Archive for July, 2008

From Visitor Response to Visitor Artistic Creation

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008 by Kathy McLean

I just returned from the Visitor Studies Association (VSA) annual conference in Houston. This year’s theme was “Theory, Practice & Conversations,” and the conference was structured for attendee participation—the opening plenary was pitched as potentially “one of the best opening sessions ever, as the speaker is . . . YOU!”

What made the conference such a success this year—and judging from all the wonderful comments I’ve received, I am convinced it was a success—is that the conference organizers focused on drawing out and featuring participant artistic creativity and expression. Not just talk-backs and graffiti boards for attendees to respond to and comment on the conference, but activities and times where attendees could BE CREATIVE—through poetry, art-making, and even interpretive dance (yes, interpretive dance, which might sound silly, but was actually very energizing).

Throughout the course of the conference, I was struck by a sense that conference attendees were behaving a bit differently. They were more animated, they seemed to be interacting with each other more openly, and the conversations seemed to be more about possibilities than problems. Of course (and ironically, given that this was a Visitor Studies Conference) I have no data to back this up, and I am biased to the extreme. But I kept drawing parallels to visitors in our museums and exhibitions.

The presence of opportunities for visitor artistic creation undoubtedly changes the ways they experience the rest of the museum. In addition to asking visitors to respond to our creative work, how can we create situations where visitors do the creating? I have long been a proponent of visitor co-design, and am interested in pushing that idea a bit, to consider exhibits where visitors have been given the creative control in MAKING the experience. Do any of you have examples to share with us?

ExhibitFiles at the NSF ISE PI Summit 2008

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 by Wendy Pollock

ExhibitFiles members will be participating in the ISE PI Summit 2008 , July 25-26, when leaders of informal science education projects supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) gather here in Washington, D.C. More than 180 projects will be represented at the Summit, including not only exhibitions, but a range of media, from youth and community programs to broadcast media and online games.

NSF has been supporting the development of ExhibitFiles, so the site can serve as a resource for the science exhibition field. Exhibits people typically rely on personal memories and social networks to fill in the gaps; but the high level of turnover in the field, and retirement and passing of older colleagues, mean much of the history is being lost. By building a collaborative community site with a rich and growing set of exhibition records at its core, it is our hope that together we will preserve this history and support development of a culture of critique. Many NSF-funded exhibition projects, old and new, have already posted case studies, and we look forward to seeing more. Kathy McLean and Wendy Hancock of the ExhibitFiles team will be at the Summit later this week to help anyone who hasn’t yet registered.

The gathering is organized by the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE), founded in 2007 with NSF support, which is housed at ASTC. CAISE partner organizations include Oregon State University (OSU), the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE), and Visitor Studies Association (VSA).

Stagecraft, remembrance, and moral gray zones

Monday, July 21st, 2008 by Wendy Pollock

Outside the Terror House, BudapestIt was because of Dan Spock’s informative and thought-provoking review of the Terror House that I found myself there in late May, while I was in Budapest for the ecsite meeting. As it happens, I visited with Andrea Bandelli, who posted his own review the other day, and I shared some of his reactions and reflections. There’s a forced-march quality to the experience, with no place to sit down and think or have a quiet conversation, that makes it hard to address the questions Andrea reminds us of: Why did this happen, and what does it mean for us? (Actually, you could sit, if you wanted to, at the table laid out for Nazi officials.)

There’s no doubt a visit to the Terror House is a powerful experience. Still, I wonder: As captives of a narrative that’s cinematic in its power, are we likelier to leave satisfied that the story is simply over? Is a themed environment that’s polished down to the last detail, lacking in the rough edges of reality, perhaps too smooth for a history of human suffering? Does the implied moral judgment fail to address what Primo Levi called moral gray zones, and thus let us, individually, off the hook? When I visited Dachau in the early 1960s, it was hard to find and starkly real. I wonder if the gritty immediacy made it harder to walk away as if a film had just ended.

Dan notes that the Terror House has stirred controversy within Hungary, at least in part for the very act of remembering it represents. Whatever the advantages and disadvantages of its cinematic interpretive structure, it does create at least one place for highly personal acts of remembrance and reflection, which people have made their own: a row of photographs of people killed after the 1958 revolution that runs around the outside of the building – and under it, a ledge.