Plants Are Up To Something

Topic: Life Sciences Subtopic: Diversity of Life

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Karina White

Published on May 22, 2007, Modified on May 27, 2016

  • Description and goals

    Plants Are Up To Something is a 16,000 square-foot exhibition full of spectacular plants and interactive exhibits.
    Our big idea: Use your scientific skills of observation, comparison, measurement, and analysis to understand the amazing things that plants do. AKA: “real plants, real tools, real science,” or “plants are up to something.”

  • Development process and challenges

    A few big ones:
    1) living collections, that change, grow, and die without warning
    2) 100% humidity combined with scientific equipment (videoscopes, microscopes, meters, etc.)
    3) our commitment to using real plants and real tools has required a great deal of perseverance, and while we have a high-maintenance exhibit, we find the trade-offs have resulted in a successful and unique experience for our visitors, one that really foregrounds plants and how extraordinary they are

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

    Looking back, these seem like the most important things we’ve learned:

    (These are all based in direct experience, and many of them required multiple attempts and hand-wringing to achieve. I can add more on this later if there’s interest…)

    •be bold enough to try new things
    •form a small team that is responsible for most major decisions
    •come up with a big idea that foregrounds your collections, helps limit content, and has clear implications for the visitor experience
    •create & use exhibit criteria (questions like: “What is the particular concept being communicated in this exhibit? Would this exhibit be better as a book or a program?”)
    •collaborate with your designers & fabricators
    •prototype like mad and make changes based on what you learn
    •seek advice
    •design in flexibility
    •design for a range of experiences
    •decide what’s most important & fight for it

  • Exhibition Opened: October 2005

  • Traveling Exhibition: No

  • Location: San Marino, CA, United States

  • Estimated Cost: $1,000,000 to $3,000,000 (US)

  • Size: Over 10,000

  • NSF Funding: Yes, Grant No. ISI-0125750

  • Website(s):

Latest Comments (1)

and an Award

by Kathleen Mclean - May 23, 2007

Karina didn’t mention that this exhibition won the AAM Excellence in Exhibitions competition as best of the year for 2007.

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