Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday's signpost

Loved these friendly, welcoming signage examples at the Audubon Center at Debs Park in Los Angeles, CA.

Everything is bilingual. One of the first things you see is this welcoming backpack. Great message to give visitors right off the bat.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday's signpost

A million thanks to Jill Sabo for this outstanding example of existential signage.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Participatory Museum with Nina Simon: Download now available

Nina Simon was my guest in the virtual classroom on June 9, and the download is now available for viewing on demand.

If you've wanted the chance to hear Nina speak and have missed her at conferences, here is your chance. Nina is the author of The Participatory Museum, the Museum Two blog, a column in Museum magazine, and an experiential exhibit designer with a broad list of clients.
Nina's been taking the museum world by storm in the last several years, and took some time out of her busy travel and speaking schedule to join us for an intimate chat in the virtual classroom. We had a fun and lively conversation with the participants and Nina showed some fantastic examples.

This year we've instituted a no-refusal pricing policy. The price for the download is $10. But, if you are unemployed, a student, or simply can't afford the full fee, contact us if you need a discount on the fee. Experienceology's mission is to serve museum professionals by bringing top-notch consulting talent to your desktop at a price you can afford.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Museum visitor experience workshop coming to Phoenix!

For those of you in range of Phoenix, Arizona, my full-day Experienceology workshop is coming to the Arizona Museum of Natural History as part of the Visitor Studies Association annual conference.

The workshop will be held at the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Phoenix on Tuesday, July 27 from 9 am to 4 pm. Price is $155 for non-members. Click here to register. (Lunch is on your own.)

Workshop Description:
This lively full-day hands-on workshop will provide you with an 8-step process you can use to analyze your organization's visitor experience and see how to help improve it. Throughout the day you'll work on an individual progressive exercise, discussing how each step applies to your site. In the afternoon you'll work in small groups to analyze the host museum's experience and then debrief it together. I provide worksheets, handouts, goody bags, and a reading list. Hundreds of examples from a variety of experience-based businesses as well as great libraries and museums will be featured throughout the day.

Here's what past participants have said about the full-day Experienceology workshop:
"Thank you so much for the wonderful workshop. All staff who attended enjoyed your presentation and all the feedback was good to hear. I look forward to reading your book and several of the other ones on your list. You have helped put some more excitement into the changes we are making at Lindsay."
Chris Bernard, Lindsay Wildlife Museum, Walnut Creek, CA

"Well organized, fun to experience, provocative for daily practice, and worth the fee. Well-paced and very rich. I learned much even though I have been with this field a long, long time. Great literature review and applied expertise. Am looking forward to your presentation for our students."
Susan Spero, Ph.D., Professor of Museum Studies, John F. Kennedy University, Berkeley, CA

"Interesting, engaging, energizing... gave our docents a sense of ownership... they immediately began rearranging our Visitor Center to make it more welcoming."
Sarah Emerson, Volunteer Coordinator, Tijuana Estuary/CA State Parks, Chula Vista, CA

"Just what I needed to take a fresh look at the Wildflower Center. I liked the way it was covered from Invitation through Finale so we could evaluate each aspect of the Wildflower Center separately. The practical exercises reminded me after I got home about what I had learned."
Saralee Tiede, Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, TX

I hope to have you join us in Phoenix!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sunday's signpost

Loved how The Autry Museum updated this older donor sign and made it fresh without having to replace it.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Home Lands at the Autry: exhibit experience review

I was able to get over to the Autry Museum of Western Heritage to see their newest exhibition called Home Lands: How Women Made the West. It's truly one of THE most creative and engaging exhibits I've ever seen, so I wanted to do it justice with a full blog post and some research. The show runs at the Autry through August 22, 2010 in Los Angeles, and will travel to other venues afterwards (see below for locations and dates).

I've got some details on the exhibit development process from designer Tim McNeil and curator Carolyn Brucken later in this post.

When you walk in, the first thing you notice is the unusual use of materials, which goes throughout the show. It was this surprise, whimsy, and creativity that drew me in completely. I read more labels in that show than I have in years (I tend to skim a lot).

I also loved how they put the labels in unexpected places, using unexpected materials, like burning the text into wood and stitching the label by hand onto jute strapping.

They did an exceptional job of finding individual stories that were totally rich, and using them to bring each of the three sections to life.

The A/V components were woven in beautifully... video projected onto a burlap wall, old-style telephones gave you interview clips with the first black doctor in Colorado.

Last, I loved how each section had a different look, and they created little pods or vignettes to showcase different women. This section on women authors had first editions mounted in the "wall" with audio clips of the books on the old-timey telephone components. The hanging booklet lists all the books on the wall.

I also loved that they added a social media component as a talkback feature.

Here's some background on the design approach from Tim McNeil:

The exhibition was destined to be an interesting one right from the outset since the synergy between the Autry curatorial team and design team was excellent. We had such a blast designing this one. Every exhibit and idea is different with a huge amount of background research and experimentation. We attempted to push the "history exhibition" in some new directions, principally using compelling visitor experiences and a consistently high level of design details to wrap an engaging narrative around a rather eclectic group of diverse objects. A range of objects, people and stories that collectively illustrate a fascinating new take on the West.

Some of the design objectives were:
  • Highly collaborative curatorial process
  • Expressive design approach—everything has meaning
  • Design becomes symbolic of stories and ideas
  • Variety of content access points
  • Mix of media and communication approaches
  • High degree of material exploration and construction—domestic in feel
  • Deliberately low-tech on the exterior—invisible media
  • Travel to multiple venues
  • Keep within a limited budget

Exhibition Team:
Curators: Carolyn Brucken and Viginia Scharff
Design and Interpretive Approach: Muniz/McNeil Design
Exhibition Installation and Fabrication: Autry inhouse team, Cinnabar, Ironwood Scenic
Media Production: Autry inhouse team and Kristy Baltezore

And from the curatorial side, Carolyn Brucken, PhD who is the Associate Curator for Western Women's History at the Autry:

1. The development process was over six years and included the exhibition, the Home Lands companion book, and a teachers' curriculum developed in collaboration with the National Center for History in the Schools.

