Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What's Your Institutional Voice?

August has been a slow month,  deep in book edits,  travel prep and other projects.  But I'm in Los Angeles for a couple days and visited the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles yesterday.  I was struck by the strong, but varied, institutional voice in play in their new exhibitions and other areas.  The old institutional voice is what you might have expected.  Here's a look at the introductory panel to an exhibit about California history (from the '80s from the look of it--and partially closed and perhaps headed towards extinction). Omniscient,  one might say even a little boring.  You get a sense that this institution might be really good and numbering and filing things.
But here are some images--with some new kinds of voices from their new exhibitions.  At the top of the post,  a sign post in the outdoor interpretive space.  Inviting, informal,  inspiring curiousity (and sometimes, just below) a sense of humor.
The new institutional voice makes clear that there are curious, passionate people who work at the museum.  The Nature Lab features cartoon sort of mind-maps of a number of scientists,  telling their own stories of growing up and loving nature in LA.
I mean who doesn't love a guy who loves to look at birds, every day, dead or alive?  But it's not just the natural science people.  In the new dinosaur exhibit,  the palentologists share their work--but not just in dry scientific terms.
And those voices help us with questions.  Some are questions we might already have,  but some might be ones we'd never thought of.  Food on teeth?  who knew?
But vitally, the museum's institutional voice isn't just all all about them.  In so many places it makes it clear that we all can participate in the work of observing nature, of analyzing, of finding out new things.   Here's a big label about a budding scientist:
Here's what you can do to help learn more about LA's wildlife, organized by what you want to do.
And,  in the Mammal exhibit,  an ask for you to think big.  You, that's you.
When was the last time you thought about what your institutional voice was?  Not just what you said,  but what the tone and approach are.  There are still so many museums holding on to a single voice, at a time when we've all become used to a wide variety of choices for our information.  By creating a sensibility,  but opening it up to--and encouraging--all kinds of different voices in ways that go beyond Post-It response boards,  this museum inspired me.  Where have you heard a great museum voice(s)?

1 comment:

Museum Soeharto Kemusuk said...

If you are interested about the history of Indonesia, one can visit the museum in the former Indonesian second President.