Monday, September 27, 2010

First Person Museum Exhibit Design

This week, we were tasked with creating our own exhibit design for the First Person Museum. We were to follow the six steps detailed in Alice Parman’s article, “Exhibit Makeovers: Do-It-Yourself Exhibit Planning.” As she proscribes, I began by thinking about my favorite and least favorite museum experiences through my years of visiting such institutions. Additionally, I imagined that I had unlimited funds for such an endeavor. I’ve picked out some of the most pertinent concerns in Parman’s article to bullet-point in my exhibit design below. Additionally, I’ve included a rendering below (albeit quite primitive: I have woefully limited skills with computer graphics programs) of roughly how I would plan out my exhibit space.

Mission Statement: (Taken from the First Person Arts website) Transforming the drama of real life into memoir and documentary art to foster appreciation for our unique and shared experience. Everyone has a story to tell. Sharing our stories connects us with each other and the world.

Take-Home Messages: Everyone can be a part of history and tell a story that is part of the same. History is accessible.

The Storyline: History is happening all the time, and it’s not something that only happens to crusty, old, white guys. History is something that happens to everyone and we all can have a role, whether we know it or not.

Object Arrangement: When I think of my least favorite museum exhibits, they are usually the ones which involved heavy reading. Anyone who knows me knows I love to read, so for me to make such an assertion must mean that overly-abundant text is tiresome in a museum. I think I would make the First Person Arts Museum completely multimedia and interactive. I volunteered with Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center. One of the most popular features was “voting booths.” Patrons seemed to be nearly compelled by curiosity to part the curtains and enter the spaces. Once inside, visitors saw what looked like voting booths and were presented with computer screens. They could touch spots on the screens and learn more
about the process of elections throughout the 50 states. Another museum exhibit I found compelling was at the African American Museum of Philadelphia. Here, visitors were presented with large television screens playing videos of actors portraying historical figures. Alongside the screens were buttons visitors could push to “ask” questions of the person portrayed. Each button triggered a video in which the actor answers the visitor’s question. I would model my version of the First Person Museum on these ideas. I would create a circular space with a series of “pods” around the walls, similar to the video rooms near the giant heart at the Franklin Institute. Each pod would contain the object in question, as well as an interactive video screen explaining the significance of each object. Objects would be housed on pedestals in clear boxes inside the pods. The owners of the objects would tell their story on video. Visitors could choose that option from among several buttons in the pod. Additionally, the historians involved would create short video sessions to explain the historical context as well as the social and cultural context. I would make sure that each object had a video segment to tie it to a larger moment in history. For instance, my object, a birth certificate, has gained greater historical significance (or notoriety) in light of Barack Obama’s presidency. All of the objects would have a segment relating them to history, in addition to their personal meanings. Each of these segments would necessarily be short to hold viewer attention. As a class, we are working with 19 objects, which may be too many for this format. Additionally, I would create an introductory pod to briefly explain the exhibit. However, it wouldn’t be necessary for visitors to start on one particular spot. As such, I wouldn’t have a particular linear arrangement for the objects. Additionally, the outsides of the pods would have decorations or graphics alluding to their content so visitors could choose the ones that most interested them. Finally, I would create an area in the center with seating and tables. I would provide pens and paper for people to leave feedback, contribute their own stories, and share their experiences of the museum. I might pose questions in this area for viewers to contemplate and write an answer. Additionally, I would encourage patrons to discuss their experiences with each other.

As promised, here is a rough rendering of what I imagine my exhibit space would look like:

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