Friday, October 24, 2008

On the road in Montreal

I’m back home now from my trip to Montreal. There was so much to see and do there that it was hard to decide. I did lots of sight-seeing. Highlights were the hike I took through Parc du Mont Royal. The foliage is absolutely beautiful this time of year and the fall leaves, all gold and orange and red, were falling from the trees like snow. There’s a long staircase that goes up to the top of the hill and overlooks the entire city. The view was breathtaking.

I was staying in an excellent location right in Downtown Montreal which had a ton of great museums and restaurants as well as fantastic architecture to look at. Another area that I really loved was Vieux-Montreal (Old Montreal) which had the Notre Dame Basilica, Clock tower, Hotel de Ville and lots of other Neo-Classical buildings to admire.

Botanical Gardens

Over the weekend I went to the Botanical Garden, the Insectarium and the Biodome. You can buy a combo ticket for all three of these places which is what I did. The woman at the ticket booth told me that I could see all of these places in one day but this turned out to be absolutely insane!!! The Botanical Garden is enormous and involves a ton of walking plus it’s the type of place that you don’t want to rush through. You could literally spend the entire day here and still not see the whole thing. It is recognized as one of the world’s finest and largest botanical gardens and I know I mentioned my previous blog that I am not much of a “plant person” but I was definitely blown away. (The one plant that I own has been sitting in a bucket of water in my apartment while I’ve been traveling and it has actually never looked better. I feel a little insulted that it has been thriving in my absence. )

The gardens and arboretum were impressively beautiful and there were also 10 greenhouses as well as various art exhibitions in some of their thematic gardens, and the Tree House which has a permanent interactive exhibit and activities for kids. If you want to see it all while avoiding the painful sensation that your legs are going to fall off, I’d recommend hopping on and off the mini-train which drives around the park. This is an especially good idea if you have kids.

I also thought that it was nice that they had a “Courtyard of the Senses.” This is a little area where everything is at wheelchair/child height and you are encouraged to touch and smell the plants and flowers. The labels are also in Braille and the path is wheelchair accessible.

My favorite garden in the park was the Chinese Garden. Most of the park closed at 5 o’clock but they kept Chinese Garden open until 9. When the sun went down, all of the lanterns lit up and it was really pretty.

The park has a free shuttle bus which will take you over to the Olympic Stadium and the Biodome which was my next stop. I guess the Biodome could be described as an indoor zoo. It has these faux-natural depictions of four ecosystems. It’s a good rainy day activity but if you’re looking to occupy your kids for an entire day then this is not the place to go. You can see the whole thing in one hour and don’t expect to see any large animals. The biggest animal I saw was a sea otter. The Madagascar exhibit was pretty disappointing too. It was basically a small room with about 3 or 4 lemurs sitting in a tree. I am a little biased though, since I was just working on the Madagascar exhibit at the Bronx Zoo back in June and it is a million times better than the Biodome’s exhibit (I’ve been meaning to write a new blog about the opening of this exhibit so check back in the near future to read all about it!).

One of the things I did like about the Biodome was the graphics in the Marine Ecosystem. They had both overhead and floor graphics and the floor tiles had a rock and water design. Placement of graphics in Aquarium settings is always tricky because everyone tends to lean on the handrail, which is the typical placement for animal ID’s, and then no one can read them. The Biodome had ID’s overhead and on the floor which was pretty clever since most people were looking down to see the fish.

After zipping through the Biodome I hopped back on the shuttle to the Insectarium. My expectations were that it was either going to be A) Creepy. or B)Gross. But to my surprise it was C) None of the Above. The museum was actually quite phenomenal. It had live insect displays as well as 160,000 fantastic mounted specimens throughout the entire space.     
From my observation, the kids absolutely loved it and so did I. The museum was extremely kid-friendly (because kids love bugs) and there were lots of low to the ground insect/kid height displays (see image on the left) which I never would have noticed if one little girl didn’t slam into my knees and start clapping and jumping up and down when she saw it. I thought these ground displays were very clever and a nice touch.

This butterfly display in the image here shows the butterfly migration from Canada through the United States to Mexico. I found this particularly interesting because I followed a similar migration pattern although not in the same order. I’d have to say the way the butterflies do it is much better.

