Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year from Museums Now!

It's cold and snowy where I am tonight. Apologies for the lack of posting in recent weeks- I've had some unexpected travel.

Didn't want the New Year to ring in before wishing you all well. 2008 ended with good news and sad for many– and not only in our industry. As I stand on the threshold looking both ways before crossing, I step forward knowing that we have been through many tough times, and look ahead with optimism towards 2009.

On behalf of all of us at Gyroscope, I would like to wish you all the best in the New Year.

Thanks to Sally Mahoney for the CC rights to the picture.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Green Building Council

gyroscope inc, maria mortati, museums Ok, Ok, this isn't my finest photoshop effort- I'm under a deadline. Just didn't want to let this pass without a post. The USGBC recently turned 15. I'm beginning to believe that this may not just be a fad. In honor of their accomplishments, the USGBC posted a series of 8 short documentaries on YouTube. What was of particular interest was the letter from S. Rick Fedrizzi, CEO. It talked about the founding of the Council, which struck me to be a lot like getting a new museum off the ground:
"I also wanted to take a moment to share my own story of how I became a green builder. Back in 1991..." [he goes on to talk about first jobs in this area, working for Clinton's White House, learning from the Godfathers of Green: Hawken, Lovins, Browning, and Picard] "...It wasn't very long before I got a cold call from a guy named David Gottfried who wanted to talk about this idea he had for a green building council. When he said it could change the world. I thought he was crazy. But I was already hooked, and so agreed to be USGBC's Founding Chairman. We were little and struggling for the first seven years, and there were many times when we weren't sure we'd make it. But David was right. We can change the world. And here we are proving it each and every day."
Seven years of struggling. Wow- but they are doing well, and it's taking hold- in our industry and others. Thank you, USGBC, and good luck.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Looking for a Few Good Words

gyroscope inc, maria mortati, museums Recently, Chuck Howarth and I were talking about the need for a good "museum quote" for a report. So I diligently began searching the web, he our bookshelves for a good quote about why museums are great. I also went to the AAM site and other quote search engines. Would you believe there is even a Quote Museum? I found some, err, interesting ones. Here's a few:
“Most convicted felons are just people who were not taken to museums or Broadway musicals as children.” –Libby Gelman-Waxne
"One time I went to a museum where all the work in the museum had been done by children. They had all the paintings up on refrigerators." –Stephen Wright "The museum spreads its surfaces everywhere, and becomes an untitled collection of generalizations that mobilize the eye." –Robert Smithson
...that's not the sort of thing that will inspire a potential donor or warm the cockles of one's museum-loving heart. So I'm putting a call out to the museum world to ask: what are some good quotes that you think do a good job of summing up the value of museums?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Museums Now: Museum + LEED Friday: making sense of certifications [Part 2]

LEED, museums, stewardship, certifications, green materials, sustainable practices, gyroscope inc, maria mortati, museums [Hi, Scott posting again] To follow up on the material certification topic I started last week, this week I will be talking about Cradle to Cradle certification. "Cradle to Cradle" is a term coined by William Mcdonough and Michael Braungart to describe a pretty radical way of thinking about the life cycle of a product. Cradle to Cradle is about creating products that are designed for closed loop systems that create value and are healthy and safe. Often as a product moves through it's life cycle it goes through a dramatic degradation process and it's value becomes trapped in useless waste or worse yet it harms other natural systems as it is used. The bigger goal here is to design products that beneficial when they are used. He makes the point that growth in nature or a child is a good thing and so why can't growth related to development also be positive? This thinking turns the minimizing approach of sustainability it's head says that consuming product should play a positive role in our environment and society. The funny thing is that while this will require a radical reworking of the way we think about making and using products, it allows our consumptive urges to continue to run wild. For me, this is both the most promising aspect and the biggest danger. Our consumptive desire has been a tough one to shake (if not impossible) and while the bright future of good products sound great, in the short term we will have to do less. Anyway William McDonough along with Michael Braungart have written a really good book covering this approach and have followed that up with a certification program that evaluated products against their criteria. Mc Donough's website has videos and writings that are worth spending some time on. One interesting development with the LEED certification is that the next version (New Construction V2009) it will contain life cycle assessment as part of it's criteria. I will be interested to see if they start embracing ideas similar to Cradle to Cradle and then I wonder how such a potentially wide reaching idea will impact their other criteria.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Museum + LEED Friday: making sense of certifications [Part 1]

LEED, museums, stewardship, certifications, green materials, sustainable practices, gyroscope inc, maria mortati, museums [Hi Scott Moulton posting.] With all the focus on "green materials" I thought it would be useful to talk about a few of the certifications that relate to materials . I'll start this week with certification for wood. Ok first I'd like to make a pitch for solid wood. It is a beautiful, durable, natural material that can be sustainably produced and will biodegrade. After building furniture with it for about 10 years I am still totally enamored with solid wood. (plywood is another matter) So if you are like me and want to use wood and wood that is sustainably forested you will be seeing the logos of FSC and SCS and trying to make sense out of what they mean. The Forest Stewardship Council is an independent, non-governmental, not for profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. They are the ones who set the most widely accepted standard as to what it means to call something sustainably forested. They have established 10 Principles and 57 criteria that address legal issues, indigenous rights, labor rights, multiple benefits, and environmental impacts surrounding forest management. I've always been impressed by their commitment to a rather broad interpretation of what sustainable forestry means. A lot of the exotic woods come from some troubled regions of the world so along with ecological concerns come some even more serious issues around the impact this trade has on the local people. SCS stands for Scientific Certification Systems and they provide independent third party certification for everything from coffee to flowers. You can see a wood product with both the FSC and SCS logos or only one which has always been a bit confusing to me. The thing to remember is that SCS is primarily a company that verifies environmental claims and performance based certification. So SCS verifies that a forestry practice adheres to the guidelines set out by FSC. Now things get messy because SCS also has their own competing guidelines which they will then verify and you can have the SCS logo show up. In addition, they offer Chain of Custody Certification, Life Cycle Assessment (I'll get into this next week) and single attribute certification for terms like salvaged recycled recovered and so on. All of this points to the interesting fact that while FSC certainly has established itself as the standard, there are differing views on what "certified wood" can or should mean. It is worth investigating the SCS website. I'm still trying to get my head around the extent of everything they are involved in and it raises interesting questions. Is it ok that these "independent third party" folks are also helping Starbucks and Home Depot set up eco guidelines that they will then use as marketing? While it may not be the purist path, I think this work with huge corporations is a really promising development. As ecological concerns become mainstream they will become part of our broad economy the commitment to verification and standards is critical to preserving some meaning behind terms like of "eco, sustainable, or green".

