Saturday, April 14, 2012


I think once upon a time, I had intentions of mixing my love of design with my love of history and enter into the world of exhibit design. I ended up going the way of the park ranger by way of a degree in public history (starting in design... fashion design, actually- I wanted to get into historical costuming). Exhibit design is a particularly specialized field. Writing, designing, and producing quality permanent exhibits takes a lot of effort and talent. Understanding audience is important (museums notoriously have three types of visitors: streakers, strollers, and students). Understanding what captures interest is also important. And understanding how people receieve and process information is vital. I no longer go to museums to learn about what is on display; I visit to see how it is on display. I think about the visitor experience and the word choice in the interpretive text. I consider the layout of space and the sizing of images.

I have had the opportunity to help design some temporary exhibits at the Acadian Cultural Center. I whipped up a small display on cotton in Acadian cuture. Most recently, I put up a display about alligators. We have a three-foot alligator in our lobby that has always attracted attention (usually from boys). I decided to make a little panel to go along with the alligator:

With limited resources (some paper from our education supplies, laminated sheets, and velcro), I researched and wrote up some information about gators. This was the first time I developed an exhibit about something that was not history. It is an exhibit on... nature! I did my best to make it interesting, to include information of the sheer size of these animals. An adult male can grow up to eighteen feet. At the suggestion o a coworker, I made that something easy to imagine:

Eighteen feet of duct tape stetched across our lobby conveys the size of these animals to our visitors as they walk into the center. At eighteen feet long, its jaw length would be nearly eighteen inches, and the gator itself would weigh about half a ton. One thousand pounds! And that reptile has the ability to launch itself at a rate of 30 miles per hour to catch its prey! After talking to a visitor about these remarkabke animals, he asked me, "well, have you ever gone gator hunting?" Um, no. What part of "big, scary lizard" did this exhibit not portray?

I wrote the exhibit with kids in mind, making it interactive. I have questions like "how many steps does it take for you to walk from the alligator's tale to its nose?" as a way to get kids engaged. I have found more adults interacting with the new exhibit than kids! Developing this temporary exhibit has been a learning experience for me. I am enjoying getting feedback and thinking ahead to the next time I develop a temporary exhibit. I also never want to meet an alligator in the wild. They may stay in picture books and on National Geographic Explorer shows as far as I am concerned.

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