Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Science in Museums: Metaphorically Transporting Exhibits

by columnist Cira Brown
I am currently enrolled in the Exhibition Planning class at Tufts, and I love it! I feel so lucky to be given the opportunity to curate our own exhibition as a class, which I’ve been told is quite rare for museum studies graduate programs. Together, we cover everything from object management, collections care, exhibition design, layout, marketing and budgeting. I’ve decided to be part of the exhibition design group, though we all gain experience in the various areas of planning an exhibition. Kacie Rice and Catherine Sigmond, the other contributors to the Science in Museums column, are in the class as well.
I’ve spoken previously about the recurring theme of balance that I find in exhibit development, and I’m finding that the same applies for exhibition design as well. The design itself needs to transform the space, but it also must not overshadow the content. This inherent tension makes for interesting conversations and decisions. Do we use our collection as inspiration for design motifs, or is that too literal and distracting? Should we use a colorĀ paletteĀ based on the artist’s works or create our own? Does our design aesthetic need to correspond to contemporary styles? Based on survey responses from the class, we’ve decided we want our visitors to feel “transported” and the design should evoke a sense of nostalgia – but what exactly does that mean? Nostalgia is subjective and implies different responses for various demographics. Similarly, the notion of “transporting” a visitor is unclear. Transported to where? A literal place or a figurative feeling? I find this inherent tension to be fascinating, and, as exhibit designers, our task is to translate these abstract feelings into tangible elements in the styling of a gallery space.
I’ve been thinking about my experience in this class and how it applies to a science exhibition context. Science visualization and high-resolution/micro/macro imaging provides such great opportunities for creating spaces, and I love seeing science museums use these elements to the extreme. In a way, science museums are have more freedom in the creation of immersive environments,because the exhibition may not entirely be based on artifacts, but instead on exhibits and experiences. I’ve been thinking a lot about the limits of design in these spaces, whether they suffer from being “over” or “under” designed, and how one would even make these qualifications. I’m also unclear if visitors respond better to highly stylized theatrical environments or more traditional gallery spaces, or whether its dependent on the activity or content in the area.
Anyway, I suppose I’ll use this space to plug our exhibition! Our opening reception will be on Monday, May 6th at 5:30pm, and our show runs from May 7th through May 19th. You can decide for yourself if we were successful in “transporting” you!

1 Comment

  1. Our collection consists mainly of photographs and school newspapers that are displayed in a manner to be user friendly. People come in looking for pictures of themselves or relatives. Kids pick up the newspapers and read which is just what I want them to do. Learn from the past….

    You would have a ball or go crazy with what we have here. Come on down…..

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