DIY Pop-up Museum

Topic: Other Subtopic: General

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Michelle DelCarlo

Published on April 14, 2011, Modified on July 29, 2011

  • Description and goals

    The Do-It-Yourself Pop-up Museum is an idea I came up with while pondering community development, collaborative relationships, and the creation of meaningful and relevant experiences. As a Museology graduate student, I am curious about all of these topics, and was interested to see how they could potentially intersect in a nontraditional yet museum-like atmosphere.

    The basic idea of the DIY Pop-up Museum is as follows:

    The museum is based solely on the content provided by the people who show up to participate. First, a theme is chosen. For example, the pilot test’s theme is “Handmade.” From this theme, community members are invited to bring something to share that is meaningful to them, similar to “show and tell”. Next, when people arrive, they can write a “label” using provided pencils and paper to give others an idea of why their object is meaningful to them. Using the “Handmade” example, they could bring in a scarf they knit or a special handmade textile that was given to them. The museum will only exist for a few hours on one day, and its location will travel (“pop up”) in order to include all the diverse Seattle neighborhoods.

    What I wanted to accomplish with the pilot test was to see how well this idea would work in a real-life setting. I wanted find out if it would engender conversation between people, and to see what worked well and what didn’t.

  • Development process and challenges

    I worked with the Seattle Public Library system to reserve a meeting room at one of their branches to host the museum. I discovered working with them to be an excellent partnership, as their room reservation requirements (meetings must be free and open to the public) align perfectly with the Pop-up Museum’s goals.

    I first created a blog as a communication tool, which can be viewed at This was a challenge in and of itself, as I had never created a blog before. I then created a Flickr site so people can see photos of objects and labels, which can be viewed at I also sent out a Facebook invite, which worked well and was easy to do.

    Most of the challenges I encountered had to do either with logistics or resources. As far as I could tell, everyone who participated had a pleasant experience and were able to share their objects and stories with one another.

  • Lessons learned, mistakes we made (and what we did about them)

    I believe the pilot test went very well, and I learned quite a bit about what will potentially work well for the future and what will not. Below is a description of the lessons I learned.

    1) The pilot was open for five hours, which I discovered was much too long; people would leave and take their objects with them, and when more people arrived, they were not able to fully enjoy the experience. For next time, I think two hours will be sufficient.

    2) People sometimes seemed unsure as to the purpose of the Pop-up Museum, and it was suggested that I write a mission statement. I think this would be a great way to focus the goals of my idea, and am in the process of writing a mission statement.

    3) More snacks! Delicious baked goods, coffee, and tea were all recommended for next time. I am currently working on a list of vendors in the Seattle area who may be willing to donate these kinds of things.

    4) Naming: I discovered that many people associate the term “DIY” with a specific community that values crafting. However, my use of “DIY” was to get at the democratic and welcoming nature of my idea. I am currently pondering this issue, and am still wondering if I should use a different term or continue onwards with “DIY”.

Latest Comments (2)

DIY, Pop-up Museum Applications

by Carey Tisdal - April 19, 2011

This is such a creative idea. I hope you keep us updated on where you go next with this. I can see the application of this idea in small community history museums as well in in medium size and larger places to promote community involvement and conversation. You really set me to thinking!

Thanks Carey!

by Michelle Delcarlo - May 22, 2011

Thanks for the words of support Carey! I had a second pop-up museum yesterday (Saturday, May 21st) that was another success. I’m in the process of writing up the results and insights and will post shortly.

I do think this idea would work well for community museums or those museums looking to better engage their visitors. I’m glad you like the idea, and please feel free to send me any more thoughts or comments! I’m open to any and all ideas.


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