Exhibits in museums, how does one go about deciding on what topic to “run with” when designing a new exhibit? Who has this privilege? How is this decided? Well after many years within the walls of museums, it seems to come down to the all mighty dollar – who is willing to pay for what and for how long. An interesting point was brought up the other day that I had not thought of about front end evaluation – if the topic is already decided, then front end evaluation is not really happening. If true front end evaluation was happening, then the topic would not already be decided until the potential audience were surveyed for topics of interest. I had not thought about this in a long time. There is a large amount of what is termed “front end” evaluation conducted on the various aspects of various exhibits prior to the onset of constructing the exhibit, but if this true front end?

When I worked at a science museum several years back they went under a major renovation and expansion. The areas for renovation and themes for new areas were decided in a variety of ways. First was a general survey of the staff. Next was a review of the grants available at that time and the third was personal choice of the direct of the museum. I do not recall one time surveying the general population about topics of interest. Some of the exhibits turned out amazing from an insider’s point of view and are well received by the public. Others are not bad, but leave a lot to be desired from both insiders and the public.

My personal favorite is the kids room renovation. This renovation took the longest and was based on research. The person in charge of this surveyed several other science museums and conducted a thorough literature review. In addition, she observed the interactions of families in kids rooms for hundreds of hours. The result is one of the best younger aged focused play areas for families I have seen to date.

So what are your thoughts? How would you begin to design a new exhibit at museum?

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