Which brings me to my travel tips for this week….

1) I do not recommend traveling straight from a country that is typical 90 degrees every day to a country that is typically 40 degrees every day. This is very painful.
2) Tell immigration that you are a tourist even if you are traveling for business. This will save you a lot of time and frustration and will prevent you from being detained for not having a work permit while you watch from a glass room everyone else who is allowed to enter the country.
3) Become bilingual OR at least learn how to say “I am not a spy who is trying to steal company secrets” in both Spanish and French.
4) Once again…Don’t fly on Delta. If you have no other choice then arrive at the airport an hour earlier than the recommended 1 hour before your flight’s departure or else you will be running to board your flight while they are announcing your name throughout the entire airport. Their check-in process and security is always a disorganized mess no matter what airport.
So that’s it for now for my “On the Road” adventures. It’s been 8 weeks, about 15 cities, 16 flights and 10 hotels. I’m happy to say I made it home in one piece which is pretty impressive since the airline literally made me sign a waiver to release the remains of my suitcase and my shoes completely disintegrated while still on my feet. It’s been a lot of fun and an amazing experience but now I am looking forward to getting reacquainted with my couch!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On the Road in Mexico!

After 8 days in Ohio, I made a pit-stop in New York for less than 48 hours before heading off to Mexico. This gave me just enough time to pay my rent (for the apartment I never see) and other bills (for utilities I don't use) and change the water in the bucket that my plant is sitting in. I came home with one less shoe and a brand new suitcase. After 9 flights in 3 weeks, my old suitcase couldn't go on any longer and is resting in peace in the dumpster behind the Columbus Best Western.

So I packed my new suitcase and was off to Mexico. The first stop was Mexico City. The climate was a moderate and comfortable low-70's. Everyone there seemed to think it was cold because they were all bundled up in winter coats and scarves unless they were protesting something, in which case they were standing in the street naked. The city was crowded with people and traffic (about 10 times more than NYC) but really colorful with beautiful views of mountains and volcanoes. I especially liked that all of the streets were lined with benches that were each a unique sculpture. I was only in Mexico City for a few days before flying off to Veracruz so I didn't get to see any museums but I did take a tour of the Pyramids. The tour stops at several churches and archaeological sites on the way but the most interesting stop was the Maguey shop. We got to watch how the artisans make things out of obsidian which comes from the volcanic lava and how the silversmith turns the silver into jewelry but the most intriguing demonstration was where they showed us all the ways they use the agave plant. First, they peeled the skin of one of the leaves to create paper. You can write on it with a pen and the ink won't smudge. Then if you rub the leaf it will create a film that is used for antiseptic. Break off the tip of the leaf and the sharp point is used for a needle. Attached to it are long strands that are used as thread. Lastly, inside the plant itself, they stir the pulp to create the liquid that is fermented to make tequila. This part of the demonstration involved getting us drunk off of pure agave juice, mescal, and tequila. This was great but probably would have been better after the climb to the top of two pyramids!

After that, we went to the Pyramids of the Teotihuacan. I climbed to the top of both the Pyramid of the Sun and the Moon. The climb up was pretty treacherous and steep. It's helpful to have really long legs (which I don't) because the stairs are very high but once you get to the top the view is worth the effort. There were butterflies flying all around me. I felt like they followed me on my journey across the U.S. and we all migrated together from North America to get to this place! They only added to the surreal feeling of being someplace so ancient that so many others throughout history have climbed before me. If you've never climbed to the top of a pyramid then I highly recommend putting it on your to-do list because it was an absolutely amazing experience.

The next day I flew to Veracruz. I don't have much to report about this trip because I was advised by my local site contact to stay close to my hotel due to the unsafe conditions in the area. This
part of Mexico was not a tourist destination but this was the real Mexico that most tourists never see. People were living in extreme poverty (mostly Third-world conditions) and scavenging what was supposed to be a beach but looked more like a garbage dump.

It was about 20 degrees warmer than Mexico City... approximately 90 sticky degrees every day.

Now I'm in Montreal, Canada and it feels like it's been a year rather than a week since I was in Mexico. Probably because I flew out Summer and straight into Winter! The leaves here have already changed to yellow and orange and from what I've seen of Montreal so far it looks like a beautiful city. My brain is having a bit of a meltdown though. I'm finally remembering my room number and floor but now have to remember to speak in French rather than Spanish. It also would have been useful information to know that there are 5 Marriott hotels here. Two are on the same street. Luckily, I found mine on the second try.

