As Susan posted, several of the students working with Shawn and on various projects related to the lab took a field trip to a couple of other local museums. It’s something a lot of us in the field seem to do (or at least, that’s my impression), as museums seem to vary so much from community to community, even when they’re all science centers or all art museums, etc. There’s always something innovative going on (usually to manage tight budgets), and it’s really valuable especially to get to talk to other professionals at their home sites. I’ve visited large-city museums that were traditionally curatorial re-vamp their spaces a few at a time and create entirely new full-time programming to work in the new century (the Science Museum of London and its attached Dana Centre), and small-town places with hands-on versions of history and science rolled into one (the Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs, Arkansas has a great crawl-through cave exhibit “Underground Arkansas” alongside a good deal of Smithsonian Institution offerings). Each time I go, I see a bit of the familiar and a bit of the unique and local flair.
For instance, at the Science Factory, we found that a staff of 10 (not all full-time) plus a handful of contractors put on 9 weeks of sold-out summer camps a year, serving about 300 kids, even though their overall annual visitation is only about 37,000. For comparison, Hatfield gets 150,000 visitors, not including school groups, each year, and I don’t think we put on that many weeks of camp! In addition, as the building is in Alton Baker park, literally in the shadow of the U of O football stadium, the museum closes on game days due to the sheer traffic tangle. However, they turn around and sell tailgating parking and throw in membership as part of the package, raising a good deal of revenue when they might otherwise be losing money. To top it all off, they manage to rotate their exhibition about 3 times a year.
The Jordan Schnitzer Art Museum had its own issues; since they’re located on the main campus, parking is always a snag. And prior to a recent renovation, the building was so imposing and so not-well-marked that people actually had to ask if they were allowed to enter (our Physical Dimensions of FCL online class explores entrance spaces as an assignment). Now they have thriving adult programs as well as a full complement of tour groups. They are of such a size that they are rotating exhibitry nearly constantly, based not only on special long-term touring shows but also on the needs of professors who may change out a few pieces for a class.
This last part led me to ask about their volunteers who lead tours and how they keep up with all the changes. Just like the volunteers at Hatfield, the JSMA volunteers (“experience interpreters” rather than docents) have to be prepared for anything, since they aren’t always aware even when they start a tour what they may encounter. But their volunteers also undergo extensive training, spending about 4 hours a month in training on top of volunteering up to 3 days a month. Not only do they get updates on content of exhibits, but they also spend a lot of time practicing interaction techniques, which I witnessed as Sharon led a group around before we sat down with her. She had a camp group of maybe six 8-year-olds and had stopped them in front of a piece. She asked the group, “Do you think the building here was built fast or slow?” When two of the group had different answers, she asked them to justify their answers. I moved on before I heard how well they complied, but she certainly had the attention and participation of most of the group (ok, one of them was over on a nearby cushioned bench making face-down “bench angels”). Sharon told us that this was a concerted effort made over the past several years to encourage interpreters to go beyond simply delivering information.
What other places have you visited, and how are they making things work in creative ways? The Museum 2.0 blog is a great example of organizational change over the past year at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art.