Monday, October 13, 2008

Exhibit or Exhibit Platform: which is right for your museum?

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums What is an "exhibit platform" you ask? That's when an institution has an infrastructure that has been designed to support rich and changing experiences, programs, or activities. So, when is it appropriate to use "exhibits" and when "exhibit platforms"? I’ll demonstrate: In 2002, Gyroscope teamed up with the staff at the California Science Center to develop the Amgen Center for Science Learning (otherwise known as the Big Lab, pictured above left). This beautiful armory was refurbished to serve a nearby school. At that time, we were in the design development phase of the Bishop Museum Science Adventure Center- an addition to their natural history institution. In the case of the Big Lab, there was a school group that was coming on a daily basis. So one-hit wonders (even if they were working with phenomena) were not going to sustain the learning experience. The teachers and students needed an inter-changeable system that they could plug and play different lessons and activities into. This became an "Exhibit Platform" approach (think set design, to an extent). The Bishop has an amazing collection, and needed to serve a large audience of Hawaiians and global tourists. As a result, they had very different operating requirements from CSC. This global audience is often a one-time visitor, with school groups coming on occasion. While they were describing what was unique to their "local" environment, it is so diverse and well-known, that it was well-suited for high impact exhibits. In addition, the Bishop needed more permanent exhibits because it was going to be a long time before they would have funding again to renovate. Keep in mind from start to finish, the Science Adventure Center took 15 years! Traditional exhibits can be spectacular, iconic, and memorable experiences. They can also be expensive, complex, and as a result, permanent. In this quest for museums to compete for positioning to be the "3rd Place", total exhibit permanence is not always the appropriate solution. The exhibit platform model is useful for zones in a large institution with a need for changing programming or community museums where exhibit maintenance funding is limited, there is a good facilitation staff, and most importantly, repeat visitors. It's a great approach for flexible learning and play. Other museums where we have had success with this approach includes the Chicago Children’s Museum Skyline Exhibit, which I’ll talk about in a future posting. Up next: what makes a great master plan?

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