Today we went to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and toured the Ocean Hall and the Human Origins exhibits. Upon taking a closer look at the Oceanic Hall there was a personal connection that the Natural History Museum was trying to portray to the visitors. The exhibits would start of giving the audience information about ecosystems, then would identify the problems the ecosystems were suffering with, then offer a solution that the visitor could do to help the situation. The way the Natural History Museum delivered the information made it less about the accusatory stand point and more about making a difference. In the exhibits there were many statements that said, “You can make a difference,” or “We ALL can be ocean stewards.” These quotes address the visitor on their own level and say we don’t have to wait for someone to come along and save the earth we can do it step by step on our own and still make a difference in the ocean ecosystem. This idea of not waiting for politicians and others to do important work was also brought up in our Micheal Walsh lecture when he mentioned that there shouldn’t be a stigma that we have to wait behind politicians to get things done sometimes we have to lead the way and in a sense force their hand to ensure cultural heritage is preserved.
Another important element that I took notice of at the Natural History Museum was accessibility to hearing impaired individuals. I found many of the interactives and videos had subtitles or as shown in the bottom picture separate devices that translated what was being said on screen. This particular video caught my attention because this is updated every few minutes to display new information about climate change and the oceans environment, yet they are still able to keep the translation for the video constant. Although they have this feature and more subtitles in the museum, I feel as though the museum could expand their reach to the visually impaired and autistic audiences.
This question was the highlight of today’s journey. What does accessibility really mean and why do we need it? The talk we had today at the National Museum of American History opened my eyes to the possibilities of programs and everyday exhibit changes that I would have never thought of before. The idea that the museums need to make the inclusiveness about more than just a policy but a way of thinking. There should always be an allotted budget for the programs or accommodations in ALL exhibitions. This could be as simple as having funding for the sign language interpreters, audio tours, braille labels or interactives for the mentally impaired. There are so many options and easy ways to help ensure all visitors are able to take away something from the museum.
I really enjoyed listening to the journey SparkLabs had in creating an accessible space for all visitors, especially ones with mental handicaps. The worksheets and resources that they created for the “Morning at the Museum” event was innovative and new to me. By having these resources and knowing what to expect before ever stepping into the museum gives the parents as well as the children a firm foundation in which to base their visit on. The resource that stood out to me the most was the worksheet for both the children and parents where it told them that there might be loud noises or bright colors. The one warning that stood out to me the most was when the children were warned that when moving stations things might have to be left behind for others to use. I thought this was especially important to put in the handout because it established boundaries and expectations right away so the child can be prepared to have to leave the object or objects behind when leaving the table.
Upon leaving the NMAH I felt like I was critiquing the National Gallery of Art on their accessibility readiness and trying to come up with more ways in which different visitors could enjoy the space. As we heard in the talk at the NGA, there are many improvements that they are trying to make in their exhibits and building space. They recognize that their accessibility still has a long way to go to become inclusive to all. The labels are only in English with minimal text to explain the object, the light and visual stimulus can be overwhelming in certain sections of the museum, but the Museum is aware of those issues and are slowly going through the steps to right the situation (albeit rather slowly).
This week we have been learning about Storytelling in the formal museum setting but today we had the opportunity to see storytelling in a whole new light. When it comes to Zoos and Historical Homes it can be a little more difficult to dictate the stories without a docent or volunteer explaining things to the visitor. Both the Smithsonian and the Hillwood Estates did an amazing job fusing the storytelling together with the animals/object they had.
For example, we spent a lot of time with Mei Xiang the female Panda. The keeper came out and described mating season, eating habits, enrichment activities, care and many more things with us to help us connect more with Mei. Although it is amazing to see the animals and watch them go about their business, when someone starts telling stories about the specific animal you are looking at or you hear or read something other than the standard “what is this animal” labeling, you develop a more personal connection to that animal. Once that personal connection is established it is easier for the institution to offer more information to about the animal, be it through talks, shows, interactives, wall labels, etc. In addition to how they tell stories, what they tell is different from what you would find in a traditional museum. A concept that stood out to me was that Zoos are less about preserving objects and more about the work to help the animals from becoming endangered.
Historic homes are another subsection of museums that have a different view on how to tell a story. For example, at the Hillwood Estates labels and context is not exactly in the forefront of the exhibits. Instead of the traditional “Tombstone” labels to give context, meanings and stories, the information could be given in audio tour form, paper tour or by the docents on each floor. Although labels would have been extremely helpful they would have taken away from the feel that the historic homes are trying to portray. It is more about putting you in the moment and letting you see the home as it was intended. Personally, I am not a big audio tour person, so the lack of on wall or labels put me off a bit. Although you could get some context from the paper tour, the house felt very overwhelming and hard to focus in on any points they were trying to portray. I understand the reasoning behind the lack of labels and the audio tour as a primary resource it is a bit of a shame for those of use who don’t care for that type of tour.
What does it mean to be American? I think this is a interesting and complex question that was in the forefront of my mind on our expeditions today. It became a even more difficult question to answer while walking the halls of the National Museum of American Indians. Before coming to the American Indian Museum I had never realized the extent on to which the Indians are incorporated into our very essence as a country. It wasn’t until the presentation by Dan and Ed where they showed us a glimpse into the upcoming exhibit, “Americans” that I started to realize how much POP culture and symbolism where based around the Native Americans.
In addition to showing the effects Native Americans had on the development of what we see as America today, I believe the American Indian Museum did a fantastic job in their own storytelling! They had interactives, programs and stalls around the museum where people could learn about more specific objects like drums and rattles the Indians used for music. It clearly was able to show another side of the Indian story that was never seen before. It is a more personal and upfront view of the culture.
A specific item that caught my attention was “The Long Dog Winter Count”. It was a fantastic piece that taught visitors how important it was to the Native Americans to record the significant changes in their lives. This form of storytelling is done by pictographs or drawings of the events, such as battles, deaths of leaders, etc. If given the chance a person could spend all day looking and deciphering the events that happened to the Laoka Tribe over the span of many years. The specific winter count that I saw covered about 71 years starting around 1800s. As the identifier stated it was a way, “to share the community’s history and wisdom with the younger generation.”