It's been almost 9 weeks and I've been in about 15 different cities and on 15 flights with one more flight to go (back home to New York!). This will be my last trip for a while and I'm hoping to see some great museums while I'm here so check back next week for the last of the "On the Road" blogs.

On the Road in Ohio

COSIAfter my trip to Wisconsin, I went to three cities in Ohio. My favorite city that I visited was Columbus. There's a lot of great restaurants, shops, art galleries and museums in Columbus and the people were great too. I think a must-see for anyone who goes to Columbus is COSI. It was rated the number one science museum in the U.S. by parenting magazine and although I haven't been to every science museum in the U.S. I'd have to say it was the best one I've ever been to. The staff was very friendly and helpful, the children were well behaved and the museum was clean. The exhibits were engaging and immersive and well-maintained. There were very few out-of-order signs and it was just a fun place to visit.

Franklin Park Conservatory
During my fun-filled trip to Ohio, I also went to the Franklin Park Conservatory. Horticulture is not one of my biggest interests but they boasted having some pieces leftover from Dale Chihuly's traveling exhibit. I saw this exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden and it was fantastic so I thought it would be a place worth visiting. The Conservatory was very pretty and Chihuly's work was beautiful as always but I was expecting more. There weren't very many pieces and they were dispersed throughout the entire space with bits and pieces placed here and there. Even in their Chihuly Resource Center, there were only a couple small pieces of his work. I thought the nicest part of the Franklin Park Conservatory was the outdoor area which is free to the public (as opposed to the $7.50 for admission to the greenhouse). If anyone wants a nice peaceful outdoor activity with beautiful scenery then they will really enjoy this area and save themselves $7.50.

I also have some more valuable travel tips for this week:

1. If you are staying in 3 different hotels per week, it's a good idea to write down your room number on a piece of paper, on your phone, or on your arm. This way you won't repeatedly go to the room numbers of the 5 previous hotels you just stayed in and try to unlock someone else's door. You might also want to make a note of the floor you are staying on so that you don't spend your whole day in the elevator trying to figure it out. This also applies to the city that you are currently in because that tends to get confusing too. Just be sure to carry a pen and paper wherever you go and write reminder notes to yourself and you will be fine!

2. Do not put your magnetic room key anywhere near your phone or keys because apparently, it will de-magnetize the key. I managed to lock myself out of a hotel room 3 times in 4 days before I figured this out.

3. If you are running late for your flight you can fake a broken leg and get an airport wheelchair. Anyone in a wheelchair gets to go to the front of the airport security line (including all of the people traveling with them). I've never done this myself but I've witnessed people suddenly being afflicted with all sorts of disabilities when they approach airport security. I recently witnessed one woman with a broken arm suddenly become incapable of walking. The airport wheelchair is the E-Z Pass of airport security. It took me 15 minutes to get to the front of the line. The lady with the broken arm (and her husband) were through those metal detectors in less than two.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

On the Road in Wisconsin (part 2)

Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame

I went to check out Lambeau Field before I left Wisconsin because I felt that it was something I needed to do in order to get the real Green Bay experience. I wanted to take the stadium tour because I heard that they actually let you go on the field. I arrived at 9:15 but unfortunately the first tour started at 11 am and I had to leave for the airport at 11:30 so I opted for the ticket to the Packers Hall of Fame which is located on the lower level of the stadium.

The museum was surprisingly nice. It had beautiful displays, sculptures, and really nice graphics. The labels were clear and well placed and there was also video footage to supplement the text. It had a good balance of technology and hands-on interactives plus lots of cool photo-ops with lifelike sculptures. They had tons of interesting artifacts and an exact replica of Vince Lombardi's office that you could walk through. There was also a separate area for kids to play in where they could put on football jerseys and throw footballs or slide down a giant hunk of cheese.

The exhibit was clean and well maintained, the content was well organized and I didn't find anything out of order or broken. The staff was also very friendly and helpful and even gave me the senior citizen discount when I told them I work in museums.

