Exhibit Resource List

The Great Big Museum Exhibit Resource List

The idea for this list started with Kathy Krafft as part of a conference presentation she gave several years ago. Shortly after, I offered to host the initial collection of sources on my website. Over time, the list expanded with my input and that of the late David Taylor, and was included in the "Handbook for Small Science Centers" book. Now, the Great Big Exhibit Resource List has become a way to keep track of "trusted sources" for museum exhibit designers, developers and fabricators, and is freely shared with colleagues. The GBER List continues to expand with input from museum "makers" from around the world. If you have additions, corrections, or comments, please send them to: paul@orselli.net and help this resource grow!


1. Visit your local stores, and set up accounts; you may get contractor’s rates.

Check out plumbing and electrical and hardware and lumber and paint supply stores. Sometimes places like plumbing supply stores will let you behind the counters to look in their bins. Most stores are very supportive of local non-profit organizations, and enjoy the challenges of helping you when you are doing weird things in building exhibits.

2. Find out when it is quiet to get extra suggestions—not first thing in the morning when contractors are getting the parts they need for the day.

3. Never categorize or stereotype your stores—in exhibit fabrication you may well find what you need at strange, unexpected places. So visit, and see what is in stock at auto supply places (12 volt fans for your hand-powered generator, for instance) floor covering, fabric stores, office supply places, etc.


(If you don’t have these catalogs, get them! These suppliers have local branches throughout the country. Check the phone book or the website to locate your nearest outlet. Note: Addresses and telephone numbers often change! Use websites to confirm contact information.)

McMaster-Carr: www.mcmaster.com 3500 pages of hardware, plumbing (including clear PVC pipe and fittings), electrical, materials (metal, plastics, etc. delivered the next day usually. AMAZING collection.

Grainger: www.grainger.com

MSC: www.mscdirect.com



Enabling Devices: www.enablingdevices.com
385 Warburton Avenue
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706
(800) 832-8697

Flaghouse: www.flaghouse.com
601 FlagHouse Drive
Hasbrouck Heights, NJ 07604
(800) 793-7900

Maxi-Aids: www.maxiaids.com
42 Executive Blvd.
Farmingdale, NY 11735
(800) 522-6294

Patterson Medical: www.sammonspreston.com
4 Sammons Court
Bolingbrook, IL 60440
(630) 226-1300

Special Needs Toys: www.specialneedstoys.com/usa/
4537 Gibsonia Road
Gibsonia, PA15044
(800) 467-6222



Perma-Bound: www.perma-bound.com
617 E.Vandalia Road,
Jacksonville, Illinois 62650
(800) 637-6581

San Val Incorporated: www.sanval.com
895 Frisco Street
Steelville, MO 65565
(800) 325-4465



Cole-Palmer: www.coleparmer.com
625 East Bunker Court
Vernon Hills, Illinois 60061
(800) 323-4340

Fisher: www.fisherscientific.com
Liberty Lane
Hampton, NH 03842
(603) 926-5911

Flinn Scientific: www.flinnsci.com
P.O. Box 219
Batavia, IL 60510
(800) 452-1261

Sargent-Welch: www.sargentwelch.com
P.O. Box 5229
Buffalo Grove, IL 60089
(800) 727-4368

Sigma-Aldrich: Unusual chemicals.



BrightSign: Digital signage solutions
12980 Saratoga Ave., Ste. D
Saratoga, CA 95070
(408) 852-9263

Eletech Electronics: www.eletech.com
16025 Kaplan Avenue
City of Industry, CA 91744

Stop & Listen: www.stoplisten.com
7515 Flint Road S.E.
Calgary, Alberta CANADA T2H 1G3
(800) 387-2365

Technovision - Custom sensors and controllers. www.technovision.com
933 Canada Ct.
City of Industry, CA 91748
(626) 839-1488



Beyond Digital Print: www.beyonddigitalprint.com
6401 E. Rogers Circle
Boca Raton, FL
(561) 922-5250

Can Stock Photography: www.canstockphoto.com

Display Creatives: Pop-Up Displays and printing. www.displaycreatives.com

Fotosearch Stock Photography: www.fotosearch.com
21155 Watertown Road
Waukesha, WI 53186
(262) 717-0740 (800)827-3920
(Also check out the sister site, www.gograph.com)

Getty Images: www.Gettyimages.com

MegaPrint: Large format print specialists www.megaprint.com

MorgueFile: www.morguefile.com Free images for your use in your creative work.

MVP Visuals: www.mvpvisuals.com
Suppliers of high-impact visuals and custom branded displays.

The Public Domain Project: www.pond5.com Completely free public domain images and videos

Stella Color: www.stellacolor.com Sustainable Printing Solutions

Stockphoto.com: www.istockphoto.com

Shutterstock: www.shutterstock.com

Videvo: https://www.videvo.net/ Creative Commons stock video, motion graphics, music and sound effects.

Walsworth Printing and Publishing: www.walsworth.com
Printers of custom books and periodicals.



(Visit your local schools- they have lots of catalogs!)

Acorn Naturalists: www.acornnaturalists.com
Good source of animal footprints and casts, plus lots of other biology and botany stuff.