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Passion of the Visitor

passionate, museum, visitor, joe geranio, affinity groups, gyroscope inc, maria mortati, museums This week, while looking for a museum-related image, I came across the above pictures of Joe Geranio. Joe is a an administrator of the Julio Claudian Iconographic Association, and is generally in love with its iconography (see his website for more). His story is a great example of museum "Affinity Groups". Above you'll see him posed between 2 busts-- photos taken 23 years apart. I love this story for so many reasons- the fascination of seeing him change over time, his fascination with the subject, and the fact that he could go back to the same institution all those years later and take that picture. Finally, reading the comments on his Flickr page made me happy that I wasn't the only one who cared. The Minnesota Local History blog has a great post and comments that talk about the need for and types of Affinity Groups that they have had experience with. These groups can be the lifeblood of history museums today. John Durel and Anita Nowery Durel wrote about this extensively in their paper: "A Golden Age for Historic Properties". I encourage you to read it- it's a great article. As you may suspect, affinity groups are groups of people who formally or informally have a relationship with an aspect of your museum. Joe and his "Julio Claudian" cohorts are an affinity group because they are passionately interested in this aspect of collection, and will come back to it again and again. They are part of the holy trinity of museum visitors. The attention being paid to fostering repeat visitors is worth it, and something I will definitely write about in the future. The fact that I "found" Joe via a random search on Flickr is also a wonderful story. I owe a debt of gratitude to the Creative Commons license on Flickr. I use it for images on this blog when my photo library fails me. Like a trip to the bookstore, it's led me to some interesting people and places as I look for one thing and often discover another.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Relevance on a Titanic Scale

gyroscope inc, maria mortati, museums I've written before about the power that relevance can provide in exhibit experience design-- especially in science exhibits. Sometimes this idea is easy to convey and other times not. This week, I read a great quote from David Savory of TELUS World of Science which puts it quite clearly:
"...everyone knows ice is cold but when people press their hands onto it within the context of the sinking of the Titanic, they get a memorable sense of how unpleasant it would be to bob in water containing icebergs. And probably everyone already knows they get a little squirrelly in a small space but being in a confinement exhibit would create a memorable bit of fear. And everyone knows the body is made of stringy muscles but when they realize they are looking at real dead people in a BodyWorlds exhibition, those weird-looking bits take on a whole new significance."
It isn't always easy to craft those profundities. For example, there are whole teams of people working very hard on making Nanotechnology relevant to the public. In addition, not every experience in your museum can or should have the same level of deep impact on the visitor. There need to be peaks, valleys, and plateaus of engagement and reflection. It's the orchestration of all of these things that makes the overall experience resound... and live on in the visitor after they have left. That after-the-fact mulling over is where learning also happens. Giving them a relevant hook boosts the likelihood that a memorable connection is made.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thank You, NPR

museum, NPR, maria mortati, gyroscope inc Last Monday, NPR began a series on museums, and given the current financial crisis*, I just have to say THANK YOU. The first edition starred the heavies: Ford Bell- President of AAM, Philipe de Montibello- iconic director of the Met, and Charles Willson Peale's Cabinet of Curiosities- iconic museum "built around the desire to document the history of discovery in the new world". For those of you that missed the heaviest hitter, here it is:
"If you add up the attendance for every major-league baseball, basketball, football and hockey game this year, the combined total will come to about 140 million people. That's a big number, but it's barely a fraction of the number of people who will visit American museums this year. Museums are big business, attracting... 850 million people annually"
Wow. I mean, we spend a considerable about of hand wringing on attendance and bugets. Does this mean it's paying off? I think it some way it must. The comments on the first story are articulate, and cover plugs for Visual Thinking Strategies to small house museums. Some pro, some con. This one was pretty sweet:
"For every multi-milllion dollar new museum building, there are hundreds of small house and history museums that care for and display items of local significance. They are under-staffed and under-funded but fill an important niche in many places as community centers, meeting spaces and adjunct school classrooms. Before slamming museums as elitist or unnecessary, think about your community without a repository for its history, culture and art." - Peter Wisbey
The second edition profiled Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts who has a museum dream life. The comments were predictable: " Mr. Nyerges is not the typical museum director in America" (Scott Wands). Yes, his story is exceptional- but part of the reason we don't take home the big bucks is a trade-off- we do get to do interesting work, with topics that stretch and grow us daily. I think there are several more shows coming, and like a CNET review, I'll wait til the end to see what the sum is. This series has got me looking for good museum-related podcasts and radio shows. If you know of any, feel free to send them my way: maria [at] gyroscopeinc [dot] com. Thanks. * For institutions facing tough times, the AAM has posted some guidelines on their site here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Best" Exhibit? Why that's an impossible question

museum, exhibit, maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums When I worked at the Exploratorium, I was often asked the question "what are the top 5 exhibit here?" or at a dinner party I often get asked "what's the best exhibit you've ever seen?". It often gets me to wondering if the director at the MOMA is ever asked "what is the best work of art you have"? Or if the president of Stanford is asked "what's the best class at your school?". I know it stems from a genuine desire to make sense of what often seems (especially in the case of the Exploratorium) an overwhelming amount of info and experiences. However, exhibits are as unique as the person standing before it. They are also developed for specific reasons, and are often not intended for everyone-- but because they live in a public space, they need to be understood by all, if not engaged. When I worked there, I proposed an idea of creating curated podcasts or maps, where visitors could select a filter for what they wanted to experience, such as: - exhibits for teenagers - full-body exhibits - exhibits by artists ...and so on. In addition to to having the museum experts make these determinations, what about letting visitors leave their own maps and trails behind in a museum… much as they do on-line? The nice thing about this approach in a museum vs. in an on-line context, is that you still get to "browse" and be exposed to exhibits that may not be on your "list", since they may be adjacent. How could we make visitor-experienced floor plans? How might we allow visitors to get a sense of what their peers or someone they aspire to be “liked” or “learned from”? Have you seen this working somewhere already? Did you participate?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Museum + LEED Friday: How Green is Good Design?

