In previous posts I reviewed some of the concepts for this year’s summer exhibit – ‘I Heart Carbon’. I also touched on some of the design aspects for the exhibit.
With this post I am going to share with you how we got to where we are, which can be considered ‘building on our past’. It begins shortly after I joined the Museum.
When I began here, the Museum was quite a different place. For those that know our past, mention of the Mining House might bring back those distant memories.
For back then we had an exhibit space which was designed and built in the 1970s.
My first work in interpretive signage was bringing permanent interpretation into our Machine Shop, and shortly thereafter bringing new or updated interpretation to our site. All of this work consisted of printed vinyl mounted on a variety of substrates. In other words, flat rectangular displays.
In 2010 the Museum engaged in a major renovation which saw the introduction of two new permanent exhibits. Through this process, we had the opportunity to work with well recognized exhibit designers David Jensen and Associates and Aldrich Pears.
The renovation was a tremendous learning experience. It also set the tone for our exhibits and interpretation going forward.
Our first temporary exhibits were very small – better described as temporary displays than exhibits – but through the process of development and launch we were continuing to refine our skills and our messages.
Our first step towards something a little bigger was ‘Best of Britannia’, followed the next year with ‘What Use Are Metals To Me?’ With these exhibits we began to really show that we did have the ability to deliver well executed temporary exhibits on a very modest budget.
These exhibits were followed up with last year’s ‘Water: Beneath the Surface’, which was our boldest summer exhibit yet. It was our first exhibit to fabricate large structures designed to bring a specific feel to the exhibit space itself. It was our most ambitious effort to date as well to build interactive components into the exhibit. These ranged from crawling through a tunnel to taking temperature readings. It also was our largest exhibit yet as our floor space expanded to accommodate our growing exhibits.
Most importantly of all though, is that it was a learning experience for all of us.
For me, perhaps it was learning design compromise. There was a little bit of tension between myself and the builders as I pushed their construction skills to their limits. I also pushed budgets to their limits. If asked if I was happy with the outcome prior to opening, I would have said no.
But while the exhibit completed was not the original concept, our feedback from visitors was positive. We delivered on the important goal – engaging our guests.
The Water exhibit was very ambitious in some regards. The initial concept was beyond what we could build in-house. It was the first exhibit where I had the opportunity to push our exhibits to the next level – to make them more than just a few displays in a rustic building.
With the Carbon exhibit, I took a more scaled back approach, although if you read the posts on original concepts it might be hard to believe, at first. The concepts definitely pushed well beyond anything we had even contemplated before but when it came to the actual designing of the space I took all the limitations experienced with Water into consideration.
In that sense, Carbon is a rather conservative exhibit. Build-wise, it holds to flat surfaces and 90 degree angles. It uses only materials we have used before – woods. The interactives are off-the-shelf solutions. The panels are printed vinyl. While there are more video displays, they are not interactive.
But where it breaks new ground is in size. This year, the structures are taller and the exhibit covers even more floor space. The main exhibit is around 33% larger than Water. The innovation zone which complements the exhibit is far more built out than last year’s water labs. In total, this exhibit is over twice the size of Water.
As construction comes close to completing the structures, I am looking forward to beginning the installation. More to the point, I am eager to open the exhibit. For it is in this time between finishing the creative work and completing the project that my mind races. It might be considered to be similar to writing an exam and waiting to see how you did. Good or bad, you just want the results so you can learn from it and move on.
But in the meantime, I find myself reflecting on how I would have done things differently, and how I am currently doing things differently. Throughout the development process I was uneasy with this exhibit, which is quite different from the ones prior. It is perhaps in my own uncertainty about the exhibit that I have relaxed a bit on the expectations of the final build. Either that or I have uneasily accepted the notion that only I will notice the imperfections in the fabrication. Perhaps it is a bit of both. What I can say though is that this exhibit definitely is the culmination of the personalities and abilities of those that are involved with it. Whether or not I am satisfied with the end product, I feel it is an end product people will enjoy.
And as we walk away from this one, soon enough the burning question will be ‘what’s next?’
For the answer to that, you will have to stay tuned.