Even though I'm not a Packers fan I thought this was a great museum. I was really very impressed. I would recommend buying the Stadium Tour and Hall of Fame package. If you do take the stadium tour please let me know how it was since I never got to see it myself!

On the Road in Wisconsin (part 1)

Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary

I just spent the last week in Wisconsin. During the first half of the trip, I was in a city called Rothschild. With a population of 5,201, there wasn't much to do there. I tried reading the phone book but it was only 10 pages long. No kidding. This place had more cows than people. Thankfully, my hotel room came with a hot tub. This really helped with the boredom and the fact that it was a shocking 48 degrees outside after I just came from 80-degree weather in NY. I discovered there's a lot of things you can do while in the hot tub such as reading, watching TV, calling friends, text messaging, eating, sending emails, working on your laptop...blogging, etc...

So my travel tip for this week is: if you must travel, be sure to book a hotel room with a hot tub 3 feet from your bed. A flat-screen TV in the bathroom doesn't hurt either.

After my exciting trip to Rothschild, I drove back across the state (another 88 miles of corn) to Green Bay which is a relative metropolis compared to Rothschild. During this trip, my GPS and I got into our first fight. After an hour of driving, she led me back to where I started. Some harsh words were spoken but I realize it wasn't her fault and we've since made up. She didn't know there was highway construction and I know she would never intentionally lead me astray.

My first day there I went to the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. It's a beautiful 700-acre urban wildlife refuge that receives over 3,000 injured, orphaned and sick animals each year. They rehabilitate as many animals as possible and release them back into the wild. Animals that can't survive in the wild remain at the Wildlife Sanctuary. The park, which is Green Bay's largest city park, also has 6.6 miles of hiking trails and is open year-round with no admission fee.

I went on a day where the weather was perfect for outdoor activities. The animals were extremely friendly and were not shy about coming up close to the visitors (probably because you're allowed to buy food to feed them). One of the things I really liked about the park was that it offered unique views of wildlife such as this viewing tower in the picture to the left. The park was really pretty and had many benches and picnic areas with beautiful views of ponds. It wasn't crowded at all and was actually very peaceful. I just picked up a map at the Nature Center and walked at my leisure through the trails. This was definitely a great daytime outdoor activity that I would recommend for all ages.

Also, right across the street is the Bay Beach Amusement park (open seasonally) which had rides, go carts and mini-golf with a view of the waterfront.
For more info about the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary
call (920) 391-3671 or go to

Friday, September 12, 2008

On the Road in Michigan & Canada (part 2)

Greenfield Village and Windsor Museum

I was in Michigan for 8 days and had some free time over the weekend so I went to the old car show at Greenfield Village. Greenfield Village houses more than 83 authentic historic sites throughout its 90 acres including the Wright Brothers' workshop, Thomas Edison's laboratory, the Firestone Farm and George Washington Carver's cabin. It has costumed presenters who give demonstrations in weaving, pottery, glass blowing, etc... and will answer all of your questions. You can also take a ride in a vintage Model T, hop on a steam-powered train, a horse-drawn omnibus or ride on a carousel from 1913.

That weekend, there were hundreds of old cars parked or driving throughout Greenfield Village so if you're someone who loves cars then this was the place to be. There was a lot to see and do and I would recommend Greenfield Village as a fun family activity.

The next day I took a drive over to Windsor, Canada. Its biggest attraction is Caesar's Casino so if you're like me and you're not into gambling then I would recommend taking a stroll along the river. There's separate walking and bike trails (you can rent a bike for only $5 an hour) and a pretty sculpture garden that runs along the entire path. There's also plenty of bathrooms, snack stands, and restaurants along the way if you want to take a break and enjoy the view of the Detroit skyline.

I also wandered around the city for a little while and stumbled upon the Windsor Museum which is free to the public and has an exhibit that in my opinion rivals the Museum of Jurassic technology in its weirdness.

(I had a similar exhibit in my childhood bedroom when I was about 10. This was back before I knew I wanted to be an exhibit designer or that such a thing even existed but I used to have artwork, sculptures, dioramas and artifacts displayed all over every inch of my room complete with interpretive signage. There was even a sign telling a story I made up about a hole in the wall that was created by a poor blind fly named Milly who met a tragic end when she crashed into the wall).

