Friday, April 4, 2008

A Night at the Museum

Last Thursday night was a rare time--a chance to enjoy an exhibit opening with a great team. The new Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation opened at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA. The exhibit looks at both the process of innovation and the many Berkshire innovators--from Herman Melville to Claire Bosquet, who developed night skiing. This was an unusual project for me, in that I had the great luxury of being a team member whose primary responsibility was commenting and thinking. After the dinner with donors, the team of us assembled back down in the exhibit hall--and it made me think of the start of my museum career, when it seemed like the coolest thing was to be able to be in the museum after hours, with all the cool stuff. Sure enough, what did all of us do? Just enjoy the exhibit--we looked at panels, played with the interactives, and generally, took pleasure in the project.

Christopher Clarke, the primary team facilitator and I talked about what made this team a pleasure. Part of it was the inexplicable chemistry of the right group of people, but there were several other important factors as well. First, that the project had the time to bring people together on a regular basis. So in that little bright green classroom at the museum, the group of us meet regularly to talk, brainstorm, think and rethink. We went down some wrong pathways, but had the time to go back and rethink. Second, Stuart Chase, the Berkshire Museum's director, gave the team lots of freedom to explore ideas. Third, everyone in the group was open to other opinions. Fourth, the team combined staff and outsiders--but neither group was privileged over the other. Importantly, the staff, from Stuart on down, were very committed to the project, so when team meetings were held, it wasn't the kind of meeting where the director is constantly checking their cell phone. And fifth--we had fun in the process. I'll take these team lessons forward as I assemble and work on other teams. What makes a good team process from your perspective?

Above, exhibit designer Katherine McCusker and researcher Maureen Hennessey enjoy the dance interactive.
Below, images from the opening weekend. All images below copyright Geraldine Sweeney, 2008. All Rights reserved.

Changeable! That was our mantra and these innovator panels can "live" in different sections of the exhibit. So on one visit, you can learn about Herman Melville in the context of success, in another, in the context of obstacles.

A very cool interactive that somehow turns your movements into shapes--connected to the idea that for many innovators, like dancer Ted Shawn, founder of Jacob's Pillow, innovation is, in part, composed of trying--and trying again and again until you get it right, whatever that right might be defined to be.

Obstacles--puzzles and mazes, at several different ability levels, give visitors the chance to keep at problem solving. A beautiful use of an off-the-shelf product--the puzzles--to make an important point.

Problem solving--at this station visitors use different materials to design a solution to a common housework problem--from doing homework to cleaning your room. It demonstrates here, as it did in our prototyping, that a little direction and alot of materials make for an engaging experience for almost everyone.

This is what one visitor told me she'd never seen at another museum. Designed in the middle of space, and meant primarily as a school group meeting place, this comfortable space appears to have rapidly become a place for visitors to work alone or together. Maybe this is the exhibit's town square.

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