Label me this.

 

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This week’s reading focused on the role of attention in designing effective interpretive labels.

Visitors focus their attention on objects and labels, and they read labels, especially well designed ones. However, attention spans prevent audiences from focusing on both objects and labels. This is where interpretive design should direct its attention because  given the choice audiences will look at the object before the label. Labels should not try to compete with visual aspects; they are most effective when they complement objects. They should, however focus on an object’s most important features. Designers should create a dialogue between the label and the object. Measuring success of labels is contingent upon multiple factors: percent of visitors who stop, reading time, collateral behaviors, and knowledge gained.

A conceptual framework presupposes that attention is a vital to interpretive label design. Attention is selective, and attention to one thing often means neglect of another. Designers then have a big job because they have to strategize how best to allow an object and its label to stand out. Designers of interpretive labels should consider how isolated an object is, size, contrast  in background, multi-sensory characteristics, and lighting. They must also take into account what causes people to miss labels. Traffic flow, attraction to objects of certain sizes, right-turn bias, and arrangement are some of the main reasons. Educationally driven messages work best if the labels are designed to minimize mental effort. This is an important step to make the experience both educational and accessible to audiences of all ages. While you don’t want to insult anyone’s comprehension and reading skills, you do want younger visitors to be able to read labels.

The article, “Telling a story in 100 words: effective label copy,” gives examples of how to construct a label. “When we write, we compose a mosaic. We pick and choose the “tiles” words, facts, and images. The article also gives other useful strategies: frame the journey through time, Consider a label a story, hook the reader with an anecdote/ suspense, and finally ask yourself, does it encourage readers to suspend disbelief?

In “Labels, Digital Included, Assume New Importance at Museums,” Judy Rand, label writer, observes visitors reading labels in museums to see first-hand how they react to them, if they even react to them. Rand points out that specialist often write, edit and design labels, and impanel focus groups test them.

What I gathered from the readings is that though there are agreed upon strategies for label writing, the audience’s attention and selectivity does not guarantee that they will interact with the labels in the ways museums professionals want them to do. It is up to the designers and the staff to stay creative and stay observant as to how best highlight an object with labels.

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Exhibiting– There’s a process!

This weeks reading were about the techniques exhibit designers and museum staff take to create exhibits. Though an extensive task, it is one that deserves and requires careful deliberation and thoroughness; once it is finished the exhibit then belongs to the museum and to its audiences. In Creating Exhibits, Chapter eight discussed methods and techniques of exhibit building. The designers must make the most out of the process because it will inform new thinking, enhance team development, and create innovative exhibits in the end. As a designer you should ask yourself “When should certain methods be employed for specific projects and audiences?” strategies that capture audience attention in history museums may not directly transfer to audiences at a science museum. Documentation, though it may seem like an extra step, is important. Reviewing how things went and how long certain phases actually took. Many subsequent exhibition teams investigate past successful models.The “Charrette” technique demonstrated that ideas are central, and moving forward to implementing them involves a collaborative team process. During brainstorming lessons, do not censor yourself, don’t be logical, dont’ try to solve the problem, be playful, listen to everyone. Certain restrictions on this include however, not having too many people and do not spend more than 15-20 minutes on any one topic. Sketching  works to get ideas down and to start conversations. Conceptual floor plans to predict visitor walk through is important as well. Prototyping to test the ideas and presenting them to allow for better feedback is important as well because it is an early form of crowdsourcing. Chapter 9 discussed Process and Phases, and challenged readers to ask, “How do people with different working styles come together to create a cohesive whole?” The process is important. Plans, even the best ones, should be flexible. Following too closely may inhibit progress, however not having a plan can derail progress as well. Although time is limited, leave time for receiving feedback. Most importantly from this chapter is that even after the Fabrication process and opening day, the process continues. Designers must consider sustainability. If methods are reliable and the interpretation stays fresh, destroying installations for the sake of change does not seem wise, environmentally friendly, or a good use of funds. Chapter 16 of Manual of Museum Exhibits discussed Interpretive Planning, and what meanings do designers wish to communicate by connecting objects and content found in museums. Relevance and relatability, Visitor centered ideas for large groups of different people, and decision making and monitoring, which brings order to the exhibition development process are strong reasoning for interpretive plans. Chapter 17 discusses curatorship and content development. The chapter states that rich and engaging content is needed for a dynamic visitor experience. Collections research and selection is a crucial step in this process. When reviewing collections for artifact selection the content team must consider certain guidelines, and ask themselves certain questions: What collections does the museum have that support an exhibition? What are the “star” artifacts in the collections? The article, American on the Move, demonstrates some of the process involved in constructing the exhibit. The teams mission was to “Inspire a broader understanding of our nation and its man peoples.” as well as to “present challenging ideas about our country’s past.” audience-testing stated that the visitors wanted to see something related to American history and not contents they found at car-shows. The exhibit designers looked at what ideas had succeeded before and what already existed. To build on past successful models they decided to look at four areas that transformation shaped American lives: communication, landscape, lives, and commerce and they linked bigger themes such as immigration and race to these four foundations. They decided to go with a case-study approach that would feature the vehicle, but also materials that American people took with them as they traveled. They chose to organize the stories chronologically, easiest way for visitors to understand. This article demonstrated that the process of making an exhibit is one of revisiting ideas. They decided to add cast figures into the cars to make sure that the exhibit was about the people using the vehicles, and they aimed to balance historical accuracy with presentation.

