Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010: analysis of 1

Last year was a bit immobile for us. All good reasons, nothing to do with the Museum: we were moving, there is the "day job", and I worked on a fun collaboration with Machine Project.

The exhibit we put together, called "Free Shrines" was a mix of a solicited challenge, some classic interpretive elements, and a little "visitor participation" thrown in for good measure. All in a roughly 8' D set up. Here's some thoughts on how it worked:

The Solicited Challenge
The challenge itself was fine and open-ended enough. Folks took to it in their unique and wonderful ways. A delightful mix of interpretations which I will show in following posts. What was different was that I didn't give a box or fixed format to people. While that worked fine for the "makers", it wasn't as effective for our "visitors". Seems that having a consistent framework when engaging an unusual thing like a pop-up museum makes it easier for them to grasp the overall experience:

april banks, san francisco mobile museum, maria mortati, sf mobile museum
Interpretive Elements
Since there wasn't a fixed format, I put in some backgrounds and images of shrines, etc. to flesh out the concept of the exhibit. It's hard to quantify their impact. I think on the panel for April Bank's piece it was very useful. Her's was a collage of photos of roadside shrines she'd taken on a ride across the US this summer:

san francisco mobile museum, maria mortati, sf mobile museum
Visitor Participation

This was by far the most successful element of the exhibit (and of past ones where we've had on-the-spot participation). I had modeled a Shinto "Ema" Shrine, where the public was invited as they are in Japan to write a wish and tie it up onto the shrine. Nearly everyone that approached the exhibit participated in it. What was funny was that most were fairly sincere. In the Looking for Loci map element, we got about 30% more wisecracks than in this instance...

san francisco mobile museum, maria mortati, sf mobile museum
san francisco mobile museum, maria mortati, sf mobile museum
san francisco mobile museum, maria mortati, sf mobile museumWith some adjustments Free Shrines may be out on the road again before launching a new exhibit. Look for us as the weather clears up.

Happy New Year!

Top Image: CC/Flickr/Ed Youdon. All others, San Francisco Mobile Museum.


  1. Thanks for sharing! What do you think changed the number of wisecracks? Design, prompt question, surrounding content?

    I think you are right on with the "consistent framing" for visitors thing. I think it's partly because there's visual power in the set that can add to the experience of each single object. I saw that with the MIA's Foot in Door exhibition (

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  3. Hey thanks. Yes, design was a big number one. The way I see it, good design is basically being courteous. If you're going to honor the artists who participate, then you've likewise got to extend the same courtesy to other participants, or it feels unequal.