Well, my bedroom exhibit made more sense than the Windsor Museum which was set up in an old house that looked as if they dragged a bunch of stuff out of the attic and put it up all over the walls. But it had an un-museum like quality that I liked. It was unpretentious and absolutely devoid of any technology or special effects and I found it kind of nice that I wasn't sprayed with anything and wasn't forced to watch a movie. I get the feeling that most people who live in Windsor probably don't even know that this little gem exists but if you are planning a trip to the area I recommend popping in just to see for yourself because I think it's just impossible for me to describe in words and pictures just don't do it justice.

Now I'm back in NY for a couple of days and getting ready to leave for my trip to Wisconsin. It was great to be somewhere new but when my taxi dropped me off at my building and I was wheeling my suitcase up to my front door, my path was blocked by a woman who was letting her dog relieve himself on my stoop. I laughed and thought to myself, "Aah New's good to be home!"

Friday, September 5, 2008

On the Road in Michigan & Canada (part 1)

Here I am in Detroit, Michigan on week 2 of traveling. Last week was Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and home of our founding fathers. I had a lot of work to do so I had to do the speed tour on 5 hours' sleep and in the 2 hours of free time I had before I had to get back to the airport (see the delirious picture of me at the Liberty Bell). The good thing about being completely exhausted and delirious in another city is that you sometimes stumble into places that you're not supposed to be without even knowing it. Such as the Constitution Center. I somehow wandered in the wrong way and wound up seeing the whole exhibit (although backward) without having to pay admission.

Tips for visiting Philadelphia:
If you want to tour the Franklin Mint, don't bring a camera...because they won't let you in : (

Other traveling tips: 

1. GPS is a must-have. I don't know how I've lived my life without this. The person who invented the GPS should be awarded the Nobel Prize. I am currently looking into getting one surgically implanted in my brain. If anyone has any info about how I can achieve this please forward it to me! 

2. If the lock on your suitcase breaks and won't open and your house-keys are locked inside, there are plenty of airport employees who are more than happy and willing to break it off for you. As one security employee said, "We love to cut locks!" Thank you JFK airport for your determination and enthusiasm.

3. Don't fly Delta. Always a nightmare. Every time.

4. If you must travel, the best way to do it is on someone else's dime!

So now here I am in my Detroit hotel suite which is bigger than my NY apartment. So far I've been to Detroit, Lansing, Troy, and Dearborn. Detroit happens to be the hometown of my mentor and exhibit mastermind extraordinaire, Paul Orselli. Yesterday, on Paul's recommendation, I went to the Henry Ford Museum which was really impressive. I saw the "Chocolate" traveling exhibit. Which was great for many reasons but mostly because they have a delicious chocolate bar at the end. Yum! I love exhibits with food. I also saw the chair that Lincoln was assassinated in, Rosa Parks bus, the DC-3, the Kennedy presidential limousine, Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion House (I'm a Bucky fan so this was my favorite. Bucky Fuller was a mastermind designer who was way ahead of his time), the Allegheny Locomotive and oh could I forget the biggest weiner I've ever seen.
I also took a tour of the Ford Rouge factory which I have to say was pretty boring since there was no production going on. If there was, I would have seen them making the Ford F-150. Instead, I saw an empty factory and wasted $7.50. Although, they do have a pretty interesting multi-sensory theater where they spray you and heat you as if you're the Ford being made on the assembly line. This was the second of 2 movies that you watch on the tour and I'm personally not very fond of exhibits with lots of videos. If I wanted to watch a movie I would have gone to a movie theater and not a museum. Since I was the only person on the tour (usually a good indicator that it's not a great exhibit) I had my very own tour guide and I learned that it's called "the Rouge" because the factory runs over the Rouge River. Which got its name because of the color it turns due to the red clay and minerals it picks up turning it red in color. Ok so maybe that was worth a buck seventy-five. If you're really into cars then you might enjoy this tour. But for someone like me who doesn't even own a car, then the chocolate exhibit is much more appealing.

Tomorrow, I'm going to the old car show at Greenfield Village, which has people dressed in period costumes from the 1800s (kind of like the Old-Bethpage village restoration) and also houses the Wright Brothers workshop, Thomas Edison's laboratory and George Washington Carver's cabin.

