provide a little advice -- and it sure takes the sting out of a rejection notice!  

In that vein, I'm always happy to hear from ExhibiTricks readers! Feel free to contact me directly to introduce yourself.  Who knows?  We might be able to cook up a project to work on together!




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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, June 23, 2023

Touching, not Touchable, Experiences


I was speaking with someone recently about my work and said I develop "interactive experiences and environments." To which they immediately responded, "Oh, so you make hands-on exhibits."

Well, yes and no.  Certainly many, if not most, of the things I help create involve tactile elements.

But there are some very compelling museum experiences that are never meant to be touched by visitors.

Optical illusions (like those shown throughout this post) are examples of "touching, not touchable" (TNT) experiences, that I would still characterize as "interactive."

"Touching" in the emotional reaction sense, and "Interactive" in the sense of "things influencing or having an effect on other things."






Other museum experiences I would place in the "touching, not touchable" category include dioramas, dollhouses, and similar miniature models and environments.  All these TNTs also tend to slow people down and reward them for careful observation. In the case of dioramas and dollhouses, visitors often mentally "step inside" those exhibits as they experience them.

I'd say any exhibit-driven museum experience (whether it's called "interactive" or not) that can get visitors to slow down, be rewarded for careful observation, and respond emotionally is just the type of thing I like to make for museums and like to experience inside museums myself.



What got me thinking about Optical Illusions, TNT, and Interactives in the first place is this super interesting (and interactive!) website called, "151 Visual Phenomena & Optical Illusions
with explanations"   Definitely worth checking out!







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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, June 16, 2023

My Dad and My Museum Work


This upcoming Sunday, Father's Day is celebrated in a number of countries around the world. 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 Detroit Institute of Arts (Mummies!) all in one long afternoon may have something to do with it.  Many, many family trips involved museums, 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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Thursday, June 8, 2023

"Mind" Your Business


There are creative partners who are willing to change their minds, and there are creative partners who can seemingly never make up their minds.

Folks who are willing to change their minds are often willing to try something new or untested. These projects usually end up in interesting and unexpected places.

People who can never make up their minds are willing to spend hours discussing laminate colors or which fonts to use, but will likely want to change their minds again after the "final" deadline has passed. These projects often end in tears.

What was the "mindset" of your last 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, May 29, 2023

The Museum Consultant's Calendar Trick


Sometimes when I'm speaking with a new consulting client, our perceptions of the time needed to complete project tasks on-site at their museum are very different.

Usually, my contact will express that there is "no way" we will complete all the activities I've proposed to happen at their museum in the time allotted.  It doesn't matter whether the time involved is two days or two weeks.

However, I know a little museum consultant trick that "expands" time.  Well, it's not really a trick, but rather a way of playing with an all too common reality for museum folks -- they don't get regular large blocks of "uninterrupted" time to do their work!

No matter if someone works in Exhibits, Education, Development, or Administration, they seem to be constantly pulled away or distracted by meetings, building concerns, visitor complaints, board issues, malfunctioning exhibits, etc., etc.

However, when everyone knows a consultant is coming (especially from out of town!) staff working at the museum make a commitment to create blocks of "untouchable" time to meet, prototype, brainstorm, or whatever with the consultant (like me!) 

And, unsurprisingly, when talented and creative museum folks dig into challenges together for those uninterrupted blocks of time -- LOTS of cool stuff happens.

There are also ways to "hack" your work calendar to create these "time-bending" calendar blocks.  Some folks put their "high concentration" tasks at the very beginning of their work day (ideally before the museum opens) to maximize their workflow.  If possible, some folks shift their starting times an hour earlier to maximize concentrated quiet time or even book standing meetings with themselves to build in those blocks of focused time.

All of this begs the question of whether all those workplace "interruptions" are really necessary.  Of course, if a real emergency like a water pipe bursting happens, it requires immediate attention. But could other work events, or meetings, be put into a temporal "parking lot" to be dealt with at specific times -- after lunch or two hours before closing, for example -- leaving the rest of the day for concentrated bursts of thinking, creating, problem-solving?

It's worth spending a little time thinking about how your workdays normally flow -- or don't.

Or you could just contact me to work with your museum so we can bend time together!




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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, May 20, 2023

Check Out The Cheapbooks!

I've recently had several online and conference-hallway conversations with museum colleagues struggling to create interesting interactive exhibits at reasonable prices.   Plese allow me to re-introduce The Exhibit Cheapbooks -- a great resource filled with inexpensive exhibit ideas.

That's right -- nearly 100 free exhibit "recipes" contributed by museum colleagues from all over the world are available to download as FREE PDFs from the POW! website.  

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 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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Friday, May 5, 2023

High Quality = Internal Capacity



How would you define "quality" in the context of museums?  It's a slippery term (like "World Class"which we've written about before here on ExhibiTricks.)  Every museum wants to be described as "High Quality" and "World Class" but what do those terms actually mean, and how do you know when you truly have become a high-quality organization?

