Monday, August 12, 2013

Feces Save Species

Last December (here) we introduced you to Amanda Berlinski and her 'Eureka' moment as she worked with Museum Explorer to develop the concept for the Lincoln Park Zoo POOP cart. Well that A-Ha moment has turned into a reality and to the delight of hundreds of visitors to the Zoo.
The cart, now called Feces Save Species, helps visitors learn why its so important for scientists working at the Zoo to roll up their sleeves and sink their hands into piles of crap every single day--dung of every size, shape and weight. By examining what comes out of the 'business end' of animals, Zoo scientists can monitor their health. They observe it, identify it, process it and analyze it!  WOW what a load of work!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Museum Explorer WELCOMES Leslie Goddard!

Leslie is a talented historian and public speaker with an IMPRESSIVE resume and range of knowledge.  Her newest endeavor will be to assist MuseumX on a historical museum project, and we couldn’t be more pleased to have her.  Check out her introduction below!

When I wake up, I don’t always know who I’ll be that day.

Sometimes it’s Amelia Earhart. Or Clara Barton. Sometimes I’m Jackie Kennedy [in the photo above, for example].

Assuming different identities is part of what I do as a history performer. It involves lots of research, shopping for vintage goodies, and wearing fabulous gowns. But most importantly it involves creating an experience that is both fun and informative for an audience.

Now, bear with me. But acting bears a lot of similarity to working in a museum.

Like a great interpretation, a great museum exhibition should be both entertaining and educational. It should connect with what the audience already knows and understands. It needs to convey information, of course, but it should also be fun to experience and easy to understand. When a visitor leaves a great museum exhibition, they should be inspired to think about the topic more, maybe even want to learn more after the experience ends.

I began working in museums in 2002 because I love this kind of learning – stimulating, self-directed, and intimately connected to everyday life. After receiving degrees in English (Stanford University) and History (Northwestern University), I pursued a Museum Studies Master’s Degree from the University of Leicester in Great Britain. In the ten years I’ve been working in museums, I have developed exhibitions and lectured on a wide range of historical and cultural topics. A sampling of my projects and thematic exhibitions includes A Great War Enthusiasm: Evanston and the Civil War (Evanston History Center), Steelroots (The Morton Arboretum), Vanishing Acts: Trees Under Threat (The Morton Arboretum), Jens Jensen: Landscapes for People (Sterling Morton Library), and Sweet Home Chicago: A History of the Candy Capital of America (Elmhurst Historical Museum). I have led concept development, conducted research, written exhibition labels, and developed interpretation for museums ranging from an outdoor arboretum serving 800,000 visitors annually to a historic house serving 14,000 visitors each year. I have served on the board of the Illinois Association of Museums and the advisory board of the Illinois State Historical Society.

When you work in the museum world, you never know what kind of fascinating, challenging project will pop up next. This time around, I’ll be working with Museum Explorer to research and write interpretive labels for an exhibition exploring Elmhurst’s history and culture through the voices of people who have lived there. Who knows what fascinating themes and intriguing characters will emerge from the museum’s impressive collection of journals, newspapers, photographs, maps, and other treasures. But whatever does emerge, I know I’ll be striving to make something meaningful and memorable. And I’ll always try to leave them wanting more.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

You Are Here!

Even if you don't know where you are right now, your phone probably does (or your car, or your tablet…or some other device). You're pin-pointed by a global positioning system that tracks your lifestyle whether you're driven or drifting. That GPS has got its 'eye' on you. about an alternative: not knowing where you are and not knowing where you're going and not caring. Sound frightening, or liberating? Summer is a great time to visit a museum or zoo or aquarium or garden and simply wander around. Enjoy the freedom of simple 'exploration'! Make the summer of 2013 a time of discovery. Get out and visit. Keep your phone and or iPad in your purse or pocket while you’re there. Don't even read the signs. Just stroll, mosey, sashay or even slither if you like from painting to painting, case to case or animal to animal. Rediscover what it means to just be somewhere!

Monday, March 11, 2013

One-Stop-Shop: "Tours" at The Art Institute Chicago

A few weeks ago, the Art Institute of Chicago debuted a new app—“Art Institute Tours.”  It offers visitors who download on their smartphones (Apple or Android) a concise key to the museum, including small museum-curated tours, organized by Period, Movement, country, and so forth.  The app also offers a step-by-step directional feature precisely guiding the go-ers to any specific work, sort of a condensed version of their “Pathfinder” and “Floor Plan” features available on their website.

One of the best features of “Tours” is the Tours by Theme option, organizing tours by associating pieces together by very unique, specific commonalities.  This particular method of cataloging offers a unique option to students especially looking for a specific theme to study in the collection-beyond just medium, style, period, etc--although there are good tours organized according to those traditional standards as well.  For example: “Look a Little Closer,” and “My Kind of Town” were especially intriguing.  The “Closer” tour leads you to pieces in the museum with interesting, often overlooked details.  My favorite tour was “My Kind of Town.” As a Chicagophile, I love that song, love this city, and loved learning little factoids about Chicago through the few pieces of art included in this tour.  As someone who has visited the Art Institute many, many times, I think this particular Themed tours feature is of great use and interest to a regular/frequent visitor looking for something new amid the familiar setting.  The collection is certainly large enough to spend hours and days studying and observing.  This app provides a way to organize those visits with the ability to easily discover new pieces or spaces within the museum.

