It is hard to believe the International Spy Museum was the last museum of our seminar. This was my second and most thorough visit to the museum. I find the topic of spies to be really interesting; however, I didn’t feel too invested in the actual museum visit. On the third floor I had a hard time deciphering what objects were real, from pop culture, or replicated. Unlike some others, I don’t have a lot of extra knowledge to bring to the experience, so I’m one of the visitors Anna described, a visitor that needs to be brought into the story through only the content provided. The more I think about it, the images (around the exhibits) used that were from films and other popular culture through me off a bit. In a way I couldn’t trust what I was seeing to be real, and that’s not good. I will say though that the Exquisitely Evil did a great job with the Globe Icon, which is meant to connect the movies to real events.
Anna and Jackie gave a great presentation. I appreciated the insight into what it means to move a museum, and sort of start new. I was surprised to hear how the museum uses trip advisor to collect data about the visitor experience, but it makes sense because the web is where people are going to voice their strongest (and often negative) opinions. I think the content changes to the museum will make the museum stronger and more relevant to our world today. I will certainly be checking the museum out when they re-open in 2018.
The tour (by Sonia) of Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration & Complicity in the Holocaust special exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum gave me a sense of how a museum can use special exhibitions & permanent exhibitions in specific ways; for example, Sonia said the special exhibitions focus on the WHY and HOW the Holocaust happened while the permanent exhibition is about the WHAT.
I appreciated Sonia pointing out the curators and designers choices, in an exhibit about choices. It also speaks to the quality of the exhibition that the team knows some of the features/choices do not come across to every visitor, but they are still there for those on a tour or for those who are truly investigating the exhibition in depth and looking closely. It was great to look around and see visitors engaging with the exhibit. You could tell that visitors were viewing the mini-films with intensity and concern, not just sitting and staring blankly because they needed a place to sit. There were also several people using the photograph reaction interactive at the end of the exhibit. It is a unique way to create content for the website and get visitor feedback. Of all the choices the team made I thought the photo reveal stood out the most, as well as the arrows on the photographs.
Since we are discussing stories, I have to say that this exhibition stands out to me as the best storyteller of all the museums we have visited, and I think it has to do with design of the space, the minimal selection of artifacts, attention to photographs, the focus on individuals, and the overall theme. I have been learning about the Holocaust for many years now, and I still came away with new perspectives, thoughts, and questions about all those involved. The idea of this triangular connection between perpetrator, victim, and bystander is so new to me, but now that I’ve seen it here I won’t forget it.
Mount Vernon has been on my list of museums for a while now, and I’m so glad we were able to go, for the seminar. I didn’t do any previous research on the exhibitions beforehand so I didn’t have any special expectations, but I did expect a Monticello-ish vibe since it was a President’s home; however, Mount Vernon portrayed so much more than just the home where Washington died.
The gardens and grounds were so calming and a striking contrast to the stories told in the Lives Bound Together special exhibition and Christopher Sheels (Jonathan) interpretation. Jonathan’s portrayal of Mr. Sheels was authentic and he was able to connect with the audience to make them feel the truth and see the duality of Washington. The enslaved voice is so prominent at Mount Vernon especially in the Lives Bound Together special exhibition.
Like others pointed out, the entrance doors (with the names) made a great impact on me as a viewer. You can’t avoid the names; the names stop you and make you question why they are there and who are they? As our hosts pointed out, there are a wide variety of visitors, and some do not know Washington’s whole truth. That can be difficult for interpreters to challenge, but Mount Vernon triumphs and I believe they do because as Jonathan said they focus on telling the story (truth) through dignity and grace. I think visitors who didn’t know Washington owned slaves would focus on those names and want to know more.
One thing I would challenge Mount Vernon on is the choice to have a T-shirt in the gift shop that reads: “Property of Mount Vernon” (and a date that I can’t remember). I’m aware that the saying “Property of” is a trend for clothing, but I thought the shirt was inappropriate for that setting, especially since they opened up the estate and museum to highlight the slave’s voice and experience. I could be overthinking the significance of the shirt, but I’m curious if anyone else in the museum picked up on what that might mean to visitors? The museum and estate are telling an important story, and it would be a shame if a t-shirt disrupts that story, even if in the smallest of ways.
Ann Caspari and Jenny (I hope I’m remembering that right) from the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) and Dan Davis and Ed from the National Museum of American Indian (NMAI) all gave interesting informative talks about engaging the visitor, especially younger audiences.
