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ExhibiTricks blog

  • Why Can't Science Centers and Children's Museums Have More Contemplative Spaces?



    And why can't Art Museums (the traditionally "hands-off" museums) have more physically interactive experiences and artworks inside?

    A number of years ago, I worked on an exhibition entitled "The Animated Artwork of Laura Vaccaro Seeger" at the Nassau County Museum of Art (NCMA) on Long Island. 

    The exhibition included interactive exhibits and installations that naturally dovetailed with themes like light and color, metamorphosis, and negative space that show up in the award-winning children's books that Laura Vaccaro Seeger writes and illustrates. That would have definitely NOT been a big deal if I designed that sort of exhibition at a "hands-on" museum, but this was the first time that NCMA had put on a show with so many deliberately interactive exhibit pieces. Initially, the museum staff was even a little freaked out by having loose books in the gallery (in a show by an author!) so we compromised by mounting the books on "reading shelves" attached to the walls.

    Exhibitions like "Take Your Time" by Olafur Eliasson incorporated stunning pieces that, with a little tweaking, could make equally amazing science museum exhibits. But since Eliasson's pieces are "Art," they are mostly not meant to be directly touched or interacted with physically, at least inside of an Art Museum.

    At issue seems to be the context that people (with or without young children in tow) approach different types of museums. The atmosphere in most art museums is on the level of a library --- hushed tones, silent contemplation, and guards occasionally telling people to settle down. One of the complaints from guards (but not visitors!) in the Laura Vaccaro Seeger show was that some of the interactive pieces made noise or caused the visitors to make noise!

    Of course, most Science Centers and Children's Museums often seem like a cross between a fun house and a race track --- frenetic busy activity and experiences that seem to invite chaos more than contemplation. So is it possible to introduce contemplative experiences into such active spaces?

    I remember speaking with Bernie Zubrowski about a piece that he developed and displayed at the Exploratorium, entitled "The Ghost of Amelia Earhart." The piece incorporated a silky piece of fabric (Amelia's scarf?) immersed in a tank of water being gently swirled by currents. There are interesting moire patterns caused when the fabric overlaps, as well as mysterious shadows formed by the lighting inside the tank.

    When I saw Bernie's piece at the Exploratorium, I loved it. Unfortunately, I was one of the very few visitors to take the time to pay attention to its subtle pleasures. Despite being a treasure trove of art, science, and perception exhibits, the Exploratorium wasn't really conducive to a piece like Bernie's, which required quiet concentration from the viewer. However, "The Ghost of Amelia Earhart" would likely have been very well received in an art museum or gallery show.

    Can we get Art Museums to "loosen up" on their approach to exhibits and visitor interactions -- or should we?

    What about getting "Interactive Museums" to provide more contemplative spaces and opportunities?

    Or are all types of museums trapped by the "institutional images" that they have worked so hard to foster and promote?


    What do you think? Share your thoughts in the "Comments Section" below!



    Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

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

    If you enjoy the blog, you can help keep it free to read and free from ads by supporting ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • Design Inspiration: Scan of the Month



    "Scan of the Month" is a cool website that shows CT scans of everyday objects (like the asthma inhaler at the top of this post) with fascinating results.

    The website started off as some scans of LEGO Minifigures created by a group of creative technologists at the engineering company Lumafield.  

    To quote the website:  "Engineering marvels surround us every day. As deeply curious engineers, we thought we understood how beautiful the details around us can be. Then CT scanning revealed a world we had never seen."

    So click on over to the Scan of the Month website to reveal a new bit of the world.




    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"
  • Expecting the Unexpected?



    Do you know what's worse than getting COVID?  

    Getting COVID far away from home during an important museum installation!

    So I'm writing this blog post from isolation in a hotel room in Minot, North Dakota.  It's a drag because right across the street, my fellow museum workers are installing new exhibits which I should be helping with.

    Nevertheless, through the wonders of modern communication, we are continuing to work together to move things forward.  

    I suppose there's a lesson in there somewhere about flexibility and making the best of how things actually are, not how you wish they were.  

    (Check out these ExhibiTricks posts in a similar vein, What's your Plan B? and What's On Your Three Lists?)

    I hope if you are encountering some unexpected obstacles of your own, you are finding ways around (or above or below or through) them.

    ONWARD!




    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"
  • Design Inspiration: If these walls could talk ...



    Sometimes a visual or graphic punch can set the mood or transmit a content message in a room or gallery.

    An often underutilized exhibition approach involves using wall graphics. With the advent of high-quality digital printing at a large scale, custom wallpaper or dimensional graphics can be a real boon to designers.

    One company that provides wallpaper printed to size, either with your own custom images or stock images, is Wallsauce. (One of their wallpapers is in the top image of this post.)

    Also, your local printer is likely able to create large-scale dimensional graphics from your files -- see the full-wall installation image from a recent project below.


    So take a look around at the walls in your next project and let them "talk"!



    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"
  • Top Ten 2022 Takeaways from ExhibiTricks



    One cool thing about my ExhibiTricks blog is that it lets me capture and share ideas.  It's fun as the end of the year approaches to look back at 2022 and see which ideas stood out and "clumped together" in different posts.

    So here (in no particular order) are Ten Takeaways from 2022 -- and their related blog posts, in case you missed them the first time around!



    1) Museum folks can leverage learnings from pop culture "hits" like TikTok and Wordle




    2) Museum installations require flexible thinking
    After all the COVID delays, museum activities and exhibition installations have come rushing back through the project pipeline, which prompted three 2022 posts about the installation "mindset"






    3) Just One Thing about Exhibits (JOT@Exhibits) 
    One of my favorite 2022 "side projects" was a set of short videos asking museum folks from all around the world to share "Just One Thing" about exhibits.  Check out my POW! YouTube channel (and let me know if you'd like to do a JOT video with me in 2023!)

    • JOT@Exhibits Videos on YouTube!



    4) Museum Workers Unite!
    Museum workers continue to unionize to get fair workplace treatment and liveable wages.  Shame on the museum executives and boards who will spend money on union-busting law firms but not on their workers!




    5) Awesome Museum/Exhibit/Design Tools!
    One of the best things about the museum business is the willingness of so many colleagues to share tools, techniques, and resources they use in their work. That notion of "sharing" continues to motivate my blog.  Here are some awesome tools that popped up in 2022 ExhibiTricks posts:






    6) The Exhibit Cheapbooks are now FREE books!
    In the spirit of sharing, I still think it's wonderful that nearly 100 free exhibits "recipes" originally contributed by museum colleagues from all over the world into the Exhibit Cheapbooks are now available to download FOR FREE from the POW! website.




    7) Newsletters are great repositories for ideas and inspiration  I love newsletters because they help me encounter ideas and people I might not have come across otherwise




    8) Exhibits for children are not simply "piles of toys"  I'm biased, but I think some of the most innovative and imaginative exhibit design work comes out of projects geared towards children (and their adult caregivers.)  So perhaps it's not surprising that three 2022 postings touched on exhibits for kids. (A special shout-out to Margaret Middleton, whose work features in two of these posts.)






    9) We Missed In-Person Conferences (and they sure beat Zoom!)  Of course, I caught COVID before InterActivity, so I couldn't attend -- which was worse than a Virtual Conference!




    10) But don't miss the wonder in our work!
    Our work, like all work, sometimes brings stress or frustration but don't let those things override the amazing things we get to encounter in our museum work



    Here's wishing all ExhibiTricks readers a peaceful close to 2022 and a healthy, happy, and CREATIVE start to 2023!



    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"