Free Exhibit Resources

Exhibit Resources from POW!

The Great Big Exhibit Resource List

A constantly updated compendium of resources for museum design and exhibit fabrication (including websites and contact information.)
>> view resource

Donor Recognition Examples

This is a PDF of examples of Donor Walls and other recognition devices in museums that were featured in an ExhibiTricks blog post. It's a BIG file so be patient as it loads.
>> view resource

Cheap Exhibit Ideas from the ASTC Exhibit Cheapbooks

Here are a few examples of the types of simple, inexpensive exhibit ideas to be found in each of the three volumes of The Exhibit Cheapbooks which I originated and edited.
>> view resource

POW! in The New York Times

A nice review of a children's interactive art exhibition I created for the Nassau County Museum of Art.
>> view resource

Downloadable Exhibit Articles by Paul Orselli

"Producing Great Exhibits on a (Not So Great) Budget"

My article from the January/February 2014 issue of ASTC's Dimensions magazine. Some simple, inexpensive ways to add to your exhibits program.
>> download the PDF now

"Green Design Nuts and Bolts"

An article jam-packed with resources and techniques to help you expand your green exhibit design toolkit.
>> download the PDF now

"Million Dollar Pencils and Duct Tape: Some Thoughts on Prototyping"

Concrete examples and tips about how to move through each phase of the exhibit prototyping process.
>> download the PDF now

"Good Things Come In Small Packages" (Small Museums Article)

Lessons learned from a quarter century of working with a variety of different types and sizes of museums.
>> download the PDF now

"Do You Really Need a 3D Printer, and Other Essential Questions You Need to Ask about a Museum’s Makerspace"

5 questions to consider when creating (or updating!) a Makerspace or design-based learning environment at your museum.
>> download the PDF now

ExhibiTricks blog

  • 5 Questions To Ask A Potential Creative Partner



    The New Year often brings the promise of exciting new projects. 

    What questions can you ask to help get a sense of whether someone you've never worked with before might become a good (or great!) creative partner for your next museum/exhibit/design project?  


    1) How do you prototype exhibits?
    Every aspect of an exhibition, including labels, can be tested out with visitors before the “final” version is produced. This does not have to be a horribly expensive or time-consuming process. As a matter of fact, masking tape, markers, and cardboard can go a long way in creating simple prototypes.

    Avoid anyone who says things along the lines of: “We test out everything in the shop...” or “ We don’t need to prototype, because our stuff never breaks.” You need to turn real visitors loose on exhibit prototypes to avoid the dreaded “I never thought they would do that with our exhibit!”

    You can find a free downloadable article on exhibit prototyping on the POW! Website.


    2) What’s your favorite exhibit?
    If the response to this question is either a blank stare or a glib sales pitch --- RUN! Ideally, your potential creative partner can report on why specific aspects of an exhibit component or entire exhibition interested them or moved them in some way.

    For example, I loved a large scale interactive component based on one of the scenes from a children’s book by William Steig. There were magnet-backed creatures and plants that multiple visitors could move around in a room-sized jungle scene. This was part of a larger exhibition of Steig’s drawings in a normally “hands-off” museum, The Jewish Museum in Manhattan. It was clear through this area, and a few other places in the Steig exhibition, that the designers wanted to provide some colorful, open-ended experiences for families.


    3) Will you let us directly pay subcontractors?
    Money changes everything, doesn’t it? The financial aspects of your exhibit process should be as transparent as possible. The best designers allow you to see “the books” so you can be assured that the maximum amount possible of your project resources are being spent on items that will show up in your exhibit galleries.

    Beware of too many miscellaneous fees or excessive charges for things. It is reasonable for any designer to cover their overhead charges, but it is just as reasonable for you to ask to contract directly with specialists serving as subcontractors to avoid excessive “markups”.


    4) Have you ever worked in a museum?
    While this is not a complete deal-breaker, a design solution from someone who has actually had to fix an exhibit after 600 grade-schoolers have pummeled it carries a lot more weight with me than a beautiful computer rendering from a recent design school grad.

    Don’t be afraid to ask practical questions like, “How will this work with large school groups?” or “Will this computer interactive automatically reboot if it freezes up?”


    5) Who are some of your repeat customers?
    At the end of every crazy exhibit project and installation, after everyone has had a few days to obtain the requisite amounts of food, sleep (and showers!) you ask yourself an important question: Would I ever work with (fill in the blank) again?