Then I'm off to Canada!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Exhibit on Wheels

Over the summer I worked for a little bit at the New York Aquarium located in Coney Island. This year was the first time that the NY Aquarium had a float in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade.  I had never been to the parade before but heard it was a lot of fun. When I found out the Aquarium needed puppeteers for their float I happily volunteered and I learned that it's way more fun to march in a parade than to just watch one pass by. The giant octopus float was created by the lovely and talented Katherine McLeod who builds and maintains the exhibits for the NY Aquarium. Many volunteers also helped Katherine build the float and march in the parade. I got to be an octopus tentacle (along with 7 other volunteers) and of course, we also had a mermaid.

The Octopus float brought new meaning to the words "traveling exhibit" as the Aquarium used the opportunity to get it's conservation message out and we even gave out free passes to the crowd so they could come to see the exhibits after the parade. 

Being an octopus tentacle was a lot of fun. I know myself, and all the other tentacles, can't wait to build a bigger and better float next year and march again.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Amazing Amphibians Exhibit

Long time no blog. Where has Kim Wagner been? Well, I've been busy frog wrangling at the Bronx Zoo! I was just hired to create and install 30 orange frogs of various sizes for the new "Amazing Amphibian" exhibit in the historical Zoo Center building. The frogs were made by cutting, gluing and heat bending Sintra plus many coats of orange paint. They were hung through the dome's 12 oculi and required two men up inside the dome fighting off pigeons and two on the ground with walkie talkies.

The exhibit was created to address the threats to amphibians. Close to half of all amphibian species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, global warming, food use, introduced species, collection for the pet trade and amphibian chytrid fungus.

Featured amphibians are the Anderson's Newt, Puerto Rican Crested Toad, Mudpuppy, Green Poison Frog, Red-Eyed Tree Frog, Clown Tree Frog, Hourglass Tree Frog, Chacoan Horned Frog, Smooth-Sided Toad, and the Waxy Monkey Frog. 

Although the exhibit focuses on the amphibian crisis, it ends with a message of hope by highlighting ways you can help save amphibians.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Potion design: Where high-tech meets low maintenance

The AAM's Emerging Museum Professionals group was recently invited to a tour of the Potion Design studio. Founded by MIT graduates Jared Schiffman and Phillip Tiongson, Potion specializes in high-tech interactives.

Normally, I would equate high-tech with high maintenance. For me, the word "high-tech" would evoke visions of touch screens that need to be cleaned hourly, push buttons that get stuck and endless re-booting but Potion has developed an almost maintenance-free solution. There are no loose pieces, no touch screens, trackballs, mice or push buttons.

My favorite was The Limud Tables created for the Museum at Eldridge Street. They are just solid wood tables with an overhead projector that is out of the visitors' reach. You simply navigate through the information on the LCD screen by waving your finger over the images. The projectors have motion sensors so there's no touch screen to get jammed up with sticky fingers. There's also a great activity for kids where they get to design the stained glass window and decorate it with different colors. No loose pieces to get lost! The program is designed so that museum staff can easily update the information themselves so there's no need to keep re-printing graphics. According to Jared Schiffman, they use off the shelf products so if, for instance, a projector breaks it can be quickly replaced. The projector bulbs will need to be replaced about every three months. That's a maintenance job that I can definitely handle! 

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Combine your love for food and museums

If you love museums or you love food (or maybe you're like me and you love both) here's a great article called: 12 Museums to Fuel a Road Trip.

I haven't made it to the Spam or Onion museum yet but I have been to the Hershey Museum several times. I suppose it's the free samples they give away at the end of the tour that ensures repeat visitation!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Access Panels: Don't design your exhibits without them

When designing an exhibit you should always assume that at some point it will eventually break or require some kind of maintenance. Exhibits endure a lot of abuse. If you are a designer you should always take into consideration that someone else will need a clear and easy way to maintain it. Don't cover screws with wood putty and don't build things that are so heavy they're impossible to lift. Try to use parts that can be bought off the shelf. For example; don't install a light bulb that needs to be specially ordered from Germany. One day that bulb will need to be replaced. The person responsible for maintaining the exhibit should be able to simply open a door and unscrew the bulb to replace it with a new one. It should not require five men to remove the exhibit from the museum floor with a forklift or hiring someone who speaks German to call the company in Germany only to find out they are no longer in business.

