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ExhibiTricks blog

  • 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!




    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"
  • 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!


    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"
  • 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? 




    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"
  • 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!





    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"
  • 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!


    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"