Childcraft: www.childcrafteducation.com
P.O. Box 3239
Lancaster, PA 17604
(800) 631-5652

Creative Health Products: www.chponline.com Weight scales, other health products.
5148 Saddle Ridge Road
Plymouth, MI 48170
(800) 742-4478

Discount School Supply www.discountschoolsupply.com

Educational Innovations: www.teachersource.com
362 Main Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06851
(203) 229-0730

Edmund Scientific: www.scientificsonline.com Magnets, polarizing sheet, all kinds of science stuff.

Edmund Industrial Optics: www.edmundoptics.com lenses, optical parts.

Haba: www.habausa.com

hand2mind: www.hand2mind.com/ Math manipulatives, posters.
500 Greenview Court
Vernon Hills, IL 60061

Health Edco: www.healthedco.com

Lakeshore: www.lakeshorelearning.com Early childhood materials.

Skulls Unlimited: www.skullsunlimited.com All things bone related.
10313 South Sunnylane
Oklahoma City, OK 73160
(800) 659-7585 (SKULL)

Woodworks Ltd: www.craftparts.com
4521 Anderson Blvd.
Fort Worth, TX 76117
(817) 581-5230



Adafruit Industries: www.adafruit.com
80 Nassau Street, #4C
New York, NY 10038
(646) 248-7882

Allied: www.alliedelec.com
7410 Pebble Drive
Fort Worth, Texas 76118

Anatek: www.anatekcorp.com Video and TV related electronics.
P.O. Box 1200
100 Merrimack Road
Amherst, NH 03031

BG Micro: www.bgmicro.com
3024 Lincoln Ct
Garland, Texas 75041
(800) 276-2206

Digi-key: www.digikey.com
River Falls, MN 56

Happ Controls: www.happcontrols.com Pushbuttons, pinball accessories, etc.
106 Garlisch Drive
Elk Grove, IL 60007
(888) BUY-HAPP

Hosfelt Electronics: www.hosfelt.com
2700 Sunset Blvd.
Steubenville, OH 43952
(888) 264-6464

Jameco: www.jameco.com
1355 Shoreway Road
Belmont, CA 94002
(800) 831-4242

MakerSHED: www.makershed.com DIY Kits + Tools + Books + Fun from the MAKE Magazine folks

Mouser: www.mouser.com
1000 North Main Street
Mansfield, Texas 76063
(800) 346-6873

Newark: www.newark.com
4801 N. Ravenswood
Chicago, IL 60640-4496
(773) 784-5100

Radio Shack: www.radioshack.com

Ramsey Electronics: www.ramseyelectronics.com
Good source of electronics kits that can be turned into exhibits.
590 Fishers Station Dr.
Victor, NY 14564
(800) 446-2295

Solid State Advanced Controls: www.ssac.com
Sometimes the only source for hard-to find electronic timers and other modules that do switching, current measuring, etc. generally for 120VAC circuits.

SparkFun Electronics: www.sparkfun.com
6175 Longbow Drive
Suite 200
Boulder, CO 80301
(303) 284-0979

String Pots: www.stringpot.com
String Potentiometers = Potentiometer + Spring-Loaded Pulley.

Supercircuits: www.supercircuits.com Video and security equipment.
One Supercircuits Plaza
Liberty Hill, Texas 78642

Tapeswitch: www.tapeswitch.com
100 Schmitt Boulevard
Farmingdale, NY 11735
(631) 630-0442



SketchUp: www.sketchup.com Excellent free rendering program.



80/20 Inc: www.8020.net "The Industrial Erector Set"
1701 South 400 East
Columbia City, IN 46725
(260) 248-8030

FlexPVC: www.flexpvc.com Amazing array of PVC shapes and fittings.

MayTec: www.maytecinc.com
901 Wesemann Drive
West Dundee, IL 60118
(847) 429-0321

MicroRAX: www.microrax.com Miniature extruded aluminum t-slot framing
Twintec, Inc.
1510 Boundary Blvd., Suite 100
Auburn, WA 98001
(800) 979-9645

Octanorm: www.octanormusa.com
701 Interstate West Parkway
Lithia Springs, GA 30122
(800) 995-2995

Parker’s Industrial Profile Systems: https://bit.ly/e8RBYm
6035 Parkland Blvd.
Cleveland, OH 44124
(216) 896-3000



Fake-Foods.com: www.fake-foods.com
204 North El Camino Real, #432
Encinitas, CA 92024

Hubert: www.hubert.com Display supplies.

Humphrey's Farm: https://www.humphreysfarm.com/ Wholesale resource for artificial display foods and drinks.

Iwasaki Images: www.iwasaki-images.com
630 Maple Ave.
Torrance, CA 90503
(800) 323-9921

Forbex: www.forbex.com Fake grass.

(Childcraft also sells inexpensive collections of fake foods.)



Aircraft Spruce & Specialty: www.aircraft-spruce.com
Fiberglass supplies, Kevlar, aviation instruments, the entire world of aviation fasteners.

Fiberglass Coatings: www.fgci.com (in St. Petersburg, FL) A great source for
fiberglassing supplies, casting resins, and knowledge.

3201 28th Street N.
St. Petersburg, FL 33713
(727) 327-8117

Fibre Glast: www.fibreglast.com
95 Mosier Pkwy Brookville, OH 45309

Polytek: www.polytek.com Rubber moldmaking supplies, casting materials.



Carpet One (formerly Lees Carpets): https://www.carpetone.com/exclusive-brands/lees
Many sustainable flooring choices. NeoFloor is especially good for children’s areas.

Gerbert Limited: www.gerbertltd.com Recycled flooring materials.

