Saturday, May 25, 2024

Don't Forget Your Workshop Suitcase!


I recently helped present a workshop on prototyping and exhibit development at the annual InterActivity conference organized by the Association of Children’s Museums.

Ably assisted by my co-presenters, Joe Cook and Blake Wigdahl, the three of us touched on how to move from basic exhibit ideas to testing and evaluation to the creation of the finished products. I even got to reveal the connection between ELVIS and museum exhibit prototyping! (Check out this related post here.)



A great workshop not only requires careful planning, but you also need some “stuff “to help take your stories out of a PowerPoint presentation on the screen and into the real world. I always bring a suitcase full of prototype examples and exhibit pieces to pass around and to help illustrate my main talking points. That combination of "stories" and "stuff" really creates a memorable social learning experience for your workshop participants.

So, the next time you are thinking about how to share your stories during a workshop or presentation, don’t forget to pack some extra ‘stuff” for the road!




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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 15, 2024

Ouch! Dealing with the Unexpected


I'm on my way to present at the Association of Children's Museums annual InterActivity Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.  

Of course, I've done a lot of preparation for both my presentation and trip, but one thing I didn't anticipate was falling and breaking my shoulder the day before my departure. OUCH!

How can we best deal with the unexpected in our museum work and in the rest of our lives? Two main things stand out, I think.

1) FLEXIBILITY It's okay to acknowledge that you may have to shift from your original intentions. It's good to come up with a workable "Plan B" ( or C or D). 

2) SUPPORT SYSTEMS  The people around you (whether coworkers, project partners, or family members) are there to support you.  Don't be afraid or too proud to ask for their help.

Here's hoping you get to show your flexibility and flourish with support when the unexpected arises -- and in a less dramatic way than a broken bone!



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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 4, 2024

Is Your Museum In A Rut?


Why is there such a desire to touch things in an art museum? Does all that concentrated looking create a pent-up demand to use our other senses? Or do we long to get a better sense of how an artist created something and the materials they used? 

I was thinking about these things after a recent Art Museum visit.  But then I took a step back and wondered why so many Art Museums and galleries are so often composed of repeating "white boxes" for their displays.

I don't mean to pick on the Art Museum in question, but the galleries there (and in many other art-oriented museums) often seem to lose track of the intellectual and design values of variety in their exhibit environments. Visitors to Art Museums are often faced with the classic "pure white box" style gallery repeated over and over. Within each pure white space, artworks are arranged linearly or in grid patterns on the walls or floors. Couldn't an occasional gallery wall be painted red or blue? 

Different genres of museums tend to get into these stylistic and design "ruts."

My children once remarked on a History Museum exhibition as being a "bunch of old brown things" because the furniture, textiles, and documents on display were all old and brown! The visual rhythm of "brown" and "old" became a sort of unvarying rut that overwhelmed the designers' ultimate content goals. Each object in every glass case was also set on sepia or earth-toned backgrounds.

Have some museum genres become like particular radio stations for both exhibition designers and visitors?  Tune into pristine white spaces on the Art Museum channel and the dimly lit galleries full of "old brown stuff" on the History Museum station?

Are the typical design "ruts" of many science centers -- filled with bright colors and wildly varying architectural forms really conducive to thinking deeply about scientific content?

How can we, as exhibition creators, push ourselves out of the ruts and vary our exhibition design approaches to create more interesting museum spaces and content-driven experiences for our visitors?


Please share your own experiences or examples of "rut-breaking" exhibition spaces 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 25, 2024

On the Road Exhibit Inspiration


I'm currently on the road in the Bay Area of California, but wanted to give a quick tip of the hat to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco for a super interactive element in their "Color of Life" exhibition.

Sets of colored strings are strung in front of video monitors. When you pluck one (or more) strings, you immediately get a visual burst of colored dots on the screen behind the strings accompanied by some musical tones.  Shortly after that, a graphic with a brief text message shares some interesting information about how the single color (or color combination) you created by twanging the correspondingly-colored string shows up in Nature. 

(See the image below and check out this YouTube video link of my wife playing with the exhibit .)