“High Quality” to me means something of lasting value, something special that is meaningful over time and across generations.  And museums that can be described consistently as high quality are quite uncommon.

What does high quality mean to you, or to the museums you work in or visit?   

I'd say that all "high quality" museums have a strong capacity to create programs and exhibits internally. Not necessarily everything, but many things.  High-quality museums know their strengths and build upon them. Great museums also know what their weaknesses are, and where to look for help in those areas.  

Put simply:

High Quality = Internal Capacity 


As a practical matter, the way to develop a truly high-quality museum experience means having a clear sense of what you want your museum to look like two, three, or more years in the future—not just two months after opening! That means investing for the long term in thoughtful experiences, staff, and expertise. 

In my exhibit design and development practice, I often ask museum collaborators two simple questions: How will you (the staff inside your museum, not contractors or consultants) 1) Fix things that break or don’t work? and 2) Transform great new ideas into real exhibits and programs? If you can’t come up with credible answers to both questions, I’m afraid that not only will you be constantly racing to “put out fires” in the form of problems that could have been anticipated (as opposed to the many un-anticipated ones you’ll encounter) but your bright, shiny museum will soon become dingy and boring, not only physically, but in its intellectual and emotional spirit as well.

Creating a strong institutional culture of internal capacity is the key difference between a great museum and a mediocre one. Building and investing in strong institutional capacity doesn’t mean that you work in isolation.  On the contrary, carefully understanding the strengths and weaknesses across your institution makes it clear when and where you need to invest time and resources. Those investments in time and/or resources can involve seeking out expertise in your local communities, sending staff to national or regional conferences or local professional development opportunities, or (gasp!) bringing in consultants to help build up internal capacity in other areas of institutional need. There are many choices.

What is not a choice is doing nothing. Because doing nothing will surely begin the slide from “high quality” to “who cares?” And is that the kind of museum you want to be part of? 




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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 25, 2023

What's Your Zip Ode?



It may be because I'm working on a project with the National Postal Museum, but I think Zip Odes are big creative fun!

Invented in 2015, the Zip Ode is a five-line poem about where you live, written in the form of your zip code

O, Miami Poetry Festival, and Miami-based radio station WLRN host an annual initiative to collect Zip Odes every Spring, but the form has also traveled all around the world.

To create your own Zip Ode, just write the numbers of your zip code down the left-hand side of your page. Each number determines the number of words in that particular line.

(If you have a zero in your zip code, that line is a wild card! You can leave it blank, insert an emoji or symbol, or use any number of words between 1 and 9.)

But what if you live in a part of the world that uses letters, as well as numbers, in the local postal codes?

Kris Archie came up with a solution for areas that have postal codes with letters instead of numerical zip codes. When a line has a letter instead of a number, that line has one word that must begin with that letter -- like so:


V5B 3H4 (by Kris Archie)

Very
long grey rainy days in
Burnaby
Magnolia blossoms bursting
Hovering
Over Archie Olson family


Give it a whirl and create your own Zip Ode!





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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, April 19, 2023

Unpacking (Ideas) from Syracuse


The Museum Association of New York (MANY) just concluded its Annual Conference in Syracuse.

And while I was excited to be both a participant and a sponsor at this year's gathering, I'm still unpacking -- both mentally and physically.  I encourage you to click on the links below to learn more!

Here are a few things that stood out for me in Syracuse:


1) Rematriation

Michelle Schenandoah, a member of the On^yota':aka (Oneida) Nation Wolf Clan of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, spoke eloquently about carrying her ancestor's passion to rematriate traditional lands and tell of the world's oldest democracy.

You can find out more about Michelle and her work here.



2) Where Is The Love?

Omar Eaton-Martinez, currently the Senior Vice President for Historic Sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, challenged us all to think like Museum J.E.D.I.s -- with that acronym standing for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.  (The Museum J.E.D.I. is also the name of Omar's podcast, where conversations meet at the intersections of museums and social justice.)

Omar's talk touched on many honest (and tough!) things for museum workers to act on, but the title of his talk was drawn from the following quote by Dr. Cornel West,

"Justice is what love looks like in public." 



3) Decolonizing the Collection and Spiritual Carte of Artworks

Marie-Anne Redhead, Curator of Indigenous and Contemporary Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery - Qaumajuq traveled from Canada to share the continuing work of decolonization at her institution.

A part of Marie-Anne's talk that I found especially interesting was the work of "renaming" existing artwork in the WAG's collection.  To find out more about "Interrupting the Institution" click this link to go to the WAG website.



4) Building Sensory-FriendlyMuseums

One of the last sessions I attended in Syracuse was presented by Charlotte Martin and Ava Locks, and focused on creating more sensory-friendly experiences. 

We created "Sound Maps" (like the one I made shown below) during the session to help us become more aware of our sonic surroundings.  