715 Fountain Ave.
P.O. Box 4944
Lancaster, PA 17604-4944
(800) 828-9461

Pirelli Flooring: www.artigo.com Interesting flooring products.



Get Smart Products: www.pfile.com
Super cheap frames!

IKEA: www.ikea.com
It’s hard to find more attractive and inexpensive frames than those from IKEA.

Light Impressions: www.lightimpressionsdirect.com
P.O. Box 787
Brea, CA 92822
(800) 828-6216

Pictureframes.com: www.pictureframes.com
2103 Brentwood Street
High Point, NC 27263
(800) 332-8884



ATD-AMERICAN: www.atd.com
135 Greenwood Ave.
Wyncote, PA 19095
(215) 576-1000

Community Playthings: www.communityplaythings.com
PO Box 2
Ulster Park NY 12487
(800) 777-4244

Custom Educational Furnishings: http://www.cefinc.com/ Furniture for Maker Spaces.
2696 NC Hwy. 16S
Taylorsville, NC 28681
(800) 255-9189

DEMCO: www.demco.com
P.O. Box 7488
Madison, WI 53707
(800) 962-4463

Frog Furnishings: https://frogfurnishings.com/
15285 S. Keeler St.
Olathe, KS 66062
(913) 764-8181

Gaylord Library Supplies: www.gaylord.com
Kid-sized furniture.
(800) 448-6160

Mockett: www.mockett.com
Hardware, pulls, wire grommets.

Smith System: www.smithsystem.com
PO Box 860415
Plano, Texas 75086
(800) 328-1061

Worthington Direct: www.worthingtondirect.com
6301 Gaston Ave., Suite 670
Dallas, TX 75214
(800) 599-6636



Atlanta Belting: www.atlbelt.com Conveyor belt-- smooth, textured.

Bearings and Industrial Supply Co.: www.bearingsandindustrialsupply.com
WM Berg: www.wmberg.com
499 Ocean Avenue
East Rockaway, NY 11518

Boston Gear: www.bostongear.com
14 Hayward Street
Quincy, MA 02171
(888) 999-9860



ABET Laminati: www.abetlaminati.com Lumiphos laminate material.

Educational Innovations: www.teachersource.com Check out their glow-in-the-dark pigments.
362 Main Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06851
(203) 229-0730

Flinn Scientific: www.flinnsci.com Small sheets and paint.
P.O. Box 219
Batavia, IL 60510
(800) 452-1261

Glow Inc: www.glowinc.com

Hanovia: www.hanovia-uv.com
6 Evans Street
Fairfield, NJ 07083
(973) 651-5510

Jessup Manufacturing: www.globritesystem.com
2815 West Route 120
McHenry, IL 60051
(815) 385-6650

Shannon Luminous Materials: www.blacklite.com
304 A North Townsend
Santa Ana, CA 92703
(800) 543-4485



Divnik International: www.SpiralWishingWells.com
321 Alexandersville Road
Miamisburg, Ohio 45342
(937) 384-0003



Build it Green: www.builditgreen.org

Environmental Home Store: www.environmentalhomestore.com
The Environmental Home Store
550 Carpenter Lane at Greene Street
Philadelphia, PA 19119
(215) 844-GREEN

Green Exhibits: www.greenexhibits.org

Center for Neighborhood Technology, Green building resources:

Yemm & Hart: www.yemmhart.com Recycled building materials.
1417 Madison
Marquand, MO 63655
(573) 783-5434



Ballew Saw: www.ballewsaw.com/ Sharpens saw blades, sells blades and bits.
325 S. Kimbrough
Springfield, MO 65806
(800) 288-7483

Carbide.com: www.carbide.com Router bits, etc.

Cherry Tree: www.cherrytree-online.com Wood balls, parts.
408 S Jefferson Street
Belmont, OH 43718
(800) 848-4363

Citimarine: www.citimarinestore.com Marine accessories and hardware.
3300 NW 112th Ave, #4
Doral, FL 33172
(800) 766-5256

Enco Tools: www.use-enco.com Tools, general selection & large tools.

Fastenal: www.fastenal.com Industrial and construction supplies.
2001 Theurer Blvd.
Winona, Minnesota 55987
(507) 454-5374

FastCap: www.fastcap.com Check out "speed tape".

Grizzly: www.grizzly.com Large and small tools, bits, supplies, wood samples.

Hafele: www.hafele.com
Huge assortment of hardware for furniture making.

Harbor Freight: www.harborfreight.com
Inexpensive tools ,variable quality on some brands.

JC Whitney: www.jcwhitney.com Automotive supplies.

Klingspor: www.klingspor.com
Woodworking: sandpaper in bulk (belts, drums, disks, sheets.)

Lee Valley: www.leevalley.com Woodworking tools, also cheap source for small neodymium magnets.
P.O. Box 1780
Ogdensburg, NY 13669
(800) 871-8158

Lehman’s: www.lehmans.com Old time tools, blacksmithing supplies.
One Lehman Circle
P.O. Box 321
Kidron, OH 44636
(888) 438-5346

Marv-O-Lus Manufacturing: www.marvolus.com
220 North Washtenaw Avenue
Chicago, IL 60612-2014
(888) 840-4311

Northern Tools: www.NorthernTool.com
2800 Southcross Drive West
Burnsville, Minnesota 55306
(800) 221-0516

Roberts Plywood: www.roberts-plywood.com Curved plywood, large wooden tubes.

