Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Getting it Written Down Right!

“Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that the jurors of the 2012 AAM Excellence in Exhibition Label Writing Competition recognized your label “Du Sable built his business at a watery crossroads” from The DuSable Museum Story Bus as excellent.”
                                                                                                               Email 3/2/12                                           

WOW! What a message to receive on a Friday afternoon—what a great way to end the work week! We’re proud, humbled and absolutely ‘jacked’ all at the same time. Winning any award that features competition from the very best museum professionals from across the US would be worthy of celebration, but winning an award of ‘Excellence’ for writing exhibit labels…well that really ranks! Writing is difficult (duh).  There are no clever interactives, bright lights or flashy graphics to hide behind—it’s all about the words! They gotta be just right.

The American Association of Museums Excellence in Exhibition Label Writing Competition is an annual event that showcases top work in labels representing almost every form of museum content, with the intention of inspiring writers and editors to create clear, concise and captivating labels. This year, the 2012 jurors included Jeanine Head Miller, representing the AAM Curators Committee; Cathleen Donnelly, representing the AAM Education Committee; Eugene Dillenburg, representing the National Association of Museum Exhibitors; and Toni Wynn, representing the recognized winners from the 2011 competition. After carefully reviewing the 83 entries submitted from across the US and Canada, the jurors selected 11 labels, including Museum Explorer’s work for the DuSable Museum of African American History Story Bus! The work will be showcased at AAM’s annual meeting April 30th in Minneapolis.

At this point it probably makes sense to acknowledge the person who actually did the work on this prize-winning label. Susan Curran is an outstanding talent, with 30 years of experience in museum work (a true Museum Person!). Susan has been a part of Museum Explorer as a Senior Writer & Exhibit Developer for 6 years.  She is responsible for developing and articulating the museum voice for all exhibit label copy. Susan researched, wrote, rewrote, edited, and proofread all copy for all of the labels on the ‘Story Bus.’

For those of you who have not yet seen the DuSable Museum Story bus…it’s hard to miss!  As Susan says, “at 8 ft by 20 ft, with huge tires that carry it all over town, the Story Bus isn’t your typical museum exhibit.” The bus is very colorful in appearance, “wrapped in snazzy graphics,” and inside, it’s “fitted with displays that tell the tale of the museum’s namesake: Jean Baptiste Point du Sable.” According to Susan, the goal for writing this project was “to create labels that tell a story” using “concrete, visual language”; to “include first- and second-person pronouns to draw visitors into that story”; and to “explain unfamiliar ideas by drawing parallels with everyday life.”  Fortunately, the labels on the Story Bus are successful on all counts! The way to measure success is by asking: "Do visitors read the labels to one another? Do they point from label copy to objects in the exhibit? Do the labels appear to encourage interaction between visitors, and between visitors and objects? Reports from the DuSable Museum Story Bus indicate ‘yes’ to all!”

In the prize-winning label, we learn that “in du Sable’s day...early Chicago sat at a crossroads of mighty rivers, rushing streams, and a great lake," and that people “often took to water” for transportation, “paddling canoes.”  You can check out the full label in the photo for more fun facts about early Chicago!  And if you are ever in the Chicago area these days, you can’t miss the DuSable Story Bus. Most any day of the week you can find it parked outside a school or near a community center hosting kids who we bet actually do read the labels, and learn from them! So if you spot the BUS, don’t forget to jump on and take a ride!