2. Regarding our process, collaborations were at the heart of the exhibition. The exhibition originated from the merger of the Women of the West Museum in Boulder with the Autry National Center in Los Angeles and from the very beginning I worked closely with Virginia Scharff, Professor of History at the University of New Mexico and Chair of Women of the West at the Autry, to create the exhibition. The exhibition benefited hugely from the open collaboration of Virginia and myself with our designers Tim McNeil and Christopher Muniz. We also brought in three scholars as advisors very early in the process in 2005 and worked closely with the National Center for History in the Schools and teachers in Colorado, Oregon, New Mexico, and California for much of the project as well.

3. Related to content, our desire was to make discovery central to the exhibition content. Virginia, Tim, Christopher and myself spent a great deal of time discussing how to present artifacts and complex ideas in ways that engaged directly with the visitors. It was amazing to work with such a smart group of people and build something together.

3. We knew we wanted to create an exhibition narrative that encompassed the diversity of women across different historical periods and across different cultures as we felt that many exhibitions tend to compartmentalize women's history. The challenge was finding ways to hold the different stories and moments in time together, especially in the exhibition text. In part, we selected a specific resource for each of the three sections to serve hopefully as a connecting thread, as well as ground the exhibition in specific environments and places.

4. I'm proud that the exhibition team as well as the Autry was willing to take risks on this show, and to try new ways of engaging our public without compromising on the scholarship or complexity of the story we were trying to tell.

Kudos to everyone involved on this amazing visitor experience! Do try to see it if you're in Los Angeles this summer, or see it when it travels:
  • Missouri History Museum, St. Louis—Oct. 15, 2012-Jan.15, 2011
  • The Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma—Feb. 2011-May 2011
  • The Palace of Governors, New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe—June 2011-Sept. 2011.
They are open to considering an additional fall 2011 venue. Any interested institution can contact Carolyn for additional information: cbrucken [at]

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Three Transformations: Session at AAM 10

As promised, here are my notes from this inspiring session at #aam10. The speakers were Guy Hermann, James Kern, and Ellen Rosenthal.

Moderator Guy Hermann is a museum master planner with a firm called Museum Insights, and introduced the session as showcasing three examples of museums transforming themselves into audience-driven sites. As he said, "Each transformation was driven by a clear focus on how best to serve the museum's audiences and community, creating vibrant, interesting, and completely different results."

Hermann spoke for Rachel Desgrosseilliers, Executive Director of Museum L-A in Lewiston, Maine, who was not able to attend. At its heart, Museum L-A could be described as a mill museum, but it clearly is much more than that. Their terrific tag line is: The story of work and community in Lewiston-Auburn. They defined the museum based on how it relates to this former mill community. One thing they've focused on is doing lots of reunions. I liked this from their website:
The history of the industrial community captured in the museum will be presented along three parallel lines that continue from the past into the present and future:
  • The people who worked in local industries,
  • Business and technological innovation and creativity, and
  • The economic, civic, and cultural development of Lewiston and Auburn.
My sense is that the focus on people, oral histories, and reunions has thoroughly engaged the community and captured a feeling of pride, so that this museum can continue to grow and become a vital part of the landscape.

Next up was Ellen Rosenthal, President and CEO of Conner Prairie in Fishers, Indiana. Conner Prairie is one of the oldest living history museums in the U.S. For years, docents in historic clothing worked and taught about farm life at Conner Prairie. But it had become a "been there, done that" destination. People came once in 4th grade, came back once as parents, and once as grandparents. This wasn't a sustainable model for the institution, so they have redefined themselves as an interactive history park (showing visitors interacting in their PR materials is one key difference).

One thing she said was, "All strategy is local. As your community changes, you need to evolve with it." When Conner Prairie began, they were out in the country. Now they are surrounded by suburbs with changing demographics. They focused on teaching their educators and docents how to engage in conversation, not "teach." They have a wonderful CD-ROM that's an excellent resource, called Opening Doors to Great Guest Experiences. They have focused on offering repeatable, open-ended kids' activities that appeal to their surrounding demographic. Their goal is daily family engagement and excitement.

Creative programming: Their 1859 Balloon Voyage attraction. They took advantage of a historical event, the first isntance of "air mail" via balloon, and have built an entire experience around it. Smart, exciting, and revenue-producing.

The last presenter was James Kern, Executive Director of Brucemore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Brucemore is a historic home and Iowa's only National Historic Trust Property. They have redefined themselves from "historic home" to "the community's home." One resource he recommended was the AASLH pamphlet: How Sustainable is Your Historic House Museum? ($5 download)

Creative programming: They created a live theater production from letters from one of the home's owners, called "Dear Sweetheart." They brought in local artists, performers and designers for a brainstorming session and asked, "Tell us what you see." They offer a series of events on site as well.

Partnering: They have partnered with every single arts organization in Cedar Rapids. When the entire town flooded in 2008, they hosted a benefit called "Moving Home" that raised $50,000 for flood relief. They also became flood conservation central, opening their space as a preservation office, as every other arts organization was flooded.

I loved the creative and unique approaches each of these institutions took towards transformation. As both Pico Iyer and Amy Tan said as well, the key is to find what makes you unique and engage with your community in that way.