SawsHub.com: www,sawshub.com/ Great hardware site with tool reviews and DIY projects.

Southco: www.southco.com Latches, cabinet hardware.

Tool Parts Direct: www.toolpartsdirect.com Parts for tools- with diagrams for identifying the part!
6620 F Street
Omaha, NE 68117
(866) 597-3850

West Marine: www.westmarine.com Marine supplies.

Woodcraft: www.woodcraft.com Tools and supplies.
(800) 535-4482

Woodworker's Supply: www.woodworker.com



Bulbs.com: www.bulbs.com
40 Jackson Street
Worcester, MA 01608
(888) 455-2800

Bulbman: www.bulbman.com

Interlight: www.interlight.biz
7939 New Jersey Avenue
Hammond, IN 46323
(800) 743-0005

Topbulb: www.topbulb.com
5204 Indianapolis Boulevard
East Chicago, IN 46312
(866) TOP-BULB

UV SYSTEMS: www.uvsystems.com A great source for UV lighting and components.
16605 127th Avenue SE
Renton, WA 98058-5549



Adams Magnetic: www.adamsmagnetic.com

Kling Magnetics: www.kling.com Magnetic Paint.
343 Rt. 295 - PO Box 348
Chatham, NY 12037
(518) 392-4000

Force Field: www.wondermagnet.com
2606 West Vine Dr.
Fort Collins, CO 80521
(877) 944-6247



McNichols: www.mcnichols.com Perforated sheet metal, steel grating.
5505 West Gray Street
Tampa, FL 33609-1007
(813) 282-3828 x 2100

Murphy-Nolan: www.murphynolan.com

OnlineMetals.com: www.onlinemetals.com Stocks and sells a variety of metals; including small orders
1138 W. Ewing Street
Seattle, WA 98119
(800) 704-2157



Archie McPhee / Accoutrements: www.mcphee.com Wacky products!
2428 NW Market Street
Seattle, WA 98107
(206) 297-0240

Bry-Tech Distributors: www.bry-tech.com Upholstery Materials & Supplies
1143 Haines Street
Jacksonville, FL 32206
(800) 329-7283

Company Folders, Inc. www.companyfolders.com Folders and Presentation Materials
22 West Huron Street, Suite 203
Pontiac, Michigan 48342
(248) 738-7600

Displays 2 Go: www.displays2go.com Small sign holders, stands, displays.
55 Broad Common Road
Bristol, RI 02809
(800) 572-2194

Ecospheres: www.eco-sphere.com Self-contained ecosystem spheres.
4421 N. Romero Rd
Tucson, Arizona 85705
(800) 729-9870

Fake Earth: www.polypavement.com

Freund Cans: www.freundcontainer.com Containers of all sorts.
11535 S. Central Avenue
Alsip, IL 60803

JML Direct Optics: www.jmloptical.com Parabolic mirrors.
76 Fernwood Ave.
Rochester, NY 14621
(585) 342-8900

Library of Congress: American Environmental Photographs

Light Stick (LED) Art: www.subliminaryartworks.com
Bill Bell
139 Davis Ave
Brookline MA 02445
(617) 277-4719

Lilliput Play Homes: https://www.lilliputplayhomes.com/
Miniature playhouses, stores, doctor offices, etc. Including related accessories.
6114 Brownsville Rd. Ext.
Finleyville, PA 15332
(724) 348-7071

MJS Packaging www.mjspackaging.com/ All sorts of bottles and jars.
31700 Middlebelt Rd., Suite 165
Farmington Hills, MI 48334

Oriental Trading Company: www.orientaltrading.com Cheap multiples. Craft and party items.

PilotVials.com www.Pilotvials.com Clear and amber glass vials, plastic jars for all your packaging needs.
2965 Valley Vista Drive
Sedona, AZ 86351
(928) 254-0533

Radiant Manufacturing www.radiantmfg.com Giant Sequins and "flutter discs" for Air Cannon exhibits.
(877) 787-8880

Rhode Island Novelty: www.rinovelty.com
19 Industrial Lane
Johnston, RI 02919
(800) 528-5599

Sand & Solutions: www.waupacasand.com
Rubber mulch. (For clean “sandboxes” and playgrounds.)
(715) 258-8566

Scent Machines: www.scentair.com

SPI Plastics: https://www.spiplastics.com Plastic indoor play and outdoor playground items, including slides.

Stella Color: www.stellacolor.com Images on carpet; interesting mural wallpaper.

Strapworks: www.strapworks.com
All kinds of webbing, strapping ropes, etc.
3170 Elmira Rd.
Eugene, OR 97402
(541) 741-0658

Toysmith: www.toysmith.com

Ultrasonic Mistmakers/Fog Makers: http://mainlandmart.com/
2535 Durfee Ave.
El Monte, CA 91732
(626) 258-2928

U.S. Government Surplus: www.usa.gov/state-surplus-sales
Surplus sales by State.



AIN Plastics: www.ainplastics.com

Curbell Plastic: www.curbell.com
7 Cobham Drive
Orchard Park, NY 14127
(716) 667-3377

Outwater Plastics: www.outwater.com
Weird architectural stuff, tee molding in all sizes and shapes and colors, etc.
4 Passaic Street, Wood-Ridge, N.J. 07075
1-888-OUTWATER (688-9283)

shopPOPdisplays: www.shopPOPdisplays.com
Speciality acrylic boxes (including 5-sided boxes) and POP display materials.