Objects, Artifacts, and Ethics

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This week’s readings evaluate and present information about objects, artifacts, and ethics present in the Museum world. One of the most interesting questions proposed in this week’s readings is within Steven Conn’s article “Do museums still need objects?” Conn defines museums as places where knowledge is shaped, but he also describes their limitations. Objects are defining features that have undergone historical shifts alongside the evolution of museums.  Conn criticized museums for  therapeutic approaches they take to address moral concerns involving difficult historical topics. He believes that as in the Golden Age of museums, we need to allow the most unique features in museums, the artifacts to allow people to reach their final conclusions on discussions of difficult topics. His answer indicates that objects are still central to museums. The objects in museum collections distinguish museums from other educational experiences because they give visitors an authentic experience with objects they can only get in that space. Aesthetic displays will allow an object to stand alone because they have communicative power, and little contextual materials are needed. This is not the case with other objects, and for this, as well as additional reasons, Museums showcase several types of displays. Museums developed virtual exhibits in reaction to an audience growing use of technology. Visitors can now use digital resources like QR codes to find out additional information on a topic and use consoles to participate in participatory and interactive exhibits. Some museums will use rotating exhibits to keep content fresh and current when renovation is not always an option. Furthermore, if museums are relying on return visits from familiar visitors, temporary exhibits are a great strategy to add additional information to existing content. Temporary exhibits also assist museum staffers with over-crowding. Sometimes museums have too many object, and as a museum professional they cannot dispose of objects as simply as shredding papers. There are regulations set forth by the governing boards. Governing boards such as the American Alliance of Museums and the National Council on Public History issue Codes of Ethics that describe the missions of museums and public historians. These codes are enforced to provide the highest quality of functionality among museum staffers and providing the best quality exhibits and research presentations for visitors. The American Association of state and Local History names its employees as human resources deserving of respect, pay, and benefits that alludes to their extensive training, and that volunteers should be treated equally as well. NCPH code of ethics states that public historians be culturally inclusive in the practice and presentation of historical topics. The reading clearly demonstrates that in this profession one cannot simply wake up and practice history in their chosen manner. They should adhere to the existing, and regularly changing rules to properly use museum resources for a growing public.

 

Museum Narratives & Audience

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This weeks readings presented methods on measuring success and implementing helpful strategies for building effective exhibits. Gail Dexter Lord states there is an increasing demand to measure what museums are doing to prove their effectiveness. She directs attention to public accountability where stakeholders are involved, Financial responsibilities because exhibits are costly, and learning what works and what does not to continue improvement. No evaluation, however, will prove effective unless it is grounded in the goals set forth by the exhibit. Museum staff determines how this is to be evaluated; this is problematic because the staff often invests little time to this endeavor. Exhibits typically become a compromise between curatorial and research departments, marketing and education departments, and sponsors.

The exhibit building stages typically happen in three stages: front-end, (exhibit briefs), formative (interpretation plans, content coordination and design), and summative steps (opening). Within these stages, staff measures five areas of criteria: creation of new knowledge, transformative experiences, self-directed experiences, engagement with diverse visitors, and transparency of the exhibits viewpoints. Audience research is necessary because they are who the exhibit is built for. Staff members need to know motivations, demographics, visitor experience, visitor outcomes, and have a sense of what constitutes a successful attendance. Museum exhibitions are face to face experiences with real objects, and they are often used as a break from the technological world, however they must prove value in a world shaped by social media and mobile techniques. Social media has formed a culture of participation and visitors expect this to extend to museum exhibits. Participatory exhibits change as a result of public intervention. The aim is to transform individuals and communities, and the  Process is equally as important as the product. Staff and exhibit designers must ensure that space for visitors to connect with each other is available. Four types of participatory exhibits exist:  community consultation and public engagement, co-created and co-curated exhibitions, open exhibitions, and hosted exhibitions. Each type of exhibit has a process with steps to ensure a more successful exhibit.

