Posts Tagged ‘museums’

Laying Out An Exhibit

The Exhibit | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 04 2010

Originally posted February 3, 2010

I’ve done various exhibits at various institutions (though mainly two) for several years.  I used to think what people wanted was to put a bunch of old and ancient items on display so you can see them.  Certainly, in some of the largest museums in the country and the world  (the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, The British Museum in London, the Pergamon Museum in Berlin the Louvre in Paris) do exactly that, and don’t suffer from lack of visitors.  But they hold works that are iconic and unique, and in some cases, massive.  (The Met has an entire Egyptian Temple Complex that was transported piece by piece and reassembled inside their walls–I and my museum are going to have a problem competing with that wow factor).  People come from miles around on purpose to see the Monets, the Istar Gate, the bust of Nefertiti, Egyptian collections…no explanation needed.  They speak for themselves.

But what do you do when you have a story to tell and you need to do an exhibit around that? Or if the artifacts you hold are fascinating, but hardly unusual?  (If you’ve seen one submarine 4-inch .50-caliber bullet and jacket, you’ve seen them all, trust me.  Don’t get me started on some of the other things I’ve seen in our holdings)

What captures people’s interest is the stories that these objects help tell.  Sometimes, the object, like the Mona Lisa or the Tower of London, or the Declaration of Independence intrinsically tell their stories, but others need help with the interpretation, especially since culturally and technologically we’re much further away from our countrymen of 70 years ago, than they were from the Civil War veterans 70 years prior to them.

So, I usually start with artifacts with the eye to a story.  What do they say to me, and how can I make that interesting and exciting to someone else?  Sometimes (like the time I did an exhibit on the history of the presentation of the written word) it can be difficult.  Other times, like the USS Flier, the story tells itself, I just need to figure out what to put with it to bring it to life.

Then of course, there’s the floor plan, the layout, making sure the exhibit doesn’t block the fire exits, and accommodates the Americans with Disabilities Act, all of which just make it more intriguing, not frustrating.  (Well at least for me, and at least, most of the time)

Then of course, there are things like yesterday’s announcement of the discovery of Flier.  Now I have to go back to the drawing board and completely overhaul the exhibit exit to reflect the most recent information.

And the budget.  Can never forget the almighty budget.

I’ll show you what I mean soon.


The Exhibit | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 04 2010

Originally posted on Jan 30, 2010

Ever wonder what goes into building a museum exhibit, or writing a book?  Here’s your chance to find out, and all at mach 9!

The USS Flier was a United States Submarine that struck a mine and sank in thirty seconds in 1944.  Fifteen of her crew who had been on deck or just one deck down managed to survive, and started swimming for land.  By morning, only eight were left.  They had to forage for food, build rafts to explore other islands, were taken by guerillas and smuggled to American spy bases deep in Japanese-held territory.

They drank arsenic-laced water, traveled in boats laden with newlyweds and all their worldly goods, (including baskets of live chickens and bags of rice), hunted wild boars in the rain forest, found survivors of the Battles of Bataan and Corrigedor, and became the only submariners during WWII to escape their sinking sub, elude capture, and make it back home.  The people they met and systems that helped them get out of danger were so top-secret that they were sworn to secrecy for decades.

Alvin E. Jacobson was 22, a member of the ROTC and left behind his education at University of Michigan to fight for his country.  By August 14, 1944, he was the youngest of the officers to survive.  By 2005, he was the last surviving member of the Flier’s crew, the only one who remembered the long-classified story.

He served his country during WWII, and after, operating a business that employed many, sitting on boards of museums and hospitals, and trying to make his community a better place.  One of those museums was the Great Lakes Memorial and Museum (GLNMM), where I work.  We take care of Flier’s sister, USS  Silversides, the most successful surviving submarine of WWII.

This year, we are opening a new exhibit about the USS Flier, her lost crew, and the eight survivors.  Though Al passed away in 2008, he sat down with me on video and audio tapes for many interviews for over two years, recalling this story.  I and many at the museum miss him greatly, but are looking forward to building this exhibit, which was his greatest dream: to tell the story of the Flier so his lost crewmates would be remembered.

So how does one fill nearly 3,000 square feet of space with an exhibit that is (hopefully) interesting and interactive while being accurate?  How does one publish a novel based on his tale at the same time?  Come with me and we’ll find out.  I have published only very small pieces before and I designed the Main Exhibit Hall in the same museum, so I’m not a complete novice….

But if this goes the way the last one did, it’s going to be one wild, amazing ride.