It's also a good idea to leave enough storage space under/behind your exhibit to store extra or spare parts. This will help avoid having to put up one of those dreaded "out of order" signs that cause visitors to complain about all the money they spent to see broken exhibits. If any pieces of the exhibit somehow disappear (as they often tend to do) they can be quickly and easily replaced. This will make the exhibit maintainer's job easier and more efficient and the museum visitors will be much happier when the exhibit is working.

Friday, February 22, 2008

What do highway safety and exhibits have in common?

Designing exhibits for outdoors presents a whole new set of challenges. Things like rain, snow, insects, and UV exposure need to be carefully considered when sourcing appropriate materials for an outdoor environment.

Many museums use floor graphics to help their visitors navigate throughout their spaces. Arrows, footprints, and lines can be used to clearly mark the right path, making it easier for the visitor to find their way around a large museum. Floor graphics are a great use of space but what if your exhibit is outside? Painting is an option but between weather conditions and heavy foot traffic, you'll find yourself repainting every few months. 

This was a problem I was faced with at the Bronx Zoo Tiger Mountain exhibit. Visitors could come to watch the tigers being fed at scheduled times throughout the day. Tiger paw prints were stenciled on the ground with paint indicating the point which visitors were not allowed to cross once the feeding began. After a few months, the paw prints would start to wear away. Not only did this not look nice, but it was ineffective as a safety barrier. 

Presented with this challenge, I was determined to find a solution that would literally "stick."

I made a call to 3M and was told that regular Scotchprint floor graphics would not work for outside but they did recommend using their 3M Stamark highway marking tape. I figured if this tape was designed to withstand a snowplow then it should (hopefully) be able to hold up against Bronx Zoo visitors. All I needed to do was send a CAD file to them of the paw print and they were able to cut them to shape. Of course, you can get the standard pre-cut arrows and lines as well. The ground surface needs to be above 40 degrees to apply the tape and I would also recommend power washing first. The colors are limited to white and yellow but my hope is that 3M will broaden their color palette and not limit the use of this material to just highways. This can be a great wayfinding tool for large outdoor venues like zoos, aquariums, and amusement parks. 
Click this link for more info on 3M Stamark products:

Sunday, February 17, 2008


In November I took a trip out to California and went with a friend on my first trip to Disneyland. I have been to Disney World a couple times but that was approximately 20 years ago and my memory of it is vague and apparently, a lot has changed since then. Now as a "grown-up" and a professional exhibit designer I can really appreciate the creativity and hard work that goes into these illusions/rides. The animatronics in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was fantastic. They were so realistic it looked like Disney hired Johnny Depp to stand in the display and act the part of Captain Jack Sparrow. They have really come a long way since the "It's a Small World" ride that I loved as a child.

My favorite of all the rides that I went on was definitely the Buzz Lightyear. Thumbs up to Disney for adding a bit of interactivity to its rides. On most rides, the visitor just sits in a car that takes them on a track through the immersive environment and they just passively watch the entertainment. On the Buzz Lightyear ride, the visitors have ray guns and have to shoot at targets while the car moves. When the ride is over it shows you who got the high score in your car. It's like being inside a video game. When you get out of the car you can go to a kiosk and type in your email address and it will send you a picture of yourself on the ride (see above). This part is hilarious. My friend and I had no idea it was taking our picture so you can see from our expressions how seriously we took the task of defending our planet. 

I loved this ride and applaud Disney for adding this interactive element. I think they should keep moving in this direction of making the visitor part of the experience.

Black History Month Exhibit

In honor of Black History Month, I would recommend visiting the African American Museum of Nassau County located in Hempstead, New York. Currently on display is the Weusi Collective.
Weusi, or "blackness" in Swahili, is a group of artists based in Harlem who began working together in the 1960s to focus on bringing Pan-African cultures to Harlem. They have mounted exhibitions, festivals and celebrations that encourage the exchange of ideas among artists. African heritage is a common theme in their work, but unlike some other collectives or movements, their work maintains individual originality and aesthetic diversity.
It features their work from their beginning in the 1960s through the present, covering almost every inch of wall space in the museum. This is one of the most exciting exhibits I have seen at the African American Museum so far.