Staff must practice advocacy for subject matter, in addition to visitor experiences. The content and the subject matter is the museums reason for existing. The collections, research functions, and programs support that content internally and externally. Staff should be aware that there is a such thing as too much information, but the goal is to satisfy the amount of content with the needs and wishes of the visitors. A subject matter experts job can be hard, because they advocate for the content, yet the full depth of their findings will not be used. The aim should be to spark the interest of a beginning learner.  

Finally the Bedford article, “Storytelling: The Real Work of Museums,” presents the importance of storytelling in museums. Storytelling has multiple uses in museums; it supports personal interpretation and multiple perspectives, and it is used in various disciplines. Storytelling is innate to humans. It is how we learn, in addition to preserving individual and collective memories. Historic house museums often use the narrative structure to convey history. I got to witness firsthand at my internship. As i worked on inventory and condition reports, I got to watch and overhear the artisans telling visitors the significance of the houses.

 

 

Exhibits, Budgets, Scheduling – The Nitty Gritty

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Creating exhibitions, explaining their significance, and explaining the jobs and responsibilities of the people who put them together was the topics of this weeks readings. A few of the selected sections carried with them some notable information. In Chapter 7: Advocacy for Project and Team, the chapter discussed the importance of managing projects and  the role of teams in exhibit building. Advocates should prepare for the creation and management of a working budget, schedule, and the cooperation between team members. The project manager leadership must be strong and flexible. many of the tasks take place behind the scenes; much of it occurring before meetings and presentations and reinforcing strong collaboration. Teams can be organized in multiple ways, but the most important part is that the decision-making process is one that everyone agrees with, and it moves the project along. Disagreements arise when a power imbalance is present, and a team member(s) refuses to cede power. A strong schedule is important. The example provided is the Broad-Stroke schedule, and it includes phases of project meetings, concept diagrams, floor plans, installation, opening dates, and more. Scheduling issues usually arise when team members over or underestimate the time it takes to complete a project. One of the chief ways to avoid this is to look for documentation of previous projects and look at the timeline to completion. If they do not exist, do not be afraid to contact another institution guesstimate the time it takes to achieve similar projects. Budgeting for projects is challenging because usually team members do not know how much money is available to work with, so it is necessary to establish strategies for estimating: fabrication, production, and instantiation is usually the most costly, research, development, and design is next, and finally, revisions take up the last spot. be aware of industry standard numbers, because costs will vary from place to place.

In the Manual of museum exhibitions, Chapter one, exhibition development process stated that multiple surveys conducted by the American Alliance of Museums show that the general public places more trust in museums than educators and media. Museums communicate to audiences through exhibitions; we expect them to be as authentic as possible. As a means of communication of past and present topics, exhibit designers should keep the question “why,” in the forefront of their projects. (why is it necessary? How/will it make a difference? Can media add/take away from it?) All phases of Exhibit design are important and interconnected: Development is where the ideas and concepts are created, tested, and refined. The outcome of this phase should produce an answer of why the museum is doing this project. Second, the design phase is when the ideas are transformed into 3-D reality and designers work with museum staff to create. Finally,  the implementation phase is the building and installation of the exhibit. While these phases are preliminary, museums staffs have to be aware of functions such as budget, cost control, and evaluation are an ongoing process that last even after opening day.

In Chapter two, Purpose of Museum Exhibitions, the chapter states that the growth of existing museums reflects growing collections and an expectation to meet the needs of museum visitors. Growth of museums also reflects a yearning for unknown knowledge presented through exhibitions. Museum exhibitions are a way of communicating. Exhibits exist in other venues, but the difference in a museum exhibit is its’ intent to teach. Museums measure success by examining if their exhibits have educated viewers. Visitor’s view the objects as authentic and that is important to them; the meaning they derive from objects may be aesthetic, historical, or scientific, but it is a feeling they cannot get from a book or a film. Analyzing the needs of their audience, museums should be able to answer: Who they are? What they expect from a museum exhibit? And how they can learn from and enjoy an exhibit?