A colleague forwarded a book review from Business Week the other day for “Do you matter? How Great Design Makes People Love Your Company”, by industrial designer Robert Brunner and corporate consultant Stewart Emery. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“Their theory is simple: Successful executives should treat design as more than a finishing discipline that simply improves products' aesthetics. Instead, design should influence every aspect of customers' experiences. For Brunner and Emery, design is an infrastructural element that helps define every aspect of a company, including Web site, stores, customer support, packaging, and messaging as well as products. "Design…can't be a veneer," they explain.”
In a nutshell, this book is about the importance of creating endearing products. I, like many, also add that good design [read: considered] is inherently green. In my personal experience for every 2 PCs my husband buys, I buy 1 Mac. Why? I like the machine, it’s a better design inside and out thus, I want to keep it longer.

However, we’re talking about museums, not products. So, what can we learn from their world?

I know that museums have long been engaged in building meaningful relationships with its “customers” and “following the visitor home” is fast becoming a mantra. As the authors foster the idea that a systemic approach to design needs to be an infrastructural element in an organization, I realize that’s what LEED is based on. The folks at Inhabitat put it simply: “Good Design is Green Design and Green Design is Good Design”.

Really, green design is fully considered design- it takes into account the entire system in which we live and operate. I would go further to say that if you have an approach that is meshed with your mission, your resources, and your audience (i.e., fully considered), it makes the entire development of your organization more efficient. Think of all the issues you wouldn’t have to debate, and how much you could focus on other things.

I’m not arguing for a monotheistic approach to design, nor am I saying that Apple Computer is the precise model to follow. I’m simply suggesting that there is a lot of efficiency built into their approach, which mirrors the LEED approach- that’s something we could learn from.

So in order to be successful at [green] design, looks like it needs to be treated as a core value in an organization, not a finish. Which means that ideas such as the ones put forward in that book may help in getting that point to rise to the top of an organization.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Relevance, Please!

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums Recently, I had a chance to see the exhibit Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Some of the artifacts, both small and larger are amazing... and beautiful. The scale and scope of the exhibit is grand. In addition, they made a good use of docents-a-plenty and public programs- such as having activities like casting a mastodon's teeth in plaster of paris nearby. One of the things I especially enjoyed was the use of time context, or as we like to call it, relevance. Peppered throughout the exhibit were placards indicating where in time periods such as the pleistocene fell. They also had another, similarly scaled component where they informed you of where in Colorado you might have found these creatures. My only beef is that just as the sheer size of these reptiles are awesome, so is their place in time in relation to ours. Rather than having it be a side note, I believe that it would have greater impact on the visitor to bring forward any connection, such as time or place, into the primary exhibit area. Drawing connections from object to visitor creates a more lasting memory. When visitors are given the opportunity to make a link in relation to themselves (rather than an abstract idea), they have a way to forever locate it in their internal world Plus I think it could make for a cool interactive. I'm curious to hear about what others think about this. Do you feel it would "take away" from the awesomeness of the exhibit if more resources were spent to make room for this? Would you give up a dino skeleton for this?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Museum + LEED Fridays: A Wordle Review

As promised, I've taken all of the LEED and green-related posts thus far and plugged them into Wordle. Probably not a shocking result, but overall "systemic" comes to mind as I look at this. Which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense. It's less about the silver bullet and all about the holistic, multi-tiered approach.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How to Read a Floor Plan - elevation markers

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums A while back I started this thread by introducing the basics of the drawing sheet. Now I'm moving the next level deeper into the guts. Above is a floor plan for an exhibit area in a museum. Click on it to see it in greater detail and for descriptions in blue. You'll see that I've highlighted the elevation markers, and described some common acronyms. The elevation markers indicate the drawing sheet that the elevation (meaning vertical view vs. a plan view) lives on. It also tells you where on that sheet you'll find it. Typically, drawings that end in .0 are plans, by the way. Any questions? Feel free to ask. I can address it here or in the next posting on this topic.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Little Review

Recently, several of you forwarded me the link to Wordle (and Skitch, given my affinity for Comic Life). I thought it would be fun to see what would emerge if I put all my posts into it. Here's the result:maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums
Interesting, eh? I'll do this from time to time and see how... or if it changes. Maybe Friday I'll put all the "green" posts in the hopper.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Museums + LEED Friday: green materials palette

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums As a follow-on to my post earlier this week about natural environments and children, I thought I would post a palette swatch we have used (and some we are about to use) in our projects. We'll dive into the particulars in future posts. While I haven't included the brightest of brights, they do exist. The nice thing about using these materials in your museum (beyond the obvious) is that it has the effect of inspiring visitors to use the materials themselves. When they see a Vetrazzo countertop, for instance, they say "I can use that in my house"- while at the same time you are walking the walk.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Towards a Thriving Museum - a model

Recently, I put together a comic with excerpts from an article that became John Falk and Beverly Sheppard's book "Thriving in the Knowledge Age". It presents a theoretical model for business and visitation, and encourage museums to look deep and answer some fundamental questions. They emphasize that we are fast moving from an authoritarian to a cooperative model of informal learning. They believe (as do I) that the public needs us to help contextualize and synthesize information- not lecture to them. It's a good read for anyone interested in this new generation of institutions. Dr. Falk now teaches free-choice learning and science education at Oregon State. Beverly Sheppard is the CEO at the Institute for Learning Innovation.
maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums

Friday, October 31, 2008

Quick post: natural environments and kids

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums Recently, Maeryta Medrano sent me a link to an article about kids with ADHD and the impact of environment called "Nature Improves Concentration for Children with ADHD" written by Frances Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor of the Landscape and Human Health Lab at Urbana-Champaign. This article echoed something we'd been reading, writing, and doing our best to practice for a while- that natural materials and environments have an effect on kids. This is something I'll come back to in future posts. There has been a tradition in children's museums (especially) to create an environment with bright colors and plastic laminates. However, sometimes the use of these materials has an unintended effect on children. If we want to foster inquiry, reflection, and specific types of play, isn't it important that the colors and materials in that environment support those activities?