United States Plastic: www.usplastic.com
Lots of plumbing parts, tubing.
1390 Neubrecht Rd.
Lima, Ohio 45801-3196



MSDS on line: www.msdssearch.com

Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety: www.artscraftstheatersafety.org



Acorn Naturalists: www.acornnaturalists.com
Good source of animal footprints and casts, plus lots of other biology and botany stuff.

American 3B Scientific: www.a3bs.com
2189 Flintstone Drive, Unit O
Tucker, GA 30084
(770) 492-9111

Arbor Scientific: www.arborsci.com
PO Box 2750
Ann Arbor, MI 48106
(800) 367-6695

Ben Meadows: www.benmeadows.com Forestry/Outdoors supplies, surveying equipment
P.O. Box 5277
Janesville WI USA 53547
(800) 241-6401

C&A Scientific: www.cnascientific.com
7241 Gabe Court
Manassas, VA 20109
(703) 330-1413

Carolina Biological: www.carolina.com Microscope slides, fruit flies and
other critters, lots more.

Copernicus Toys: www.copernicustoys.com
1012 C Druid Ave
Charlottesville VA 22902
(800) 424-3950

Kelvin Scientific: www.kelvin.com
280 Adams Blvd.
Farmingdale, NY 11735
(800) 535-8469

NASCO: www.enasco.com A site for multiple supply catalogs.

PASCO: www.pasco.com Excellent physics supplies and materials.
10101 Foothills Blvd.
Roseville, CA 95747
(800) 772-8700

Pitsco: www.pitsco.com Kits, meters, etc.
915 E. Jefferson
P.O. Box 1708
Pittsburg, KS 66762
(800) 835-0686

Science Kit & Boreal Laboratories: www.sciencekit.com

Steve Spangler Science: www.stevespanglerscience.com
4400 South Federal Blvd
Englewood, CO 80110
(800) 223-9080

Ward’s Natural Science: www.wardsci.com
PO Box 92912
Rochester, NY 14692
(800) 962-2660



Bowman Displays: www.bowmandisplays.com
648 Progress Avenue
Munster, IN 46321
(800) 922-9250

Dick Blick: www.dickblick.com
P.O. Box 1267
Galesburg, IL 61402
(800) 828-4548

Warwick Products Company: www.warwickproducts.com Store fixtures, displays.



American Science and Surplus: www.sciplus.com Weird collection of small parts.
P.O. Box 1030
Skokie, IL 60076
(847) 647-0011

Herbach and Rademan (H&R): www.herbach.com Cheap motors, blowers, power supplies etc.
353 Crider Avenue
Moorestown, NJ 08057
(800) 848-8001

Surplus Shed: www.surplusshed.com
1050 Maidencreek Road
Fleetwood, PA 19522
(877) 7-SURPLUS



Ahh.biz: www.ahh.biz Specialized Textile Outfitters.
American Home & Habitat
Route 4, Box 86
Squires, MO 65755
(417) 683-1838

Dazian Fabrics: www.dazian.com Theatrical and Outdoor Fabrics

Fred Krieger Fabrics: www.fredkriegerfabrics.com
420 Jericho Turnpike
Jericho, NY 11753
(800) 892-8142
Pro Sound & Stage Lighting: www.pssl.com Audio, video, party lights.
11070 Valley View Street
Cypress, CA. 90630

Rosco: www.rosco.com Specialized lighting fixtures and gels (colored mylar sheets), hardware.

Rose Brand: www.rosebrand.com Theatrical Supplies

Sam Ash: www.samash.com Musical Instruments, Sound equipment.
(800) 4-SAMASH

Seattle Fabrics: www.seattlefabrics.com Theatrical and Outdoor Fabrics
Seattle, WA. 98103
(206) 525-0670

Sew What?: www.sewwhatinc.com Custom-sewn theatrical drapes and fabrics
1978 Gladwick Street
Rancho Dominguez, CA 90220
(310) 639-6000

ExhibiTricks blog

  • Don’t be that "best"

    "Best Museum" lists are the worst!

    USA Today regularly publishes something purporting to be "The Best Museum in Every State" list.

    Aside from the incredibly stupid premise -- how would you compare two completely different types of museums, say the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and claim one of them is the "best"?

    The people who most often seem interested in these "best museum" lists are executive directors chasing donors or museum marketers looking to churn out another press release.

    Is there anything more pathetic than someone begging you to cast an online vote so that their museum can gain the "best" museum designation in the western suburbs of Boston or in small towns east of the Mississippi?

    Do we really want our work recognized by giving ourselves flimsy PR bragging rights because of some bogus "best of" list?

    You don't claim the title of "the best" for yourself in some cheesy marketing stunt -- instead, you do the hard work every day, with every visitor, to create amazing experiences so that they give you the title of "the best" by coming back to your museum, again and again, and telling their friends and family to do the same.

    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"
  • 5 Accessibility and Inclusion Insights from Producing an Exhibition During COVID

    Redefine/ABLE Exhibit logo

    In this Guest Post,  Drs. Audra Buck-Coleman, Naliyah Kaya, and Cheryl Fogle-Hatch share the learnings and insights they derived from shifting a multi-site, cross-platform exhibition to an online experience due to the COVID pandemic.

    Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility, a collaborative, multi-site project, began as an exploration of how an exhibition could achieve maximum inclusivity for multiple audiences. University of Maryland design students collaborated with members from the disability community to create an exhibition that via its messages and delivery would challenge ideas of accessibility, disability, and inclusion. The project was scheduled to open in two different physical spaces and on a website at the end of March 2020. Instead, the nation shut down for the virus and we had to suspend the exhibition. By early summer, with no end in sight for the Covid-19 restrictions, we pivoted Redefine/ABLE to be an all-digital, virtual and social media exhibition, “installing” content across a project website, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Second Life

    The Peale, a project partner, hosted virtual programming. Reflecting on this grand experiment a year after its first scheduled launch, we offer five insights from what became of our coronavirus-induced “Plan B.” We share these in hopes of informing how museums and cultural institutions might successfully approach accessibility and inclusion during and after the pandemic.

    1. Discarding misconceptions can increase inclusion.

    As the Covid-19 lockdown realities began to evolve in March last year, we surveyed the digital options with no real satisfying results. None of the spaces we found offered the in-person experiences we had planned, and they lacked the humanity we felt was necessary for the content. We instead kept our fingers crossed that the launches of the physical spaces would only be slightly delayed. By the end of May it was clear we would not be able to offer these installations, so Dr. Nancy Proctor recommended that we install the exhibition content in Second Life (SL). This option had never come up while we were other seeking options for the project. In fact, upon hearing about SL, Audra scoffed. Her knowledge of the space was tainted by recollections of condescending comments from colleagues. Further, when she told another colleague about this expansion of the project, they asked, “Isn’t Second Life dead?” Given SL’s profile, it seemed like an unsuitable space.

    These ideas were reinforced when Audra first “stepped” into our assigned SL exhibition space. The room was cold, digital, inhuman. However, as we worked with SL builders Eme Capalini and Gentle Heron, the once-nondescript gray box of a room transformed. It was rewarding to witness visitors moving about a room that felt very much alive, warm, and inviting. Further, SL offered us a way to produce the project content that largely represented our physical space plans.

    In some ways, the SL space was more accessible and accommodating, too. We received visitors at all hours of the day and from far-flung geographical locations. They could drop in at their convenience versus having to abide by pre-set hours, they did not have to worry about affording parking or entrance fees, and they didn’t have the hassles of negotiating traffic. It also connected our content to the SL community. These days augmented and virtual reality garner the most attention for ways to consider immersive spaces, but SL has minimal technical requirements and doesn’t require expensive gadgets. In this sense, it was more inclusive as well.

    The SL installation had more than 400 new and returning visitors within the first 6 weeks of the launch. This was more than we expected for our two physical spaces combined and more traffic than our social media accounts and website. It was gratifying that so many could access this work. The Second Life option was one that we had initially dismissed. Fortunately, it didn’t stay that way.

    Sixteen human-looking Second Life avatars are standing in the illustrated room. Introductory information about Redefine/ABLE is on the main panel closest to tour leader, David London. Nine large wooden-framed panels with exhibition information are posted around the space.

    David London, the Peale’s Chief Experience Officer, leads a tour of the
    Redefine/ABLE Second Life installation during an open house event.
         Second Life gave us the ability to create a close-to-real-life installation that complimented the other project platforms.

    2. Embracing humility, ignorance, and discomfort can inform universal design. 

    Learning how to navigate in Second Life was challenging, but it also gave us a sense of how those with different abilities are challenged to navigate inaccessible spaces. “Inept” barely scratches the surface of how Audra and Naliyah felt entering Second Life. Audra had only a cursory knowledge of the space, little of it positive. Trying to figure out what we were supposed to do and how we were supposed to do it was humbling and frustrating. Everyday actions such as walking, sitting in a chair, and navigating stairs were suddenly foreign. We also had to learn how not to run into things: walls, bodies of water, other avatars. During a pre-opening press event, Naliyah ran into another guest’s avatar. Thankfully, everyone we ran across (and ran into!) was understanding and accommodating. If only real life were as forgiving.

    As with physical spaces, digital spaces have cultural expectations. We were oblivious of SL’s. Audra first indiscriminately created her SL avatar, choosing from a set of standard options. Eme and Gentle kindly let her know that anyone who had been in SL more than two weeks would immediately spot her default look and thus would not take her seriously. She needed a makeover, but she did not have any SL money, an understanding of the SL currency, or knowledge of where to purchase outfits nor how to change into them after she did. Thankfully Eme was there again with her abundance of patience to guide her through the process.

    Practically everything about being in the SL space was foreign: navigation, infrastructure, social expectations. As professionals in real life, we are generally regarded as knowledgeable and accomplished. In SL, we were anything but, and it was spectacular. We were incompetent not by choice but because of how SL was designed. How frustrating—if not impossible—it must be for those who use a wheelchair to try to navigate spaces without ramps or elevators or for those who cannot see to attempt to gain information via websites that aren’t accessible. We knew of the importance of universal design before SL, but learning the space was a pointed reminder. We cannot take for granted that physical and digital spaces are accessible. Unfortunately, universal design is not standard. Putting yourself in a space not easily navigated can be an effective reminder of why it should be.

    Cheryl is seated at left. Two students are standing in front of different designs and seen talking through different ideas. Other students are seated on the wooden floor. Many printouts are taped to the wall.
    Cheryl, at left, sits in on an on-location physical exhibition planning
    session with the design students. Engaging stakeholders and
    members with disabilities throughout the exhibition design
    process helps to achieve increased accessibility. 