Oral Histories and Web Presence

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Before reading Donald Ritchie’s chapters in “Doing Oral Histories,” I envisioned an oral history session similar to a meeting between a psychologist and patient seen on television; the only difference being a historian and an interviewee. After reading I realized that I was not totally wrong. While Ritchie disclosed that oral history sessions should be between an interviewer and interviewee (a passive term for the person being interviewed), there is more structure and preferences to this area of history than I believed. Oral histories are a variation on interviews, however they after being processed, they are made available in archives, repositories, and reproduced for publication. Oral histories have changed courses and formats alongside important historical events worldwide. Some of the earliest historians such as Thucydides and Voltaire derived their historical narratives from interviewing subjects and recording their stories. Some of the most valuable information historians hold are information from oral histories such as the WPA slave narratives. However, using the WPA narratives, and some of the information from both Ritchie and Shopes’ article, “Oral History and the Study of Communities: Problems, Paradoxes, and Possibilities,” we can investigate some of the shortcomings of oral histories. Shopes offers up the idea of “Community Oral histories.” Personally, I think a community oral history would not properly yield new or genuine answers that attempt to uncover information on a group’s social identity and its relation to geographical spaces. Both historians also question the reliability and neutrality of memory. Memory is a risk factor, and often interviewees do not feel comfortable disclosing information until subsequent interviews. They will also disclose or withhold information based on who is interviewing them. in addition to these articles, I read about this in Lakisha Simmons’ “Crescent City Girls,” where she conducted a series of oral histories on women growing up in segregated New Orleans.

The second grouping of readings addressed the compilation of a web presence in Museums. One of the most important rules all of the authors emphasized in these reading was preliminary audience screening. This step is, I feel, almost so basic that most people would forget to do this. While museums cater to an audience, they have changed display techniques because of their audiences. technology in museums began physically on site, but as audiences moved to online social media and apps, museums followed suit. In “Twitter to Spotify…” The Museum of Romanticism in Madrid used both twitter and spotify to improve the quality of interaction with audiences while highlighting music as a major factor in the Romantic period. When I read twitter in the title I immediately made the connection of using pictures and hashtags to spotlight certain events or sections of the museum. In “An Introduction to Digital strategies for Museums,”  Jack Ludden discussed three important strategies that all of the readings in this section could benefit from: One, collect and manage accessible data. Two, present information in creative and transformative ways (powerpoints are cool, but lets incorporate new methods of grabbing and retaining audience and staff attention). Three, share content to inspire ongoing engagement. This step is very important. Unfortunately the way our brains are set up, no one staff member will hold all the answers to introducing, producing, and disseminating digital strategies, so this must be a joint effort.

Collect. Manage. Preserve.

IMG_2472 Museum collections are vast, wide, and unique to each museum. This is why each museum must possess and implement unique collections management strategies to preserve the objects on its site. Collections management defines developmental goals for the collection as well as protects damages and unforeseen events. Communication between a governing board and the museum staff is vital to reinforce and delegate responsibility and care for the objects. In chapter eight of “Museum Administration: an introduction,” Hugh Genoways and Lynne Ireland describe eight steps museums should adopt to establish a successful policy: Collection Mission and Scope, Acquisition and Accession, Cataloging, Inventories, and Records, Loans, Collections care, Collections Access, Insurance, and Deaccession.

Each part of the Collections Management process is important and interrelated. The collection mission and scope explains the location and time period of the objects museums are attempting to collect, as well as the time and resources the museum plan to use for caring for objects. Acquisition is the process of legally obtaining the items, and this can be done though purchasing, gifts, donations, and more. Museums should pay attention to legal obligations in this step; this includes having titles of ownership and considering ethics.  Acessioning objects is entering the objects and their documentation into the museums possession, while this step is not necessary it helps because here is where you can later obtain donor information. Cataloging is creating a full record of the collections; museums usually give objects both an Acession and Catalog number for record-keeping. The information in Cataloging should be accessible, and help to quickly locate objects. Record keeping is done by photographing, conducting condition reports and conservation reports on the objects. These are ways to ensure that the objects are being properly handled. As an intern I got to work with and view the importance of Condition Reports first hand– they can protect museums from liability for already-existing damage. Loans should be properly outlined, specified, and documented; this goes for both incoming and outgoing loans. some lenders have very specific instructions for loaning. however, loans depend on the museum in question because some museums do not accept them. Collections care is vital to the physical upkeep of the objects. Because most museums are not displaying all of their collections, objects must be properly stored. conditions such as weather and temperature affect the care of objects. Museums have the power to limit access to who can see its collections and records. This is done to secure privacy and preservation. Insurance varies with each type of museum. Most museums’ permanent collections contain objects that are irreplaceable, and insurance companies cover monetary loses. Instead of seeking reimbursement, strong collections management policies focus on risk management and preventing loss. Finally, Deacessioning objects is the legal process of disposal. Proper methods of disposal should be followed which includes gathering records for the object, recognizing any restrictions that prohibit decessioning. Deacessioning works as a form of quality control. Museums are removing objects to obtain needed storage space and funds.