    The people who you continue to work with, and who continue to work with you, speaks volumes about your work ethic and the ability to get the job done. The mark of a great museum exhibit designer is how they overcome unexpected challenges related to timing or finances or the other hundred things that could cause a project to become unhinged.


    What are some of the questions you ask potential creative partners? Let us know 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 is a GREAT creative partner who 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"
  • Looking Back at 2019 to Move Forward Into 2020




    The Sankofa Bird symbol at the top of this post sets the tone of "looking back to move forward."

    Here are six links to topics I posted about on ExhibiTricks during 2019 that will help inform my thinking (and hopefully yours!) about museums and museum work in 2020:



    1) Are Exhibit Timelines So Boring Because of the Lines?  The idea of "best practices" and doing things "the way we've always done it before" gets in the way of new museum thinking.




    2) Museum Elevators and Exhibit Design  Sometimes museum/exhibit/design inspiration can be found in unexpected places.




    3) "Best Museum" Lists are the Worst   If it was up to me, we'd never see another one of these dumb lists, starting in 2020.




    4) What Makes A "High Quality" Museum?  On the other hand, there is one key element that sets high-quality museums apart ...





    5) 10 Things I Learned As a Fulbright Specialist in Bulgaria  I really learned a lot during my Fulbright work in Bulgaria.




    6) Supporting Museums As They Transform: An Interview with Charity Counts  Charity is doing great work as the executive director of the Association of Midwest Museums, especially as an advocate for fair pay for museum workers.




    Best wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy, and CREATIVE start to 2020!



    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"
  • A Brief Guide to Unionizing at The New Children’s Museum



    Given the burst of recent activity surrounding unionization at museums, I thought it would be important to hear from museum folks directly involved in the process.

    Fortunately, Cody Machado and Alisa Miller from the New Children's Museum were kind enough to share this description of their unionization experiences with ExhibiTricks readers:


    PHASE 1: CONVERSATION
    Our journey towards unionization didn’t start with bold declarations or dramatic action. It started with small conversations between friends, talking about the issues we faced in our jobs and how they manifested in our personal lives. Wages had stagnated. We all had second jobs but rent was a struggle every month. Prep time for programs declined while more responsibility was piled onto our plates and the high turnover rate put even more pressure on those who remained. Nothing would change when these issues were brought to management, and the divide in understanding between the floor team and the highest levels seemed to grow wider.

    The more we talked the more it became obvious that we had to do something to force a change. We had heard about the growing movement of unionized museums and saw the chance to create true equity in our own workplace. We needed a seat at the table, a parallel structure that would put us on equal footing, and forming a union seemed to be the only way to achieve that.



    PHASE 2: FINDING A UNION
    A small group of us started meeting at coffee shops and peoples’ houses to lay out a game plan. There is no dedicated museum workers union, so we looked for one with deep roots in our community. It was important that we find representatives who would provide us with the guidance we needed without taking the process out of our hands, and who would work in partnership with the Museum.

    It was through a family member that we were put in contact with IBEW Local 465. We met with Anabel Arauz, the organizer at our local, who understood instantly where we were coming from - that we cared deeply about our workplace, and that we had a genuine desire to ensure the Museum could continue to grow without sacrificing the wellbeing of its workers. After just a few meetings we knew IBEW was our home.



    PHASE 3: GATHERING INTEREST
    With a representative body now standing behind us, we brought more people into the conversation and collected signatures. To hold a union election, you first must file signed interest cards from at least 30% of your potential bargaining unit with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). So we considered the scope of our union. Should it be limited to frontline staff, or did we want to include as many positions as possible?

    We believed in the value of union representation for all workers, and so reached out to people in positions that were eligible to be included - essentially, those without hiring or firing power and without access to secure information. We knew we were asking our coworkers to take a big step with us and held weekly meetings to address concerns and build consensus.

    After hearing about the challenges faced by other colleagues, we were certain that forming a union was the right step. With a union, we would have more say in our workplace than had ever been possible without one. We could advocate for fair wages and transparency at all levels. We could ensure that all work was treated as valuable, essential, and dignified.


