Museum wants you to design new exhibit
The Museum of Natural and Cultural History is literally wall-papered right now with sticky notes from visitors suggesting how to be better.
And Ann Craig, associate director of public programs, couldn’t be happier.
“This is like a dream come true,” Craig said, as she watched visitors discuss the museum’s pros and cons with an evaluator.
The museum wants feedback from UO faculty, staff and students on what will be a new, ongoing exhibit hall devoted to geology and other natural history of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. It’s part of a first-ever effort by the museum to use feedback from the university community and the general public to inform the final design and content of an exhibit.
The traditional model for museums has been that curators choose the exhibits and decide what information to include and how to present it.
“That’s becoming an antiquated model,” Craig said. “We want to be a service for our faculty and students. This is their museum – I want them to come in and give their feedback.”
One hall in the museum is devoted to an ongoing exhibit of cultural history of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest called, “Oregon – Where Past is Present.”
The museum will open a second ongoing exhibit hall of natural history, called “Explore Oregon,” in June 2013. The hall will feature activity and display stations that cover geological processes, the science of paleontology, evolution and climate change.
But what those stations will include and how information will be presented is subject to change, based on feedback that the museum is collecting with sticky notes, feedback forms and focus groups.
Craig wants feedback on mechanical and technical aspects, including how well stations work and whether screens are large enough to be viewed. The museum also wants to cut out jargon and boring or complicated language that “makes visitors’ eyes glaze over,” Craig said.
“The question to ask is ‘what do you want visitors to do?’” Craig said. “It’s not enough just to read about an exhibit. We want visitors to discover something – that’s how you learn.”
As an example, she noted that Ray Weldon, a professor in geological sciences, dreamed up an idea for a giant table that would illustrate a “subduction zone,” with a crank handle that shows how the sea floor shifts and earthquakes begin.
At one activity station that is currently being evaluated, visitors can handle fossil casts while wearing headphones and watching a video of UO paleontologist Edward Davis discussing the items before them. One visitor left a comment with a sticky note – “I’d like to be able to see how long the video clip is before I choose one.”
“So helpful!” Craig said. “It’s not something that we would have thought of.”
Faculty, staff and students are invited to drop in between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday to provide feedback. They can also join focus groups that continue through December.
The new exhibit hall is part of the museum’s landmark expansion project, which ultimately will bring all research staff into a unified complex.
Museum visitors John and Margie Gustafson, in town recently from Washington, D.C., were pleased with the museum’s effort to collect feedback.
“It’s a great privilege and it’s the Oregon way,” Margie said. “Oregonians invite citizen involvement in all kinds of things that affect them.”
-- story and photo by communications specialist Matt Cooper, UO media relations