Collections Management policies help museums stay true to their goals by clearly outlining its mission and preserving the objects unique to its collections. while different museums may have slightly different policies, a policy is definitely needed for any museum, small or large, to function properly.

Ya’ll chase chickens?

A native to South Louisiana, I have enjoyed and celebrated Mardi Gras from a young age. More than a few of my favorite memories take place on cold, dark nights lit by grandiose floats and the sounds of high school marching bands parading through the streets. What I love the most is the feeling of camaraderie between myself, and sometimes, complete strangers. In my time of parading, mostly in Houma and New Orleans, I have noticed and questioned familiar patterns such as the majority White Krewes, certain costumes, and even more importantly what things seem to be absent from parades. Until I moved to Lafayette, I remained aware of the differences in how people celebrate the holiday, but hearing the story of Country Mardi Gras, and the claims of ownership, and in some cases denunciation of Mardi Gras practiced outside of Southwest Louisiana.

Carl Lindahl describes the origins of Mardi Gras in his article “The Presence of the past in the Cajun Country Mardi Gras.” Ancient believers stress the fertility and nature involved in the holiday’s background, while modernists seek to give the holiday no deeper meaning that what and how it appears today; they seek to control both its internal and external structure, and to market it as a commercial display of public disorder. Lindahl captures the voices of those living in rural areas celebrating Mardi Gras. They describe its vivid past, and dispute its rumored “mindless drunkeness” because the activities they participate in emphasizes pride in the community. Lindahl also mentions that both the Ancients and Modern believers lack historical depth. Historians fuse historical and folk methods to add chronological depth.

Lindahl’s article coincides with Rocky Sexton’s article, “Cajun Mardi Gras: Cultural Objectification and symbolic Appropriation in a French Tradition.” Sexton states that vivid memory of Cajun Mardi Gras happened through a process of objectifying certain cultural elements, while excluding others helped solidify the feelings of ownership and authenticity in Southwest Louisiana. Sexton explains that the activities that Cajun French populations engage in on Mardi Gras day were once celebrated in other French Canadian and Louisiana populations, including Afro-French people. This “cajunization” process took place after the people of Southwest Louisiana attempted to regain recognition of their roots after Americanization processes attempted to discard those identities. CODOFIL and other forms of education and literacy was able to build a stronghold of Cajun culture in Southwest Louisiana. Sexton also suggests that cajunization occured also as white Creoles became incorporated into the Cajun population, and that authoritative claims are further solidified by a lack of Creoles claiming to celebrate Mardi Gras in the style the Cajuns continue to do.

George Lipsitz, explains the vibrant Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans in his article, “Mardi Gras Indians: Carnival and Counter-Narratives in New Orleans.” Lipsitz states that the Indians represent past Mardi Gras days when challenges from other groups forced the Indians to display bravery and solidarity they usually repressed. The Indians are made up of black, blue collar men who prepare year-round for their festivities. Although dressed as plains Indians, the men infuse African rituals, music, and dances to release constraints of daily life. this cultural amalgamation dazzles crowds, but Lipsitz states that hidden meaning exists behind show. These men are are expressing self-generated cultural challenges, and activities such as this can often be found in other marginalized groups in contemporary cultures.

perhaps the strongest message that exists in all of these readings is the attempts, either straightforward or inadvertently, to objectify Mardi Gras. When one attempts to objectify something, they hold that idea in time and space and assert claims to it. This can be done with Mardi Gras, however what must be kept in mind is what Lindahl explained, that these activities happened in multiple regions, with slight and vast variations between them. This is the reason for the many-sided origins of Mardi Gras.

Examining Private History in Public

If you happen to be looking at a book on various types of museum exhibits, please find a copy of “Private History in Public.” Written by Tammy S. Gordon, this book explores the various types of exhibits present in both large public memory institutions as well as small, local history museums. One of the exhibit types Gordon discusses is the Entrepreneurial exhibit, and in this type of exhibit people in unique occupations can tell their history in ways that help visitors make personal connections to workers. While reading for my comprehensive exams, I discovered that people will attempt to better understand history when they have a person or someone to connect them to the history they are learning. furthermore, I’ve learned that there is a struggle in museums to when deciding on exhibit development. The content in the exhibits should have enough academic context to present a broad view of the chosen topic, but there should also be content to humanize and make the topics personal. Gordon’s work shows that more research has been conducted on visitors in larger museums, and the ways in which they react to academic exhibits. However, visitors continually visit small, local community museums like the River Road African American museum in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, and comment on how much they learn from museums of the sort. More studies should be aimed at the both the visitors and the practices of these smaller museums.

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