     NCM Union bargaining committee members at IBEW Local 465 Union Hall.
    L to R: Charlie Randall, Cody Machado, Nate Fairman, Anabel Arauz,
    Tim Dixon, Hannah Mykel, Jill Grant, Jessica McPeak, Alisa Miller


    PHASE 4: FILING AND THE ELECTION
    As the unit grew, we prepared for what might happen after filing. We hoped for voluntary recognition, meaning that the Museum would acknowledge our union without an election. Knowing that most businesses don’t do this, we also went over typical union-busting talking points. We knew that if we were told to get something in writing from the union, that that would happen when we had negotiated a fair contract. If someone said that everything would be on the table during negotiations, we knew that bargaining begins from the status quo and not from zero. If we were told that unions weren’t right for nonprofits, we already knew innately that all workers deserve a voice and representation in their workplace. With this knowledge, we could illuminate and contradict anti-union arguments before they took root.

    Once we had enough signatures, we filed with the NLRB and within a month we had a vote. That month between filing and the election is a wild ride, and it is critical that you face it together. We continued to meet, talk with our reps, and reiterate the fact that the union is us. Workers are the heart and soul of the union and the Museum.

    And then we won! Our election passed with 75% of the vote. IBEW Local 465 can represent us and bargain with the Museum on our behalf. Members of our bargaining unit will now work alongside IBEW representatives to negotiate a fair and equitable contract.



    PHASE 5: NEGOTIATIONS
    Since our victory at the ballot box, we haven’t slowed down, selecting people for our bargaining committee and keeping everyone informed along the way. We try to be as open with the public as we are with our own unit in an effort to build industry-wide solidarity and contribute to the movement within our field.

    We sincerely look forward to January, when we will finally take our seat at the table alongside management and begin negotiations. We have always worked closely with those not in the bargaining unit, and the value we place on those relationships remains unchanged. Together we will build a path towards a better future for The New Children’s Museum, and hopefully for the museum field as a whole.


    A note: the whole process can seem daunting at first, especially if you’re new to unions (like us). Luckily, there are resources already available for those who are interested in learning more! The Unions for All spreadsheet from Art + Museum Transparency is a great place to start.


    NCM Union members and supporters at Little Dame Shop in San Diego

     

    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"
  • "Have good Big Ideas and write short labels."




    I sent my colleague Beverly Serrell**  an email asking how best to respond when a museum team wants to "digitally expand" the information on exhibition labels using QR codes or screens or the like.

    I liked Beverly's response so much, that I asked her permission to share it here on the ExhibiTricks blog:


    This is a very familiar idea, that there are museum visitors who might want more information than they see and use on the labels in an exhibition and would be willing to follow a link or code to get it somewhere else (e.g., in another gallery, on their phone, on the Internet). There are several assumptions embedded here that make this a weak or even bad idea, because.... 

    1. The number of people who actually want more information is a small percentage. 

    2. The number of people who use QR codes or remember to look for more information in another place is small. 

    3. The amount of work to provide high-quality information for that small percentage is not worth it. 

    4. More people will actually use shorter labels, so writing short labels to begin with makes a better user-ratio.  

    5. Lots of information is instantly available on visitors' phones. You don't need to write more.

    Notice that the above is all based on "information" rather than "interpretation." The purpose of exhibit labels is interpretation, not information. Information is about presenting knowledge. Interpretation is about provoking curiosity, revelation, interest, and meaning. Anyone who gets stimulated by the labels (and we hope that lots of people will be) can search for what exists already on the Internet to find out more.

    So, the mindset should be: Have good Big Ideas and write short labels. 


    **Beverly Serrell is the author of Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approachthe definitive book about (wait for it ...) exhibit labels.  If you don't already own a copy you should click on the Amazon link above and get Beverly's book for yourself. (Or at the very least read this interview I did with Beverly when the second edition of Exhibit Labels was published.)



    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, please help support ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"
  • Designer's Toolbox: Information is Beautiful



    Can information be beautiful? 

    The website Information is Beautiful answers that question by helping users make more informed decisions about the world through data visualizations based on constantly updated facts -- some of which I've featured in this post.

    Created by David McCandless and his team, Information is Beautiful seeks to transform important (if sometimes somewhat complicated) data into strong and understandable visualizations.




    The infographics cover a range of vital topics such as health, energy, and society. I appreciate how these images inspire me to think of dense information in new ways.

    The Information is Beautiful team has also made all their datasets freely available, so you can dig into the numbers yourself (and check the veracity of their graphics if you like!)

    Check out the related website called Beautiful News that serves up daily infographics highlighting data-rich topics focused on current events.





    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, please help support ExhibiTricks through our PayPal "Tip Jar"