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The Big Idea for Museums and Exhibits
Posted By:  Ashley Rahe
Monday, January 12, 2015

On the blog, Exhibitricks, author and museum exhibit designer, Paul Orselli, explores a concept at the core of any great museum or exhibit, the big idea or the central theme in his post, “What’s the Big Idea?”

In it, he examines, and ultimately agrees with, the points addressed by Peggy McGlone in her Washington Post article about The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian exhibit, “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations.” She suggests that the reason the exhibit missed its mark was because it lost sight of the big idea by involving too many curators and too many perspectives.

Orselli states: “To be clear, strong curators can drive forward lousy exhibitions just as readily as a chaotic mish-mash of community input can, but it's difficult (and I'd say nearly impossible) to create a great exhibition without a strong central idea overall and equally strong messages as you break up the exhibition into smaller and smaller physical and conceptual chunks --- down to the individual exhibit component and informational graphic level.”

We all strive for greatness in our work, although it can be terribly easy to lose sight of how to achieve it.

Keeping hold of the central idea for an exhibit can be tough, particularly when there are a lot of opinions and perspectives to consider. It’s always good to involve others in planning, but it can be very helpful to have a single person safeguard the central idea of a show, checking in periodically to ensure the exhibit hasn’t drifted too far from it in the process of coming to life.

Advice from Orselli includes:

1.    When your central idea is established, find out how visitors feel about before moving forward with planning. Stay true to the mission or message of your organization, rather than creating exhibits to please funders or other influential parts of your community. Keep coming back to visitor response until you’ve nailed it.

2.    Ally your team with great advisors who can help direct the project towards greatness.

3.    Don’t let funding stand in your way of putting together the best exhibit possible. Ideas can be communicated powerfully without endless funds, as long as they’re strong.

When you have the central idea for your exhibit worked out, we’re always happy to help with professional printing and design services. Give us a call to discuss your project and we’ll help you discover the best ways to communicate your big ideas.


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