The mood was festive last week as the SFCM team including a bevy of volunteers, interns, and hard workers helped with our quarterly exhibit change out. Fueled by pies from Upper Crust Pizza (Thank you Upper Crust!), it was a two-day affair including at least one very late night for Exhibit and Facilities Manager, Jesse Bartlett. There was a sense of excitement as long-time staff were reunited & newer staff were introduced to seven beloved exhibits that haven’t been on the floor for awhile… while three other exhibits that entertained us all through the summer were wheeled into the wings for some much needed TLC.
This fall’s exhibit change-out was the culmination of weekly conversations that began over three months ago. Back in July, at the height of SFCM’s busy summer season Jesse Bartlett, SFCM Exhibit and Facilities Manager and India Nixon, Director of Operations and Programming, initially sat down to discuss what an end of summer/fall exhibit change out would look like. “We definitely start with exhibits WE want to bring back,” Bartlett says, “exhibits that haven’t been out in a long time, really fun ones we want to see.”
“This time,” said Bartlett “we wanted to make the floor feel…more full.” Quickly, a thematic narrative begins to take shape. Heading into the colder winter months, Nixon and Bartlett were curious about how to retain some of the energy from the summer, in particular, the outdoor Earthworks space by finding ways to incorporate the gardens’ vibrancy & whimsy, INSIDE. Color, expansiveness, and warmth were guiding principles to creating a more ‘immersive experience’ through curation and placement. “We also wanted to create more opportunities for imaginative play,” Nixon explained, and to that end two large murals are also currently in production: a toadstool-studded enchanted forest and a magical underwater scene near the water exhibit.
Although the change-out process is at heart an organic one with a guiding thematic determinate leading the way – choices are tempered by a litany of more practical variables. So much so, that exhibit placement is akin to a game of Sudoku with each exhibit examined in careful consideration to those it is surrounded by, but also the time of year, budget (SFCM went through $500 is face paints this past summer!), storage limitations, etc.
Because exhibits like the newly installed oversized Paper Harmonograph (a harmonograph is a mechanical apparatus that employs pendulums to create a geometric image – thank you Wikipedia), back on the floor after a two-year hiatus, and the Sand Harmonograph are both suspended from the ceiling, they can only be situated in particular locations specific to themselves. This in turn informs the exhibits that surround them. “We try to space out exhibits that fall under similar categories, like we don’t want all the ‘building’ exhibits’ next to each other,” Bartlett explained. “We want visitors to experience a variety of ways to play regardless of which direction they choose meander,” Nixon added.
Planning has already begun for the winter exhibit change-out which is slated to happen some time in January 2016 and is expected to be the biggest change out in nearly six years, with two new exhibits coming online, one featuring a large-scale interactive LEGO play area. There will also be a mini, indoor greenhouse. ‘Immersion’ continues to be a guiding principle, as well as creating more intimate, interactive spaces. “Since we have such a unique, open space I like the idea of creating exhibits you can ‘walk into’ rather than ‘walk up to’” Bartlett said. “Just wait until January gets here,” teases Nixon, “we’ve got big plans.”
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