Museums + LEED Fridays: Green Exhibits?

[Note: Scott Mouton recently posted this note on the ASTC Listserv in response to a discussion about "green" exhibits. I thought it was an excellent discussion of what LEED credits mean in this context. -Maria]
On a basic level LEED is a way to quantifiably measure a building's performance in relation to the criteria set out by the USGBC. Buildings are LEED certified but not products, materials or people. This is not to say LEED has no bearing on exhibits. There are ways that exhibits can contribute towards points and the credit intents are a great way to inform a sustainable strategy for exhibits.

One thing that often gets confused is that materials can contribute towards a credit but
they are not in and of themselves certified. This might seem nit picky but it actually brings up an important aspect of LEED. The system evaluates the entire project based on a set of criteria that is a bit complex and often times contradictory. This complexity within their system is necessary and good.

As soon as you try to say something like "plyboo is a green material" things get complicated. It is a rapidly renewable resource but it also comes from China so it requires a great deal of energy to ship. At almost every turn you can find more questions than answers when trying to find something that is unequivocally "green". Instead of focusing on absolutes, LEED established a clear intent for each credit and then the sum of the credits gives an indication of the overall performance with regard to the environment.

For instance LEED has a credit for using rapidly renewable resources for 2.5% of all the construction materials (plyboo applies here) and it also has a credit for using regional materials for 10% of construction materials.

As the conversation about what make an exhibit "green" evolves, I hope it will broaden beyond material choices and focus overall sustainable strategies. As was raised in an earlier note, there are so many ways to look at this issue. Focusing on the entire life cycle of an exhibit will give you a different set of criteria (and thus end result) than if you were focused on carbon footprint. How do we establish this criteria and then what does it say about us? What are we willing to overlook, what tradeoffs are we willing to make?

So far the discussion has focused on the built object, but there is also the content of an environmentally focused exhibit to think about and how to engage the visitor in these issues. The social space of the museum could also offer unique ways for visitors to experience the aggregated impact of their decisions and sense community that can come from acting collectively.

Oh, and my choices for countertops typically *marketed* as green are:
  • sustainably forested wood (if it is an appropriate application)
  • Colorlith (recycled pulp in concrete)
  • Recycled glass (if you can afford it)


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Name Games at Children's Museums? Take the Survey!

Hi- Terah Gonzalez, Administrative Assistant and Justine Roberts, Principal at Gyroscope guest posting. We're working on a project that explores a unique trend in the naming of children’s museums.

From analyzing data from the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM), we have found that more than 12% of registered ACM museum members have changed their name in the last 16 years. Interestingly, over half of the same set has changed their name in the last 5 years.

Many of these children’s museums have changed around the order of words in their names– Children’s Museum, Boston to Boston Children’s Museum, e.g. Many others have gone from this type of name to one that includes active verbs or fun adjectives such as Explora (which used to be the Children’s Museum of Albequerque) and Imaginarium of South Texas (which originally opened as the Laredo Children’s Museum). In all, of the 300 museums in the ACM membership, 52 have this style of name and 11 of these organizations have adopted this type of name in the last five years (that's 21%).

This discovery brings up several questions about the names of children’s museums.
  • Why are museums changing them in the first place?
  • What is it about the last five years that has seen so many name changes?
  • Why are children's museums increasingly choosing names that are “off the beaten path” and include verbs and adjectives?
  • Are these museum names sign of other deeper changes?
  • Or are museums seeing their names as essentially marketing and positioning opportunities?
To answer these questions and more, Gyroscope has launched a survey of Children’s Museum professionals. It focuses on names, audience, and models for visitor interaction, visitor feedback, and visitor research in children’s museums. If you would like your organization to be included in the survey, please click on the link below.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Superstruct: Playing the Future of Our Museums

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums For the past few days I've been contributing to a future-casting "game" called Superstruct (apologies for those who are already in the know). It's a make-believe, online game where you are asked to think about the world in 2019. This is done by posting on the game's wikis and blogs while pretending that it really is 2019. Why, you ask? Because it's a powerful way to try ideas on for size. This is especially intriguing to me against the backdrop of some of the posts I've written, and some of the projects we've had in our office. One idea we foster (in the present) with our clients is actively and sometimes pervasively engaging with the community. This can be done through programs, media, location- the list goes on. In addition, there are numerous papers, blogs, and books outlining the benefits of this approach. As I think about how it might play out moving 10 years ahead, community engagement begins to make a lot of sense. For example, take the satellite or "Science Spot" idea that Gyroscope (with others) proposed for the Buffalo Museum of Science. That's where a large museum has outposts in the community that offer limited collections but extensive programming. If in the future energy resources make it impossible to house large exhibits, the cost of travel skyrockets, and global illnesses becomes real (they are pretty dark about 2019)-- then having smaller satellite museums start to look like a sustainable model. Building upon this idea of a local museum, I add to it the prevalence of "Crowd Curating" and instant communication/sharing we see today. In this future where user feedback is the norm, distributed yet personal experiences could create a realm of content that sits atop or alongside the object/exhibit+wall text paradigm. This is all done in a community or local context, which has the added benefit of creating affinity groups for an institution or place. That begins to look like a place where it's easier for people to be invested in, and thus, will be more passionate about contributing to and preserving it. I know, I know. You're thinking I'm a Pollyanna. There are weeks to go in the game, so I'll report back and let you know if things are still looking so optimistic.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Museums + LEED at ASTC

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums While I wasn't able to attend the "green" sessions at ASTC, I did take a snap shot of the notes posted on the "Graffiti Wall", and have transposed them below. It was a little hard to decipher some of the handwriting, so let me know if I missed something. "MOSI in Tampa is:
  • Designing and building an Energy Center
  • Exhibits will be3 on Historical-Current-Future discoveries, uses, relative costs in dollars and environmental costs
  • Demonstration Power Plants using alternative renewable sources
  1. Solar photovoltaic (13,000 sq. ft. 440kv)
  2. Solar thermal (400 sq. ft. 440kv)
  3. Methane from landfill demo house
  4. Hydrogen Fuel Cell demo
  5. Yard waste wood "gassification"
  • CO2 + H2O recapture
  • Algae/Tilapia production
  • Carbon Negative"
Under the suggestions for ASTC, but not cited:
  1. Use pitchers/insulated coolers for all milk products, no more cups
  2. Only real plates and flatware- no more plastic
  3. Institute a "Members Area" and "Educators Area" where they can log in to check for newsletters vs. mailing them out
  4. Use Razors Edge for email blasts
Another un-cited (but laudable) quote:
"Developed a green exhibit certification process like the LEED certification for buildilngs and we are applying it to our exhibit design and fabrication."
...and of course Museums Now posts on LEED and Museums on Fridays.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Web 2.0 Sessions at ASTC

By Maria Mortati
I went to a few web-related sessions at ASTC that brought up some interesting questions and case studies.