The show features the paintings and sculptures of Abdullah Aziz, Gaylor Hassan (painting "Three Sisters," shown above), MLJ Johnson, Dindga McCannon, Ademola Olugebefola, Okoe Pyatt, Otto Neals, Emmett Wigglesworth, Kay Brown, James Sepyo and Nii Ahene La Mettle-Nunoo. The exhibit is up from February 1st-April 21st 2008. 

Monday, January 21, 2008

AnodizedArt for exhibit graphics

AnodizedArt (also known as AluImage) anodized aluminum graphics are a great alternative to typical phenolic or vinyl graphics.

AnodizedArt is a high-resolution graphic image embedded in aluminum. Graphics can be printed as large as 3' x 3' and larger murals can be tiled together. Like phenolic, it's grease, scuff, wind, sand, graffiti, and UV resistant but the color is more vibrant and the cost is more affordable. 

Another great product is Aluminarte. Recommended for indoor applications, this product is even more affordable than the anodized graphics and can be printed on a variety of substrates including aluminum, steel, wood, and plastic. Unlike the AnodizedArt, Aluminarte can print white and with a high gloss finish looks very much like porcelain.

The best part about choosing this product was working with the staff at AnodizedArt. President, Douglas Funderburk was a pleasure to work with and always follows up to make sure that you are satisfied. So if you want graphics that will outlast vinyl without the high expense and faded look of phenolic then I would recommend giving AnodizedArt or Aluminarte a try.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Palm Beach Zoo

During a recent trip to Florida, I went with some family members, including my 6-year-old cousin, 3-year-old niece, and my 18-month-old nephew, to the Palm Beach Zoo. I've visited many zoos before and also worked at the Bronx Zoo for several years, which I think has turned me into a bit of a "zoo snob."  Very rarely do I see something that I haven't seen before. So when I walked into the little Palm Beach Zoo I was not expecting to see one of ten white alligators known to exist in the entire world.

On loan from the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, "Mardi" is a snow-white, blue-eyed alligator measuring 9 feet in length and weighing over 230 pounds. There was a sign on the back wall that explained all of this but unfortunately, it was located in a spot where no one noticed it. Visitors were too preoccupied with staring at a creature they never even knew existed to think to look behind them for the animal ID. So the Palm Beach Zoo was filled with misinformed visitors who think they saw an "albino alligator" when they had not. 

I don't mean to single out the Palm Beach Zoo because a lot of zoos and museums have poorly placed signage but they have a rare and beautiful creature on exhibit and are not doing it justice. Many of the animals at this zoo didn't even have identification. My young companions wanted to know the name of every animal we saw but the interpretive signage was severely lacking. So please, (and I'm begging all zoos, aquariums and museums) put your identification labels where people can find them. 

Even if visitors go to this zoo expecting to see an albino alligator I don't think anyone will be disappointed at what they find. If you happen to be in the Palm Beach area Mardi is definitely worth taking a trip to the zoo.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

After working in Children's Museums for many years, I've learned that there are a few things that an exhibit tech/maintainer cannot live without. Things like Velcro, double-sided tape, sand paper, cable ties, etc... I think it would be hard to find a children's museum with an exhibit shop that doesn't have these items stockpiled in large quantities. There's also the necessary cleaning products such as adhesive removers, stain lifters, gum removers....I've tried them all and they each do their assigned duty but not without a lot of frustration and elbow grease.

Then along came a product that changed my life forever. The days of scrubbing crayon and mystery goo left behind by little sticky fingers were over because my eyes had been opened to the wonders of the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. If I could only have one cleaning product to clean and entire Children's Museum after a day with 5,000 visitors in attendance, this would be all I would need. It removes stains that you never even realized were there. 

The only problem is that once you use it to clean a surface, a clean spot is left behind and you have to clean all of the surrounding areas that you never even realized were dirty until the Magic Eraser came along! Also, there's no indication on the box of what chemical ingredients this product is made out of except for "magic" so I would use caution when cleaning areas that a toddler's mouth might come in contact with.

I love making hands-on exhibits but along with that comes, well...dirty hands. This is a great product that makes the sometimes, daunting job of maintaining exhibits much easier.