Frankly, I loved everything about this interactive.  It created an unusual interface with tactile, visual, and auditory feedback.  It was intuitive and inspired experimentation (what if I pluck more than one string simultaneously?)  It offered a phygital (physical+digital) interactive component that actually made sense in the context of the exhibition theme.  It also offered bite-sized and interesting pieces of content, and it was FUN!

What more can you ask for from an interactive museum experience?

So, BRAVO Cal Academy!  If you'd like to find out more about the "Color of Life" exhibition, check out the exhibition webpage and this "Creating a Colorful Exhibit video.




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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 17, 2024

"Have To" Conferences vs. "Want To" Conferences



I've recently returned from the Museum Association of New York (MANY) annual conference.  It was a fun and fulfilling event, filled with interesting people, strong session content and keynotes, and a solar eclipse!

It made me think of how often I hear colleagues grudgingly describing some other museum conferences as ones they "have" to attend, as opposed to conferences they "want" to attend.

So what are some of the qualities of conferences (like ACM's InterActivity or ECSITE) that I enjoy, learn from, and WANT to attend?

Size Matters
In my opinion, there is such a thing as a conference that is TOO big. I don't like the feeling of constantly being engulfed in a sea of attendees madly rushing around.  Also, it's often hard to find people in a big mob. I prefer the much less overwhelming regional conferences or the smaller national/international events.

"My" People
Does it feel like the people you meet during a conference have similar interests and concerns?  Or does it feel like you might have wandered into an event where everyone is in a different business than you are?  Some conferences are geared more toward directors, while other gatherings feel more diverse.  I relish reconnecting with trusted colleagues, but I also want to attend an event to expand my network and meet new like-minded folks.

Content is King
In addition to the social aspects of conferences, I want to learn new things and expand my professional knowledge. Are the sessions filled with new and challenging ideas presented by a range of practitioners?  One nice feature of the MANY Conference is that they convert the highest-rated sessions to online presentations so people who couldn't attend the physical conference can still access high-quality content.

Who Cares?
Last but not least, are you left with the feeling that the event organizers actually care about you and your conference experiences?  I've stopped attending some professional gatherings <cough> AAM <cough> where I've felt like the interests of directors and large museums take precedence over exhibit folks and independent museum professionals.


What do you think?  What are the things that make you WANT to attend a conference?  Let us know by leaving a comment 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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Saturday, April 6, 2024

Learning About Creative Partners in Bulgaria!


I've just returned from Pleven, a city in northern Bulgaria, where I helped lead a week-long series of professional development workshops (called MUSE Academy) for Bulgarian colleagues working in museums and allied cultural organizations across the country.

One of the things I've been thinking about after this most recent trip to Bulgaria is how to recognize the four qualities that make great Creative Partners.

For me, the best Creative Partners are the ones that 1) Have Fun; 2) Think Big;  3) Work Flexibly; and 4) Get Stuff Done.  Below are some of the ways that the MUSE Academy fostered Creative Partners, and the four qualities below are important indicators to keep in mind when working with partners on any creative and challenging project.


1) Have Fun
My memories of working with my two MUSE Academy co-instructors, Christina Ferwerda and Jamie Lawyer, are filled with laughter.  We all really believe in working hard during our trips to Bulgaria, with extensive planning ahead of time. And yet, our work is enjoyable because we have fun together.




2) Think Big 
Our creative partners at the America for Bulgaria Foundation sponsor the MUSE Academy, and we are so lucky to have Nadia Zaharieva and Yuliana Decheva as the point people from the Foundation driving everything forward.  Nadia and Yuliana push us to "think bigger" and to create more opportunities for the MUSE Academy participants, in turn building even greater capacity in the Bulgarian museum and cultural sectors.




3) Work Flexibly
Unexpected events occur in every project I've worked on. Our time in Pleven was no exception, as a few "Bulgarian surprises" came up during our week there. Despite this, I was sure that my Creative Partners would be flexible and figure out ways to overcome any challenges rather than complaining or pointing fingers.




4) Get Stuff Done 
Можело is a Bulgarian word meaning roughly, "This can be done!"  We strive for a spirit of Можело during our week together with MUSE Academy participants -- to push against the notion of "This is not possible" and to accomplish a lot together and challenge ourselves creatively.





Here's hoping you can find wonderful Creative Partners that meet all four of these criteria when you put together 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!

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"