Bryan Kennedy of the blog Science Buzz talked about the Body World Exhibit blog at Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM). They used the opportunity of the show to look at issues around body donation and asked questions of ethics (and beyond) via the blog. In using this example where they opened it up to be "messy", Bryan was trying to get the audience to consider what their comfort level is with things like controversy when setting up a 2.0 outreach tool.

Kevin Von Appen of RedShiftNow posed the question of "How do you make the virtual audience physical?" He gave a case study of a world wide YouTube event and subsequent real world "888torontomeetup" they held at Ontario Science Center, and how popular it was. While they didn't end up covering a lot of science, it brought in a new audience to their museum, and created a memorable (and heavily archived) connection.

Nina Simon of Museum2.0 gave a really fun example about how to do "tagging" in the real world. It's about a book drop in the Netherlands where folks returned books into one of two slots: average books and great books. She wrote a fantastic blog post about designing from a virtual metaphor to a real world experience.

Other topics covered, such as:
  • On a museum website or blog, should you make the "official" voice visible? (yes, usually)
  • In terms of child safety and museum sites, they suggested that you don't ask "problem questions" of kids during the log in to avoid issues such as COPPA conflicts later.
  • On extending the visit: the Franklin Institute (I think) has a face aging interactive on the museum floor that posts the picture on the web site. 75% of visitors log in from home to retrieve it. What a great opportunity for them to ask provocative questions about their thoughts on aging, plastic surgery, you name it. You could enrich AND extend the museum experience.
In the session Making Exhibitions Memorable that I cartooned about yesterday, Renato Valdes Olmos discussed how exhibits have permanence, but little reach outside the museum walls. He reinforced the importance of following those who are blogging or flickring about your exhibits, because again, that extends their reach, and leaves a record. He brought up the artist Banksy, who made a fictitious pet store exhibit and how word spread in a viral fashion via Twitter- which got people to go find it. That approach might not play out so easily for a science museum with a permanent collection-- the Banksy piece is a temporary art exhibit.

The thing I keep hearing is this: provide multiple vehicles for visitors to comment and spread the word about their experiences at your museum. Listen to what they are saying, and respond. The interaction itself will provide great fodder for expanding your relationship with your visitors, and in turn, your impact on their lives.

For me, this boils down to being open, hospitable, and responsive-- and utilizing web 2.0 to do it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Making (Science) Exhibitions Memorable - ASTC

This will be a longer post in future weeks. Here's a little teaser to whet your memorable exhibition appetite: maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums FYI, the exhibit cited here is "Race: Are We So Different?" from Science Museum of Minnesota.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

ASTC Session: A Science Cafe How-To

Just a quick hit on a very informative session about Science Cafes: how to start them, run them, and why your museum needs them. What are they, you ask?
"Science caf├ęs are live events that involve a face-to-face conversation with a scientist about current science topics." (Nova/Science Now)
maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums I will post a complete download on this session in the coming days. For more information, go to the Science Cafes web site through the Nova/Science Now program. There are some excellent resources and PDF guide you can download. Start one today! Thanks to gailf548 for the pub shot, and Mark Glusker for the calculating machine.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Steven Johnson on "The Ghost Map"

Here's the Comic Life version of today's keynote: maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums For more on the book, go to The Ghost Map.

Conference buzz: ASTC

This week I'm at ASTC (Association for Science and Technology Centers). I'll post some quick hits about what I'm learning and hearing about here. It's in the lovely city of Philly, and so far, there have been some good sessions. I'm hoping to experiment with a new way of presenting the info via Comic Life. Just found out about it (probably the last person on earth) and I'm looking forward to using it. You can let me know how effective (or not!) it is.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Museum + LEED Fridays: part 4

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums Hi, Scott Moulton posting, and this week I'm looking at the commissioning process, and why it's a good thing. This is a requirement for LEED that is new to me and it seems to hold a lot of promise for improving projects. According to the USGBC
"The commissioning process is a quality control process that involves the owner, users, occupants, operations and maintenance staff, design professionals and contractors."
In lay terms, it requires that you write up a set of requirements for the building which the project team pays attention to it through the process and then you assess how well the final building met the goals you set out. The process is led by an experienced Commissioning Agent who is close to the project but will not have a conflict of interest when assessing the final project. For me the most exciting step in this process is the first one. In it, the owner, Commissioning Agent and project team write up a document called the Owner's Requirement Document which spells out the owner's expectations for the building in terms of use and performance. This is intended to happen early in the project and is a really great opportunity for the owner to think in detail about how they will live in the building and what they expect from it. The design team also writes up a document which aligns with the Owner's Requirement Document and is written into the the construction documents that the contractor will build from. This aim of all this writing is to make sure the owner, design team and contractor are all on the same page and then allows a verification and final report to see if the owner was given what they asked for. While the commissioning agent is not given any power beyond providing the information, the process encourages a close collaboration, clear communication of expectations and gives the owner something to stand on should there be problems. I think it is a good example of how the the requirements of LEED will dramatically shape the process of building for the better.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What Makes a Great Master Plan - the basics