Charlotte also shared this link to the Intrepid website filled with great accessibility resources, including the accessible digital publication,  "Making History Accessible: Toolkit for Multisensory Interpretation", which offers a range of digital and physical/tactile solutions to help make interpretive content at historic sites and other educational facilities more accessible.







Of course, I also had time to see some exhibitions in Syracuse, including the excellent "Hoop Dreams" at the Everson Museum of Art (with a basketball court interactive section where you could shoot baskets!)



Thanks to the MANY Staff and Board for putting on a great conference in Syracuse!


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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, April 8, 2023

Floored (Twice!) at the National Postal Museum


I got "floored" (twice!) during a recent visit to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

Over the next few months, I'll be doing some workshops with the staff at NPM and during some recent time on the museum floor I got into a conversation with one of the Security Staff named Murph.

Murph was super friendly and told me things about NPM's exhibitions and visitors that she's been observing over the past five years that she has worked at the museum.  (Someone has even posted about Murph on YouTube!)

One of Murph's favorite things to bring to visitors' attention is the floor in the main atrium of the Postal Museum. Many people literally walk right past the design of the tiles that represent letters with different-colored "stamps" in the floor's center section. (See the image at the top of this post.)

Murph also pointed out the border tiles (one shown below) that represented the back of an envelope -- perfect for a Postal Museum housed in a historic Post Office building!



To be honest, even though I had visited NPM before, I don't think I ever really paid attention to the floor tiles. But thanks to Murph, I did!

However, the other thing that "floored" me that day was being smacked in the face with my own bias about security staff in museums.  I guess I always imagine that museum security staff are surly and just staring out into space -- just "holding up the walls" for their entire shift.

However, it was clear from speaking with Murph that not only was she enthusiastic about her work at the National Postal Museum, but that she had also read every label and looked carefully at every artifact inside all of NPM's exhibitions.  

So the next time you visit a museum, keep an eye out for those special, small details, and lend an ear to the security staff while asking them about their favorite things to see and do inside.

Who knows? You might get "floored" in a positive way, too!



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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 28, 2023

FUN and можело



I've just finished up a fantastic week of workshops with museum folks and independent cultural professionals from Bulgaria.  This first iteration of the "MUSA Academy" was sponsored by the America for Bulgaria Foundation (ABF) and I was joined by my brilliant teaching partners, Jamie Lawyer, and Christina Ferwerda.

Although I'm still processing all the wonderful things that happened and all the cool ideas that popped up this week, two things stand out right now -- the very American idea of FUN and the Bulgarian concept of можело (pronounced mozh-eh-low.)

можело is built on the notion of "we can do this" or "this is possible" but I also think about the word as a way of focusing on "starting somewhere" rather than just completely giving up due to challenges involving money and time, or institutional support.

An interesting example of an "old school" museum that has incorporated both fun and можело is the National Museum of Natural History located in the capital city of Sofia, Bulgaria -- specifically the exhibition gallery containing insect specimen cases.

As you can see from the photo below, the left side of the gallery is dominated by row after row of glass-fronted cabinets containing thousands of mounted insect specimens arranged in taxonomic groups. It feels both overwhelming and daunting.




However, if you turn to the right, a different vista beckons you through a set of insect-themed graphical curtains.




Inside this space is a fun gallery that puts insects found around Bulgaria in context by using large, colorful graphics representing different insect habitats. 




Throughout the space, you can also take closeup looks at representative insect specimens displayed in acrylic tubes.




Anchoring each section is a fanciful portrait of another representative insect species (including its scientific name!) like the dragonfly painting at the top of this post or the honeybee below.



While I wish the entire insect gallery was more like this one area, I realize that shifting a 130-year-old museum is a massive task. However, I give the staff, designers, artists, and fabricators kudos for finding a way to insert a bit of FUN and можело into the National Museum of Natural History.





P.S. to find out even more about FUN in museums, check out this wonderful YouTube interview with Christina Ferwerda and her colleague Helen Divjak!



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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 21, 2023

Opposites Attract ... Visitors


Opposites attract in exhibit design.  All sorts of juxtapositions, like big/small and old/new create interest for museum visitors.

I was reminded of this in every unusual way during a trip to the city of Plovdiv, in Bulgaria.

My friends wanted to take me inside a local H&M clothing store to show me a "secret."



Inside was a glass-enclosed remnant of a Roman-era stadium (including some stone seats!) where spectators had watched the chariots race by thousands of years ago!




Other examples of "opposites" can be found in the Hall of North American Forests at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

The giant Sequoia cross-section pictured at the top of this post, or the amazing "Life on the Forest Floor" diorama, with its cross-section of forest soil (enlarged to 24 times its actual size) are examples of a big/small contrast.

When you start looking for these design "opposites" they start to show up everywhere.  How can you add an "attractive opposite" to your next 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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Sunday, March 12, 2023

Please, WAIT.


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. 

Please, WAIT.



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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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