Thursday, November 5, 2009

On the road….Out and about with Museum Explorer

Here’s what we’ve been up to lately. . . .

Making History Irresistible

For the Downers Grove Park District Museum, one major responsibility is historic preservation. But today’s audiences (and boards) expect more than the traditional tasks of collecting and preserving objects and information. So Museum Explorer has been working with DGPD Museum’s Executive Director, Christa Christensen, to help the museum forge new connections with its audience by interpreting history in accessible and appealing ways.

By presenting its museum as a place for understanding and enjoying history, and as a link for the past, present and future, the Downers Grove Park District will move from offering “just the facts” to offering an experience rooted in history yet connected to today, with exhibits and programming that stay fresh and up-to-date.

Wheeling Visitors In

At the American Association of Museums annual meeting in Philadelphia, Museum Explorer’s Rich Faron took part in the panel session “Wheeling Visitors In!” Session participants explored the use of custom-designed program carts to integrate the needs of designers, educators and visitors.

In Museum Explorer’s repertoire, carts have become a go-to solution for many of our clients. Not only can carts deliver information in engaging ways, but they offer plenty of bang for the buck!

An audience of nearly 100 museum professionals heard Rich and colleagues Lynn McRainey (Chicago History Museum), Michelle Nichols (Adler Planetarium) and Susan Nichols (Smithsonian American Art Museum) discuss the amazing potential of carts. You can access session handouts and links to recordings at

Planning to Promote an Up-and-coming Exhibit

Museum Explorer recently completed a planning document that the DuSable Museum of African American History has begun to circulate to potential donors and supporters for its upcoming exhibit on African American Olympians. While the exhibit is independent of Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, it embraces the spirit of the Games and the idea that Chicago will be a magnificent host city.

The following passage from the planning document sums up the essence of DuSable’s exhibit:

Young people today see and hear a lot about the glory of sport. But all too often this glory is defined by headlines and dollar signs. Kids (and their parents) know about the millions of dollars star athletes earn, and they know what this money can buy. They know who endorses this product and who endorses that one; they hear how colleges recruit talented players; and they dream of the day their turn will come.

What they may not hear about so often are the less glamorous—but more widely available—life lessons that sports participation can offer, even to those who never compete professionally or at an elite level. And these lessons are exemplified well by those who aspire to compete before the world, on the Olympic stage.

Keeping Lincoln Park Zoo in the Pink

Museum Explorer continues to pitch in with the ongoing spruce-up of graphics, labels, signage and exhibit elements at Lincoln Park Zoo. One of our more intriguing recent tasks there involved the replacement of large graphic panels in and around the Pink Flamingo Pond.

Like most wild animals, flamingos are sensitive to changes in their surroundings, so working in the pond area demanded everyone’s careful attention. Thanks to guidance from Zoo staff, we managed to finish the job with no problems or surprises, although we got some idea what the animals must feel like as visitors on the other side of the railing gaped at us as we went about our business!

Performing Check-ups for Carts

Museum Explorer worked with the Chicago History Museum to assess the condition of the museum’s mobile “Activity Stations.” The museum wanted to find out what needed fixing, upgrading or replacing so the carts could be spruced up, fixed up and ready to roll by the time school started in the fall.

Five carts—Prairie, Architecture, Bridges, Maps and Fire—had to travel off-site to receive their bumper-to-bumper tune-ups. (And no, we didn’t wheel them down Clark Street! They were carted away in a well-appointed vehicle.) The carts returned home to CHM during the summer, in plenty of time for those thousands of curious hands expected during the school year.

If you’d like to learn more about the CHM carts check out:

Or if you’d like to learn more about Museum Explorer’s Program Carts go to:

Revising Exhibit Elements and Labels

Based on the results of a recent evaluation conducted by Morton Arboretum staff, Museum Explorer completed work with Children’s Garden Director Katherine Johnson to update graphic elements for exhibit labels and experience boxes used in the Morton Arboretum Children’s Garden. Included were graphics for two experience boxes, Beaver Pond and Evergreen Lookout, along with redesigns of four Growing Garden labels and two Rules signs, and the addition of three Joke signs. Take a look at the Morton Arboretum Children’s Garden at

Charting the Future of Museums

Rich Faron has been named as an Influential Advisor to the Center for the Future of Museums (CFM), an initiative program of the American Association of Museums. The aim of the CFM is to build influence through building engagement and recruiting key representatives as museum futurists. CFM will create and test innovations in museum practice, expand the horizon of museum planning, acquire and use information about trends, exercise leadership in the museum field to provoke discussion and build connections to innovative thinkers in all sectors.

Influential Advisors are independent museum professionals, consultants, faculty members in museum studies programs and field services providers who support the work of the Center for the Future of Museums. As forward-thinking, creative leaders in the museum field, Influential Advisors play an important role in shaping the knowledge, behavior and attitudes of museum leaders.

Making News

The July/August issue of MUSEUM magazine features Museum Explorer’s ninth published “Letter to the Editor” since 2002. In the latest issue Museum Explorer advocates for keeping museums networked with a learning landscape that includes all kinds of learning—formal and informal, directed and self-guided, in traditional and non-traditional settings.

Writing and sharing letters and articles in print and online is important to Museum Explorer because we treasure innovation. And we believe that contributing to a continuing dialogue about what best serves our clients (and their clients) is what keeps the business of informal learning moving forward.

There you have it—a sampling of our work with recent clients. Is there something we can do for you?

Museum Explorer creates experiences to delight visitors. As we plan exhibits and programs, we put the visitor front and center. We aim to set a welcoming stage for people to delve into ideas, see relationships, kindle a passion, consider beliefs in a different light or just learn a little something new. Our hope: to ignite excitement! We work hard to prepare thoughtful spaces where people enjoy learning in non-traditional ways—and find themselves motivated to learn more.

We imagine the visitor as a good friend, and the exhibit as an enthusiastic conversation about a subject we love. How to start that conversation? That’s where we roll up our sleeves.

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