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums Last week, I had a conversation with Chuck Howarth, our Master Planning Guru. I wanted to know what are the basic elements of a great plan. Given that this is a big part of our what we do, I'll go into greater depth in future posts. For now, let's start with the bones:
  1. Definition of the audience. Who will come, and how many? Demographics.
  2. Definition of the program. Why will they come? Exhibits, education, theaters, outreach, web.
  3. Architectural concept and site. Where will they come? How can the building reflect and support the mission and program?
  4. The business model. How will the museum support itself? Earned income, support, philanthropy, endowment... What is the relationship between the business model and the service model (item #2 above)?
  5. The capital budget. What's it all going to cost to put the plan in place?
The master plan generally addresses all aspects of the project EXCEPT fund-raising feasibility, which is usually handled separately. That's partly because it is a very different discipline, and partly because of the inherent conflict of interest in having the same team evaluate both the likely cost and the likely resources. When I pressed about "greatness", here's what he had to say:
"Now as to whether it is a GREAT master plan—guess that would depend on doing all of the above well, but also doing them all together. Each feeds back on the other. The program affects the staff plan and operating budget; the capital budget influences the architecture and exhibits; the audience affects and is affected by the program and the business model. And so on. The most common mistake is to treat each topic as more or less discrete, for example by trying to estimate attendance before studying what kind of museum and what type of program. So the plan needs to be holistic and address everything at once. And do it with substance, style, careful research, and creativity."
Thanks, Chuck!

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?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Museums + LEED Fridays: part 3

scott moulton, gyroscope inc, museums Hi, Scott Moulton again. As I eluded to in my previous post on LEED, the mere decision to follow the path towards certifying your building will shape the process dramatically. In order to meet the design challenges posed by LEED, document the credits and then verify the completion it will require a highly collaborative and integrated approach to the project. The diagram above is an attempt to illustrate the way that the disciplines will all be working together. In the initial phases of a strategic plan we talk about the need to start with everything and this applies to the LEED process as well. There are so many interconnected interests and agendas that will only work when they work together. One example of this was when working on the Leonardo we had an initial LEED design charette and the mechanical engineer (a brilliantly creative guy) suggested using a cooling tower which would work to lower energy costs, serve as a way of interpreting the sustainable strategies in the building and offer a naming opportunity to a donor who was dedicated to sustainability. This type of thinking ties together Public relations, fund raising, mechanical engineering, exhibit design, and just about everyone else on the design team. Another interesting aspect of LEED is that they require you to go through a commissioning process. I'll be explaining that and how it will affect your project in a future post.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Quick follow-up to "Term Limits"

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums Here's something I forgot to mention in my earlier post- the Milwaukee Art Museum has a new exhibit opening this month called Act/React: Interactive Art. It shows work by a lot of the current big hitters in that realm (Liz Phillips, Daniel Rozin, Scott Snibbe, Camille Utterback). This exhibit plays with what I think are the more traditional notions of "interactive". I love the fact that there are many shades of grey around what is an exhibit as well as what makes it interactive. That's keeping it alive and compelling. It also spans science, art, and design to name a few. It's the shared language that needs some reconsideration. I'm curious about what's worked for you. What kinds of terms have resonated with you when working with these ideas? What tends to help a shared development process move forward when talking about something ubiquitous and yet unique?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Denver Redefines "Community Museum"

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums I am a passionate believer in the power of community. Small, large, microcosm- it doesn't matter. So I get pretty excited when I hear about projects such as the Denver Community Museum ("Present Day Artifacts Made by the People for the People"). Thanks to Brent Carmack of the Fort Collins Museum for bringing this to my attention. From their site: "The Denver Community Museum is a temporary museum located in Denver, Colorado. Carried out in the form of a pop-up gallery, the museum will exist for less than one year - an institution with an expiration date. Contents for the Museum's monthly, rotating exhibitions are based entirely on community submissions. The Denver Community Museum is a not-for-profit project, which is free and open to the public." Basically, they put out a call for entries... to the neighborhood. Such as "Mummify something you would like to preserve - any shape/size, using any materials you desire. Share any relevant mummy stories, facts, accoutrements or charms for display." They accompany it with a photo suggestion, and then put on a show at the end of the month of submissions. Here are some of the things I love about this idea: - their identity is specifically in line with the community: it's about them, literally - they have created a ritual around the exhibits changing on a monthly basis - they have also created a sense of anticipation + surprise - each new exhibit will reveal something about the people around you - it's temporary - it's free Here's what I'm not so excited about: - it's temporary - it's free Founder Jaime Kopke was quoted as saying: “The idea is to create a community archive that is both accessible and relevant to Denver residents... The fact that the DCM is a limited time only engagement adds a level of excitement that you may not normally experience in a museum.” I love that someone wanted to make a museum that was purely reflective of and relevant to its community... but why does it have to be temporary? Shouldn't finding new ways to engage your public be a persistent curatorial goal? Is it the deadline that forces public and staff alike to stay on schedule and focused? How might other institutions adopt this deadline strategy? Who says we can't be exciting?!? Also, free is nice, really, but these days, not so sustainable (and I don't mean in the enviro sense). What about sliding scale admission? I think the Met uses this approach. Enough quibbling- this is a great idea, and I hope many local museums take notice. I know larger institutions have grappled with community engagement, but the intimate scale works too. It's just more... neighborly. This brings me to a point which I'll be writing about soon-- that is small + nimble institutions are perfectly suited to maximize on community engagement AND web 2.0 technologies. PS: I hope to visit in December, but if you have any photos to share, let me know.

Museums + LEED Fridays

We've decided to make our posts from Scott Moulton on LEED and Museums a weekly event. So check back on Fridays to see the latest info!

