All of the projects I’ve been working on at the museum lately and all of the wonderful support and encouragement I have received for these projects has really got me thinking about going back to school.
It has hard to narrow down what exactly I would like to study. At the museum I get to do so many different jobs. It’s a lot of fun, but also makes going back to school difficult . I just cant seem to pick just one field of study, nor do I want to leave work to go back to the world of academia. This led me to the idea of doing an online continuing ed program. I found one in museum studies and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. I LOVE school and this program will be a great stepping stone back into the academic scene; if I choose to go that route. The certificate will also help teach me things I haven’t learned before that I can apply to my current job, so overall its a win-win.
I recently took the first course in the program. It was a two day class in Chicago entitled The Exhibit: From Concept to Opening and Beyond. I had a lot of fun and learned a great deal. I also signed up for a semester long course this fall, which will be starting soon and I cant wait! Here’s a little bit about my trip!
I arrived in the classroom and met our professor, Caroline Goldthorpe. Mrs. Goldthorpe is the professor for all of the classes I will be taking for my certificate and it was great to get to meet her before I begin the online portion. She was full of tales of working on exhibits in England and the United States, and her passion was contagious. We all introduced ourselves and discussed why we were there. There was a nice variety of museum peeps, ranging from professionals in the field, to newbies excited to learn.
One of our activities was to take an artifact and discuss how many different exhibits could be made from that artifacts story. Our artifact was a set of English coins and here are some of the exhibits we thought of:
- History exhibit on currency
- Exhibits on monarchy
- Types of metals
- Banking exhibit-immersive
- Exhibit on erosion
- Personal stories told through ledgers
- Evolution of currency and English politics
- A story of succession.
This was an interesting and creative project and a great way to flex our story telling muscles. We also discussed types of displays and how each museum and each exhibit has a varying degree of artifacts and story.
Lighting Design with Julie Giampaolo
Our guest speaker on the first day was a fellow professor who spoke to us about the power of lighting. She mentioned that lighting is normally one of the last things on the budget list and the last things to go in. I find this to be true. I honestly wasn’t sure how much of her lesson I could apply to my own museum work, at first. I sadly didn’t worry too much about lighting. After her lecture, however, I can’t believe how much it matters. Lighting can change the look and feel of an exhibit and can take something simple and turn it into something incredible in an instant. I will definitely be spending more time and allowing more of the budget for lighting in the future.
Favorite Advice: Don’t be afraid to experiment with lighting.- AND- Make sure your fluorescent bulbs are the same number.
Our first field trip was to the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum. I will admit it—I got INCREDIBLY lost on my way to this museum. Anyone who knows me can testify that I am the WORST when it comes to directions, but even the two bellhops, and one taxi driver that I frantically ran to in my quest to make it to this museum couldn’t help me. (It is under the bridge guys. Don’t let google maps fool you).Once I got there, I learned that it was a museum of the river, yes, but it told the entire story of the city as well. I also learned what a museum can do with little funding and space, but still make an impact.
We also talked about the importance of choosing exhibits that relate to your audience or the audience you are hoping to get through the doors. We learned that evaluations should be done not only before the design, but during and after the process too. Focus groups are key if you can afford them.
Favorite Advice: What will the exhibit look like full of people? Don’t picture just the empty space.
The second day of class we started out discussing labels. (yay!) This was interesting to me as I make a LOT of labels. Our project for this topic was to take an artifact and the research pertaining to it and cut it down to one, 100 word label. One. One hundred. word. label. This was the toughest, most excruciating form of torture. It was impossible and took us all a long time to develop. I feel like it was a bit of karma for me, as I am always the one cutting down content at work. I have been paid back in full for all those edits, folks. Believe me.
Exhibit Design with Paul Bluestone
I have to say that this speaker was who I was most excited to hear from. I would love to someday own my own exhibit design firm like Mr. Bluestone. His work speaks for itself and if you have some free time, check out his website. (http://bluestoneinc.com/).
Mr. Bluestone discussed what its like as an exhibit designer to walk the fine line of being faithful to historic preservation and telling the story well. He was a really fun speaker and one of the most valuable aspects of this course (at least to me).
Favorite Quote: “You have to live in the story you want to tell”
Favorite Advice: Build some secrets into your work.
The second day field trip I made sure to follow a new friend to the museum as to not repeat the mistake of day one (haha). This museum was SO FREAKING GREAT.
We were given an exhibit evaluation which we used to rate the exhibit and space on the bottom floor. I spent some time on this, and was told to check out a small collection of medieval pieces upstairs…..
There were some GREAT pieces up there. I was absolutely floored by how wonderfully it the space was put together. If you’re ever downtown, you should stop by this museum. Its worth the admission price. (I believe Thursdays are free).
The symposium was a wonderful opportunity for me. Not only did I learn a great deal about the museum world and my colleges in the field, but it was the first trip to Chicago I have ever taken alone, and I learned that I can accomplish things that feel impossible. I also got a renewed sense of passion for museums and for what we do as a historical society. It remained me how incredibly honored I am to do what I do, and how much responsibility I have to tell the story of our county to the best of my abilities.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful people that support me. My co-workers, family, friends, museum volunteers. Thank you for you for helping and believing in me! I would also like to thank my amazing friend, Jessica for letting me stay at her apartment while I took this class, and last but certainly not least, I would like to thank the Museum and its’ Board for paying for me to be a part of this. It means a great deal that I have the support of so many in my quest to learn and become better at my passion!
Thanks for reading!