Exhibit Plans on Display

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In July, the Freiburg Naturmuseum is opening “Wald,”a new children’s exhibit about the Black Forest. To give visitors a preview, the museum turned an empty programming space into a sneak peek gallery, showcasing the ideas, plans, and pieces that inspired and informed the new exhibit. From vintage photographs of old biology exhibits to the first, second, and tenth drafts of the new exhibit, the result is equal parts mind map, puzzle, maze, and flow chart.

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In July 2013, the new exhibit “Woods” will open. Preparations are in full swing. Here is a little look into our daily work, ideas, and drafts, and what’s happening right now. (rough translation)

I like when museums do this. I value the chance to see behind the curtain, to have the fourth wall removed and get a glimpse into the back-of-house. I like it even more than the traditional “Curator’s Note” that accompanies so many exhibits, because it allows me to see the “how” of the design. Where did the museum begin? What thoughts, discoveries, missteps, and successes got the exhibit from A-B? Let me see what was/is important to the museum.

Of course, this may only appeal to me because I’m a museum professional. How are visitors going to react to a wall of blueprints?

As part of the preliminary research for a study I’m conducting with the museum, I spent an afternoon observing visitors in the “Wald” preview space. What did I see? The average visitor:

  • Spent 5:33 minutes in the exhibit
  • Attended to 72% of exhibit elements in the space
  • Initiated or engaged in conversation with other visitors about exhibit elements (if part of a group)
  • Add their own thoughts and ideas on Post-It Notes to the visitor-contributed content space

Not too shabby for a small room of only two-dimensional objects. I’m really excited to see how visitors engage with the new exhibit when it opens – if the preview is any indication, it’ll be a hit.

Here are some of my favorite elements the museum included:

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Using string to connect the same element (e.g. a taxidermied lynx) between exhibit schematics, collections lists, photographs, and blueprints.

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An exhibit timeline showing where “Wald” fits into the museum’s current Exhibit Master Plan.

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Please, no dead animals 😦

A Post-It Note space for visitor’s to share their ideas and opinions about what they’d like to see in the exhibit.

Have you exhibited “rough drafts,” preliminary concepts, or blueprint documents before? How do visitors react? Are you a fan of highlighting the process, or do you prefer just to showcase the final product?

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