Valeria Maltoni: What organizations need to communicate information through display?
Alice Dommert: All sorts of organizations from traditional museum, botanic gardens, historic houses and sites, archives and libraries, hospitals and schools, stores and businesses -– the possibilities for display usually imply the showing of something three-dimensional. Ad usually something of significant value…. But who is placing the value? What may be important to a museum curator may hold no meaning for the more typical person.
Take the Rocky Balboa statue and its recent debate about it location at the art museum in Philadelphia. It sure wasn’t considered art by the Art Museum’s curatorial staff. But it sure is important to the people that I see waiting in line to take a picture Rocky’s feet. It’s all in the meaning that individuals bring to a place or object. If you’re really into this meaning-making topic much has been written –- just Google meaning-making and museums or cybernetics.
Display takes the task of information delivery from a mode of what could easily be achieved in a print (two dimensions) and adds the third dimension, usually through the addition of objects. As humans we just love stuff so displaying objects, even when the objects are not what might be considered “museum quality” increases the interest level for the viewer. But display in our field is still considered just the act of “showing” something.
The real interest is when a good exhibit developer (the person who decides what the story will be) in collaboration with a good exhibit designer, creates a story and design that begins to offer a context for the object which allows more opportunities for the viewers to connect.
For example let’s say you had a pair of pants from the Civil War that one wanted to display. Well sort of boring but if you knew:
- who wore the pants;
- if they had lived or died in the war;
- about the women who sewed the pants;
- what the pants symbolized –- wearing pants as a man –- but who wore the pants when the men left home to fight in the war;
- that the pants were from a specific Pennsylvania troop that fought at the Battle of Gettysburg;
- that many men sewed at that time because when their clothes ripped in battle they had to fix them;
- that they were made of a particular kind of fabric that was the only thing available at that time in the South because they could get no other fabric at that time.
All of these stories could be used, and many interpretive exhibits try and tell too many stories… so the real task is selecting who you anticipate might be coming to that place to see those pants… families, civil war reenactors, adults.
The anticipated audience should dictate the context offered so that they can make their own connection, pick up on one of the stories of interest to them in light of their own life’s experiences.
Valeria Maltoni: What's most important to consider when creating an exhibit?
Alice Dommert: The anticipated audiences, the stories to be told, and inspiring, beautiful and ingenious design solutions.
Valeria Maltoni: Who works on one of your projects and how long does a project take from inception to completion?
Alice Dommert: We build teams for each project to reflect that project’s needs. The projects usually include an interpretive planner, exhibit developer, exhibit designer, evaluator (they test the content and design ideas with real audiences) subject-matter specialists, interpretive writer, illustrator, architect, landscape architects, multi-media consultants, conservators, all sorts of engineers, lighting designers, graphic designers, environmental graphic designers, interactive designers, exhibit fabricators… They can take from 6 months to many years.
Valeria Maltoni: What are the kinds of objections you face from organizations?
Alice Dommert: On occasion, institutions who have never executed high quality, durable, relevant, well-researched, inspiring and well designed exhibits balk at the cost of what it takes to design and fabricate an exhibit.
Fabrication costs can run an average of $500 per square foot. And professional fees can sometimes cost 2-3 times the cost of fabrication. It’s a real shock for folks who have not done this type of project before.
Valeria Maltoni: Your work includes the integration of design thinking and elements of the arts. How do you reconcile the artistic and the business aspects?
Alice Dommert: The amazing thing about good solutions, I mean really inspired, well thought out, beautifully detailed, strategically creative solutions (that seamlessly communicate content through every aspect of the design) is that when these solutions emerge the entire team can feel it in their bones.
Notice I said solutions –- not designs –- we solve problems and find solution –- we do not just produce designs –- we’re not artist who make a produce void of any parameters.
Our clients have complex goals and problems; we make sense of those issues and offer solutions. We take great care in building a unique team for each project, and the spirit of these teams position all of us as the explorers.
Together we just keep turning over the rocks until the perfect solution that meets all of the business and artistic criteria emerges. And with experience we’ve gotten really good at assembling those teams and knowing which rocks to turn over…and we’re still having fun.
Thank you, Alice.
What kind of narrative would *you* exhibit?