    3. Asking questions and engaging others can foster trust and confidence.

    Sometimes non-disabled designers and curators try to anticipate what people with disabilities would prefer or need rather than asking them. Society has stigmatized some disabilities to the point that others feel reluctant to approach people about their needs. Other members may feel superior to those with disabilities. They know what they want. They don’t have to ask. Both scenarios can lead to paternalistic solutions that infantilize the disabled. Rather than assume or avoid, just ask! Even better if you can engage people with disabilities in the design and curation process at an early stage.

    “Nothing about us without us” is a slogan used by the disability community. Engaging disabled stakeholders can complicate an already complex project, such as exhibition design, but your results will almost certainly be better for it. The design students we worked with completed written reflections at the semester’s conclusion. They remarked on the value of engaging our disabled stakeholders in the design process. One wrote, “Being able to listen to our stakeholders’ personal experiences with disability is unmatchable. ... In my view, our stakeholders were a huge part of this project taking shape. The information and knowledge we gained from our conversations with them was invaluable.”

    Also, there is a difference between asking a few questions and involving stakeholders throughout the process. As another student wrote: “I still think that people have good intentions, but the slogan ‘nothing for us without us’ really struck a chord with me. If I were designing a product for people with disabilities, I would’ve always asked for their opinion, but now I would really strive to have them on the team from the beginning. In hindsight, it’s really obvious that the target audience should be a part of the design process, but I really underestimated the importance of seeking feedback from the very beginning and listening to their wants and needs carefully throughout the process.”

    Involve those with disabilities in things big and small. It might be to answer a few questions or to collaborate on producing an exhibition. But asking those whose needs warrant understanding and consideration is the best way to achieve inclusion and accessibility. The receptiveness of our disabled stakeholders to answer questions, no matter how trivial they might have seemed to the question poser, helped the students feel even more comfortable to ask more questions. The result was a stronger exhibition in content and form.

    This screenshot from a Peale hosted programming event, which streamed through YouTube, shows six people from an event about the Digital Divide. Clockwise from top left are host Dr. Nancy Proctor, the Peale’s Chief Strategy Officer and Founding Director; Jen, the ASL interpreter; Azure Grimes, Project Coordinator with Libraries without Borders; Dr. Nettrice Gaskins, artist and educator; Debbie Staigerwald with The Arc Baltimore; and Daisy Brown, Storytelling Ambassador and Stoop Shoots project lead at the Peale.
    This screenshot from a Peale hosted programming event shows
    the host, Nancy Proctor, the four panelists, and the ASL interpreter.
    The Peale arranged for ASL and CART transcription for all
    events to make them more accessible. 

    4. Normalizing accessibility and inclusion requires full-time dedication.

    The Peale hosted exhibition programming and arranged for ASL interpreters and live CART transcription. One of the conversations we had when trying to arrange for these services was if we would have audience members who needed them and should we go to the expense if not. Other events often ask that if an attendee needs accessibility accommodations such as CART transcription or ASL interpretation, that they request it two weeks in advance of the event. This boiler-plate language comes across as a half-hearted effort to be inclusive. It puts the responsibility of requesting these services on those with disabilities rather than on event hosts. What if someone who needs these services did not hear about an event two weeks (or whatever timeframe) prior?
    Ultimately the Peale staff decided to offer the services whether or not someone had requested them. The thinking was that to make future programming more welcoming and inclusive, you have to show you are committed. Although only a small percentage of the registered guests requested these services, this was a start and a much larger population than before. In addition, we had event speakers describe themselves so that those who were blind would get a sense of what the person looked like. These accommodations are now available for anyone seeking access to past programming. Audience members expressed their gratitude for these services. Further, the Second Life space and website also included alt text and other accessible features as much as possible. The Peale is now gaining a reputation for being inclusive and accessible. Since these programs, we’ve attended other Zooms and webinars where these accommodations are not provided. It’s disappointing and further reinforces the exclusion.

    Far too often, inclusive practices are viewed as burdensome. They feel like a burden because we have been fighting the natural order of things by creating non-inclusive societies. We continue to try and reform problematic spaces, practices, language, and policies rather than embracing new ways of being and doing. Normalization takes time and a commitment from all of us to offer these accommodations as the default rather than the exception. We have the technological capabilities to standardize accessibility. Yes, these take time and resources but so do other efforts. We need to change our mindset that using these resources for accessibility accommodations means they are “lost” for other purposes. Prioritizing diversity and inclusion is a gain, not a loss. By committing to inclusion and accessibility today, we make this the default for the future.  

    Redefine/ABLE content from Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Second Life, and the project website.
    We installed Redefine/ABLE on different digital platforms. Gaining a true
    sense of the impact of the project across these platforms was challenging.

    5. Trying and failing to capture the inclusion “silver bullet” is still progress.

    It’s been 10 months since the digital versions of Redefine/ABLE launched. Were these efforts successful in engaging audiences in learning about disability and accessibility? Are they modifying their language to eliminate ableist terms? Are visitors now aware of the shortcomings of the Americans with Disabilities Act? Although the Redefine/ABLE spaces seemed to be good sources of information, we couldn’t be sure due to an inability to track such reactions. Yes, Google can tell us how many visitors came to the website, Twitter can tell us how many retweets we had, and so on, but what impact, really, did these platforms have? We implemented surveys and other participatory elements to try to track and engage audience members, but we had little participation. Trying to quantify and qualify an exhibition’s impact is difficult. This one, given its many platforms, was even more so.