I have not been to involved with museum education so far in my museum path, so it was a little bit of a shock to see how much goes into planning storytime with 2-8 year olds. It really is all in the details: toys, crafts, subject matter, exhibition space, monitors off vs. on, and skipping sensitive material. Ann had great methods for keeping the children’s attention, and it was neat to see how she could take their attention from the pages of the book to the actual objects. The “active learning labels” were also great additions to the objects. I was especially interested to hear how the museum changed to include stories first as well as add a bit of human connection with personal stories. The app was probably my favorite thing about the museum. I really thought I would dislike it, but after playing with the features it really grew on me.
Dan David and Ed also had some really great ideas to reach young audiences. I found it interesting how they used YouTube to see what kinds of media kids were watching. The introduction video they made for Native Knowledge 360 was entertaining, intelligent, informative, with the right amount of humor. I can picture my 12-year-old niece watching that video, it really looks and sounds like the types of videos she picks out on her own.
Some other quick things that stuck out from today:
The NASM’s team approach to exhibition design.
NASM being inclusive to children, but not exclusive (the exhibitions do not look or feel like a pre-school playroom).
Finding “nuggets of information”
“Why should I care?”
Sometimes museums have to be aware that people may not only have no knowledge of the subject but the wrong knowledge, and that can be difficult.
Day 1: National Museum of African American History & Culture
Visiting the National Museum of African American History & Culture was such a powerful and transformative experience. It was striking how much thought went into planning the details of this museum. The bronze-colored crown, the elevator ride into the History Galleries, the change from darkness to light, the warnings on sensitive material, and the many multimedia platforms all had meaning and purpose, which gave me a deeper understanding of what it means to be African American.
I spent a majority of the time in the History Galleries and was really moved by many of the objects and the design of the exhibits. I had read about the complexity of the exhibit “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty” in the article Making A Way out of No Way by Lonnie G. Bunch III (founding director of the NMAAHC) but I had no idea just how much it would impact me. When I walked into the “The Revolutionary War” area I caught a glimpse of Jefferson’s statue to my right and I felt a familiar sense of honor and pride in having attended the University of Virginia. After viewing the war exhibit I moved into next room and was overwhelmed by the size of wall, the words, and of course the brick wall with all the names of the enslaved residents of Monticello. The moment was transformative because I immediately, and for the first time, felt something other than honor when standing next to Jefferson. It wasn’t a good feeling; it was uncomfortable (as Gretchen Jennings might say). As I mentioned before, I knew the facts, read the article, and been to Monticello more times than I care to admit; however, this was the first time I really felt a different perspective. This moment really shows how exhibit design and immersion can impact a viewer and re-write a familiar story. I can’t wait to go back and explore some of the other exhibitions.
Although there are many objects in the National Museum of African American History & Culture’s collection that are amazing the radio was the first object that took me somewhere else. I imagined Herman and Minnie sitting and listening to voices through static and casually glancing back and fourth between themselves and the world around them. Maybe they are listening to music, or following a drama series, or listening to news. Perhaps the radio was reserved for special occasions or only used during a certain time of day? I’m curious if the radio stations in Indiana were audience based and what role the radio played in daily life, especially for rural African American communities? Did it bring them joy or sadness as they listened? What were Herman and Minnie like? What role did they play in their community? How did they spend their days? There are an infinite number of questions revolving around this object.
This radio is a part of the Power of Place exhibition. On the NMAAHS website it states, “In the exhibition, visitors learn that place is about geography—but also about memory and imagination” (NMAAHS, n.d., Power of Place para. 2). The radio has definitely motivated my imagination and provoked memories.
The radio also drew me in because of my own personal experiences and history. I grew up in a rural community and in a house that was rarely quiet thanks to the radio. The radio sat front and center between two windows in the living room and if you didn’t hear it we probably weren’t home or someone was playing his or her own version of a bluegrass song on the front porch. It is hard to imagine my life without the radio, and I wonder if Herman and Minnie would say the same?
NMAAHC. (n.d.). Radio owned by Herman and Minnie Roundtree [digital image]. Retrieved March 11, 2017, from https://nmaahc.si.edu/object/nmaahc_2012.155.9?destination=explore/collection/search%3Fedan_fq%5B0%5D%3Dset_name%253A%2522Power%2520of%2520Place%2522%26edan_local%3D1
https://nmaahc.si.edu/power-place Power of Place Exhibition