One thing that was very clear on this technology-led tour of the AIC was the modernization of the museum itself—via technology, of course.  “Art Institute Tours” is not the only motion the AIC has taken toward technological friendliness and development.  Other vestiges beyond “Tours” include: interactive computer screens, as well as tower/monitor computer stations, scattered around the museum within exhibits, and in public spaces to help people with step-by-step directions throughout the museum, with more info about an exhibit or piece of work; free wi-fi available to all visitors; as well as a recently re-vamped website with a sleek design that promotes the use of icons and simplicity.  But while these recent infiltrations of technology are present all through the museum, it is not an ostentatious show.  None of it is shocking. 

In fact, it seems like a natural extension.  It's possible you might not notice it if you didn't know to look for it. Advertising about it wasn't very ostentatious at the entrances.  This was also the release date of the Picasso and Chicago exhibit, however, so I suppose it was a bit overshadowed. Maybe you didn’t expect it—or maybe you did—but once you see these computers hanging up on the wall, once you notice that prompt for app download on your smartphone, it just…makes sense.  Why shouldn’t they offer wi-fi to the visitors?  Everyone else does.  Soon even the public parks might offer wi-fi! 

But—beyond being an idea born of necessity/inevitability—is this co-existence of technology and art also a nod to aesthetic appeal of technology? Aesthetically the sleek technology placed against the neoclassical architecture (in the main building, anyway) by the works of art just worked. That big beautiful screen looked so nice on the wall.   This is Apple-specific for this location, of course—because every medium that was provided by the Museum was Apple-made.  But it was hard not to notice that the outfits of technology complimented the exhibits they were situated in.  For instance, there are two computers and monitors stationed right across from Marc Chagall’s America Windows, placed there to provide the opportunity to learn more about the work.  This station was being used for this purpose by multiple people the whole time I was near these windows.  It was tucked away in a nook, but it still managed to compliment the windows in a way.  The dim glowing from the blue Mac screens against the white walls did not look unlike the “Windows.”  And in Picasso and Chicago, the rectangular interactive touch-screen computers were hung up right beside Picasso’s works of art in frames of that very shape.  Is this a stylistic choice?

In any case, the AIC is now encouraging a one-stop shop environment—shopping, dining, social media, easy digital access at your fingertips—all occurring within their location.  Many of these things they already offered before, but are now more rounded out with the new technological involvement.  It is officially a hub!  But this does not take away from the museum itself.  They have created a good app and a good opportunity for visitors to further delve into the building, into the collection, into the very works of art themselves. Art is meant to stimulate the five senses so that the visitor can smell, touch, hear, feel, and (on occasion) taste—EXPERIENCE the work.  And enabling all this sleek technology only further enhances that opportunity the works of art lends.  It is not groundbreaking technology—this is occurring all over.  Museums are inevitably moving into this direction of incorporating more and more technology into their facilities. While a natural step forward, it is a graceful one.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Humor Makes the Museum Go 'Round

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘Laughter Makes The World Go ‘Round,’ and maybe it’s really true. The older I get the more I believe that laughter really does make a difference. And the one place that laughter makes more of a difference is at the museum—at any museum!

One of the most unrecognized and underestimated ingredients of successful museum management (or more specifically, project management) is HUMOR. A sense of humor, a few laughs, a well timed joke, the good pratfall, that sudden shift from humdrum to delight can make all the difference in a day.

As I look back over the 32 years of my career something I can say with a great deal of certainty is that all the successful and creative people that I’ve encountered along the way all possess a great sense of humor. Every one of my bosses and mentors along the way-Mike Spock, Janet Kamien, Phyllis Rabineau, John McCarter, Cynthia Mark-Hummel -all possess this important quality. Each held within their grasp a finely-tuned, toned and unique sense of humor that not only allowed them to get through ‘a day at the museum’ but also helped us get on with it too. 

In the picture that accompanies this rant you see (with his back turned to the camera) Ray J. He is another one of these ‘museum people’ with a great sense of humor. We’ll only call him Ray J. because I didn’t ask him if we can write this about him. Frankly he is too humble, kind and considerate and would have probably said no… But it’s really important that we recognize all the Rays in our museum world! The people that have an amazing sense of humor and make our days better.

Recently a large prototype of an interactive pinball machine was delivered to a local children’s museum, and Ray was there to lend a hand and a point of view, which is always welcome. Ray is a retired professional and his insight and knowledge are immensely valuable in all kinds of situations and projects. Ray knows a lot and he is willing to share that knowledge and it makes a difference. But beyond his smarts Ray is also willing to share his joy and his sense of humor. So when the pinball machine was delivered and while it was being maneuvered into a temporary storage location Ray suddenly bursts out with an acapella rendition of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”:

He’s a pin ball wizard
There has got to be a twist.
A pin ball wizard,
S’got such a supple wrist.

And there goes Ray singing, not quietly mind you, and not only to himself…but a full blown serenade to all his colleagues, ensuring us all that Ray is vibrant, still very HIP and most importantly, full of a sense of humor that just makes a difference, especially inside a museum.