    How can we assess impact if we cannot easily know what thinking and rethinking the content stimulated? Counting visitors is a start, but to what level are they taking in the information? Do they spend a cursory amount of time with the information or ingest everything closely with furrowed brows? Does the information prompt them to make changes in their daily lives, have conversations with others about what they learned, or research other information? How did people with disabilities respond to the content versus those without? In past physical exhibits, we were able to solicit participation in feedback surveys on site, which led to a higher rate of participation. Assessment poses greater challenges as more exhibitions make virtual pivots. Asking visitors immediately post-tour to complete a questionnaire or offering on-the-spot swag to those who fill out feedback forms, is more arduous if not impossible.            

    Not capturing the “aha moments” also meant the design students we worked with didn’t get a rich understanding of how audiences responded to their work. Testing the model is a big factor in learning. The virtual options truncated this. Did we find a silver bullet? Unfortunately, we can’t say -- as much of the results of our grand experiment remain largely inconclusive. As we continue to create virtual spaces, we also need to incorporate appropriate, inviting assessment tools to know what kinds of impact, if any, these spaces are having.

    We featured people with different disabilities as part of the exhibition content. One of them, Marguerite Woods, said, “Inclusion is the natural order of things. … Diversity is kingpin. ... No one is better than or more than or less than. We all are. That perspective… will open opportunities for everyone. It doesn’t create burdens. It creates opportunity and creativity.” We couldn’t agree more. But diversity and inclusion take deliberate, constant attention. We aren’t fully there yet, but hopefully we are well on our way to achieving universal design.

    We want to express our gratitude to Maryland Humanities, The Institute of Museum and Library Services, The Arts and Humanities Research Council in the United Kingdom, and the University of Maryland, College Park Friedgen Family Fund. This project would not have been possible without their financial support.

    Thanks again to Audra, Naliyah, and Cheryl for sharing their experiences and insights with ExhibiTricks readers!

    Author Bios

    Dr. Audra Buck-Coleman is a designer, educator, author, and facilitator. She directs, curates, and collaborates on social design projects with underrepresented communities. This includes serving as project director for Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility, a virtual exhibit that addresses disability, inclusion, and ableism. Her work connects design students, cultural institutions, and underrepresented communities and their concerns within a social justice design context. The resulting exhibits empower minoritized communities by elevating their voices and concerns in public spaces. She is a former associate professor and inaugural design program director at the University of Maryland, College Park.
    Dr. Naliyah Kaya is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Montgomery College. She has served as an advisor and as an evaluator for cross-cultural exhibitions including Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility. She also teaches TOTUS Spoken Word Experience as part of the Jiménez-Porter Writers' House Program at the University of Maryland, College Park where she was previously the Coordinator for Multiracial & Native American / Indigenous Student Involvement in the Office of Multicultural Involvement & Community Advocacy (MICA).
    Dr. Cheryl Fogle-Hatch is the founder of MuseumSenses, a Baltimore-based advocacy studio that researches and develops multisensory experiences for galleries, museums, and other cultural organizations. She collaborated with the UMD design students to create Redefine/ABLE: Challenging Inaccessibility. Previously, Dr. Fogle-Hatch worked as an archaeologist, conducting research in museum collections. Cheryl has taught college courses in archaeology at the University of New Mexico, and she has designed and led hands-on science activities for high school students participating in programs of the National Federation of the Blind.

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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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  • Contribute to the Museum Workers Relief Fund!

    There are still thousands of our museum worker colleagues who need concrete financial support NOW.

    To that end, the collective Museum Workers Speak has put together the Museum Workers Relief Fund for the mutual aid of museum workers in need.  In the words of their website:

    It has become clear to us that when our institutions will not stand in solidarity with us, we must stand in solidarity with one another.

    If you would like to contribute (as I already have) to the Museum Workers Relief Fund, you can follow this link to do so.  Also check out the new Museum Workers Speak Slack channel to chat, organize, send job leads, etc.

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    So click on over to the Museum Workers Relief Fund page NOW, make your contribution, and then email me your receipt so we can compare calendars for that Zoom call!

    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 Toolbox: Get the Hook!

    My wife recently asked me to place a hook in our back hall so she could hang up a special mop that picks up dog hair from our hardwood and tile floors.

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    The classic IKEA "dog tail" wall hook. Funny, relatively cheap, and functional.  Who could also ask for more?  (Also available from Amazon**)

    Continuing with the animal theme, these sparrow-shaped hooks would be a great addition to a Nature Center or Natural History museum.

    Toughooks are affordable unbreakable plastic backpack and coat hooks. The manufacturer is so sure you can't break them, that they guarantee these hooks for life.

    The Shelfology website shows some elegant (if a little pricy) hooks.  I especially like the powder-coated steel Popsicle wall hook (pictured below) which comes in about 30 different colors, as well as the Doohooky wall hook.

    3M Command™ Hooks

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    Another minimalist design.  Sometimes you just need a simple stainless steel screw-in hook at a great price, and this is it.

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    Thanks for hanging in through this whole post!  I hope some of these items hooked you enough to provide you inspiration for future projects.  Have some other favorite hook suggestions to share?  Tell us about them 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"

    (** PLEASE NOTE: Some Amazon links may provide the author a small commission with no additional costs for the purchaser.)