Friday, October 3, 2008

LEEDership in museums: part 2

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums Hi, Scott Moulton guest blogging-- I'm an Exhibit Designer here at Gyroscope. I am in the process of studying for a test to become a LEED Accredited Professional and thought it might be useful to make a couple postings on the LEED certification process. As mentioned in Maria's introductory post, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a building rating system developed by the US Green Building Council in 1998. Who are these kings and queens of green you might ask? They are a group of organizations from the building industry that came together to create a set of quantifiable measures to evaluate the environmental performance of buildings. They have developed rating systems that address 5 types of construction:
  • Homes
  • Commercial Interiors
  • Core and Shell
  • New Construction
  • Schools / Healthcare / Retail
Within each of these categories a project is awarded points based on its ability to meet specific criteria. Once the points have been totaled, the project is given a rating of certified, bronze, gold, or platinum. Having your building LEED certified is a great opportunity for your organization. It greatly shapes the design and construction process by forcing people to think about the far-reaching implications of building and should give the project a real sense of ambition. From a public relations perspective, it clearly demonstrates your commitment to the environment and gives you a nice talking point when describing your project. Sounds good right? Everyone wants to do the right thing and a museum has a special opportunity for leadership on this issue. Your museum is going to be platinum isn't it? The great thing about this system is that it is extremely demanding. Several years ago I was working at an architect's office and there was a project in the office with a green roof, solar panels, and was built on a brownfield [a former industrial site that may have some contamination]. This project used an innovative onsite sewage treatment system and rainwater collection and only hit gold. This is not meant to be a discouragement, just know that it is a very demanding standard. Next time you see a building that is promoting it's bronze award, know that they went to great lengths to achieve that. I'll be giving you updates from time to time on how this applies to museums. Check back often, or subscribe to an RSS Feed on this blog to be notified. Here are a few museums that have achieved LEED ratings: California Academy of Science Children's Discovery Museum, Normal, IL Grand Rapids Art Museum Water + Life Museum Brooklyn Children's Museum

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Term Limits

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums In my last post, I touched up on the idea that a simple environmental shift in an exhibit can serve as an "interaction" for a museum visitor. Oftentimes in our conversations with clients we run into problems with this term. It's become a ubiquitous descriptor for a museum experience- is a flip panel an interactive? What about pushing a button to watch a video? If I turn a page in a book, is that interactive? This interpretation can vary widely amongst individuals and institutions. Then there's what museum professionals think it is, the client, and, oh yeah... the visitor (do they care?). Whew. I'm lost. You've probably figured out that the reason I'm bringing this up is because I think it's time we agreed that "interactive" has become too inclusive, and therefore, too confusing a term. In his paper "Museums and their languages. Is interactivity different for fine art as opposed to design?" (2002), James Bradburne suggests that we suspend the idea of interactive for a bit, and consider what kind of activity you want in your museum (he goes on to answer the question, which I'll leave to you). This is a great way to start, because it forces you to define and then describe/articulate in greater detail what are the experiences we want our visitors to have. For example, if you want open-ended conversation, then the space you create for it will be as important as the exhibit itself. Or, if you want surprise, investigation, and discovery, then you'll consider more than just one exhibit standing alone in a gallery as part of that goal. So am I talking about the importance of environment on experience? You bet- but there's more to it. If what we hope to achieve for our visitors is a revelation, transformation, or education, then I think we need to be a little more articulate about this intellectual, emotional, or physical transaction we've been calling interactive. By defining the activities we want our visitors to be having in our institutions up front, then we have moved beyond what buttons to push or technology to use. We've started to create a considered world for that experience (even if that world is intentionally surprising or unexpected), and a fuller immersion into the ideas we're trying to expose them to.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Oh, Olafur!

I think the museum exhibit world owes a debt of gratitude to Olafur Eliasson. He's taken the idea of "immersive environments", and firmly placed it on our palette. Not that creating colorful, immersive spaces is new, but Eliasson has provided us with a series of spectacular case studies which have developed a new consciousness around this tool.

Through his work he has reinforced this point: a sparse environment completely devoid of "interactives" can foster a transformative and accessible experience for a diverse audience. These audiences are leaving with a memory that persists.

For the foreseeable future, I imagine many of us will walk a line of not wanting to be derivative of his work, and yet build on it.

So thank you, Olafur, I look forward to the challenge.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Museums + LEED certification: a series

LEED certification, maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums Have you been wondering what LEED stands for? It's: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Next week, we'll begin a series of posts about LEED certification and museums. It will be guest blogged by Scott Moulton, Gyroscope Exhibit Designer. Scott has a degree in architecture from Berkeley, and co-founded Union Studio. His work has been featured in the SFMOMA permanent collection, and in magazines such as Interior Design, Abitare, Metropolitan Home, Dwell and the SF Examiner Magazine. By the way, I've already been corrected, so I'll save you the trouble- it's LEED not LEEDs.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Touch, Don't Touch!

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums This quote comes courtesy of the Linda Moore, curator at the Fort Collins History Museum. It was overheard at the "Poor of Me, Good of Dog" May Wilkins exhibit, where they put out typewriters for visitor use. After I stopped feeling old (and laughing) it reminded me of a dilemma I sometimes saw at the Exploratorium. A new parent would come in and tell their children "don't touch" but figure out about 1/4 of the way through that it was all about touch. I once worked on a project where I agonized about what type of barrier to use. It was a natural history exhibit that had numerous taxidermied animals and delicate artifacts. Like most designers, I didn't want to put up a visual barrier. The director said that we only needed to put up a simple cable. His argument was that the psychology of crossing the line would be so great that visitors wouldn't need more than that. In the final build however, they made the sides of the exhibit so steep, no one could reach the artifacts, cable or not. At Gyroscope, we addressed this problem at Exploration Place in Wichita by putting dried wheat grass as a no-touch barrier slightly above the rail. It has been very effective, yet makes the visitor feel that they can have some contact with the objects since they're not "under glass". It's wonderful to leave objects out- it helps visitors feel closer to them. But what happens when you're in a history museum context and you reverse the expectation as visitors move from gallery to gallery. Some cases where you want visitors to touch, and most others where you don't? I know that I get into a "mode" when I'm at certain museums- where I almost feel reluctant to move from passive to active. At the recent Bay Area Now 5 show at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, I noticed a number of the artists were using "takeaways" as part of their pieces. They gave large prints and questionnaires (ala Felix Gonzales-Torres). This is not always clear to visitors, and the guards have to sometimes tell folks it's Ok. This got me to wondering about how to make it clear and inviting as people shift from gallery to gallery with an ever-changing set of expectations? One thought I have is to be a little more deliberate. For example, create a "interactivity ramp" between elements when a visitor is in an environment where they don't expect to interact. That model might look like this:
I'm going to try this out in a future project, and I will let you know how it goes. What methods have you used to foster interaction in unexpected places?

Giving Context to Experiences

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museumsWe've been working on several historical projects recently. These history museums and societies provide more than facts and figures about the past. At their best, they foster an understanding of the contexts that led up to events, and forge connections between history and individuals. One such example is a project from the United States Holocaust Museum "Children of Lodz Ghetto". USHMM collected stories from diaries and interviews with survivors of the ghetto. These were archived together wi th photos of artifacts, people, film footage, and individual stories. For example, the history of Jutta Szmirgeld provides snippets of her time from age 12 in Lodz to her amazing survival of Auschwitz. Such collections enable us have empathy for the past by providing us with a more complete picture of life at that time. The technology allows us to gather and share these stories fluidly with one another, while allowing the museum to do what it does best: give us an open-ended, yet informed experience of the past. [originally posted elsewhere, revised]

Friday, September 19, 2008

From Audiotours to iPhones [Conference Review by a Guest Blogger]

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums Hi, Janet Petitpas here. I work for Gyroscope in London. I recently attended the "From Audiotours to iPhones" conference at the Tate Modern. It was a particularly interesting conference for me as I have a background at low-tech museums and am not experienced in using, maintaining, or facilitating interactive technology in the museum environment. Many of the stars of the field were at the seminar (Peter Samis, Nancy Proctor and Jane Burton, to name a few). I was pleased at how down to earth and un-seduced by the technology everyone turned out to be. Here were a couple of take-aways for me, and things that all presenters repeated:
  • There is no silver bullet out there. The technology available needs to be seriously assessed and is not always the best option for every visitor, every institution, or every exhibition.
  • The audience and the content are king. Don’t get swept away in cool technology– the content has to be excellent and the technology has to fit the audience.
  • While some content can be used for multiple media (a label, a podcast, a hand-held) there are important differences in what visitors expect from each type of media, and the content should have some tailoring.
  • Museums are moving towards the creation and ownership of their own content (unlike the old audio guide/Antenna Audio contracts in which the vendor owns the content).
  • The majority of visitors to Museums do not chose to use technology during their visit.
Some of the questions everyone seems to be grappling with include:
  • How can you promote a social experience with technology that is solitary?
  • How do you help visitors chose a platform when they may not be familiar with the technology and may be even be familiar with the technology that have brought with them?
  • How can you maximize use of content yet be tailored to the strengths of different devices?
The presenters set up a great wiki site that has copies of presentations, PowerPoints, case studies, general resources etc. If you’d like to know more, check out: Janet Petitpas Senior Associate Gyroscope, Inc. janet [at] gyroscopeinc [dot] com

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The 3 C's: Community, Creativity, + Critical Thinking

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museums Last spring, I participated in the MakerFaire in San Mateo, by putting together an exhibit called "The Power of the Prototype". It was a great experience for me, both personally and professionally. I came in contact with a broad swath of people that I might not have otherwise met in a museum setting. I learned a tremendous amount from this experiment. It got me thinking about how powerful that intersection of Creativity, Community and Critical Thinking can be, and how we might continue to foster it in the museum world. This is a topic I will definitely come back to from time to time. I attended my first MakerFaire in 2007 with other Gyroscopians. We wanted to evaluate some of the public programs there for a new institution we were working on called The Leonardo, in Salt Lake City. A large part of the concept we developed with The Leonardo was to fill the museum primarily with workshops, rather than exhibits. We wanted to encourage daVinci-esque thinking, by providing places where visitors could make things- be they artistic, scientific, or purely inventive. The LeonardoWe also wanted to provide an area where they could share and show off their work. So we developed what we called "Community Looms". These were essentially wall dividers that displayed the visitor-made products. This, we hoped, would have the effect of elevating their work, both to themselves and others. We sought to create a cyclical effect (not unlike the MakerFaire) where visitors would be inspired by seeing people from their community creating and sharing their work, and thus, being a point of inspiration. The Leonardo is still in development, but we'd love to hear from others about their experiences with a workshop-based approach. Do you have a story to tell? Have you seen a workshop model that worked well (or didn't) for you? Up next on this topic: what makes the MakerFaire so successful?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Visitors as Curators

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museumsIn an era where people can select the news they want to hear, they are making their own decisions about their experiences in museums and galleries. As we know, they can blog, comment, and even give each other context about what they experience. After all, it is their experience. The question for museums is how to help individuals make meaning out of these choices? How do you reach them? How do you validate their experience... and add to it? One answer is find out what people are saying. Give them ample opportunity to post what they think about your exhibits. For example, you could offer them the opportunity to respond with a multi-pronged approach, divided along favored types of input:
  • Tween/Teen set: you can offer a "text us at 555-1212", then post vetted comments online or in the museum
  • Bloggers: you could advertise the blog for the museum or exhibit in-house and invite them to comment. Provide them with a terminal on-site so they can record their experiences immediately. You can moderate their posts, if necessary.
  • Luddites: provide the greenest option of them all- a notebook (a real one, not a computer). Scan in their comments from time to time. Rip out the offensive ones or find a funny sticker to put over them.
Then link to other sources of information about the topic du jour for your visitors. Sites they may or may not normally associate with the subject. Provide backstories to your own research on the topics- such as, a historical museum may have an interesting story about how they acquired a certain object. Of course it's important to balance all this interconnectedness with the key topics that the exhibit is raising and not get off-track. After all, visitors are coming to your web site or museum because they want to learn something they didn't already now (if you're looking for some ways to think about this, there are a few models mentioned here). Finally, respond to what they are saying. Figure out what the recurring questions are, and find a way to make public the fact that you are listening and responding. If you have a very prolific or passionate visitor, invite them to guest blog or have an interview with them that you can post on-line and in-house. If you have questions about the investment of time, there's a good article at Museum 2.0 called "How much time does web 2.0 take?". This interconnectedness is here to stay, and it's good news for museums. It means you have more opportunities to extend the visit, and reach new audiences, which I'll write more about in future posts. Way back in 2005, Michael Haley Goldman of the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Kathryn Haley Goldman, Institute for Learning Innovation wrote a paper for Museums and the Web which predicted: " I see in the future more collaborative experiences, more real-time collaboration, but also [an] untapped market for curators to use the power of the Web to collect stories. – to solicit content from the users, of wanting to get broader range of experiences, to build collaborative virtual collections." The future is now. Is your institution ready? -- Suggested reading: Brooklyn Museum's "Click" Exhibit