Friday, June 18, 2010

(Amanda) dunks

Today we went on a field trip. Ed and Curatorial journeyed several hours away to visit another museum (the name of which I am going to withhold because I am going to be slightly critical of them and I don't want to cause trouble, they are well intentioned and were gracious hosts). We began early-ish in the morning, though the blow of this was softened by a trip through a Dunkin Donuts drive through. I am getting the impression that New Englanders are more than a little obsessed with this particular chain of coffee/pastry shop. They are everywhere. In the housing letter the other intern girls were sent it was noted that their house stood next to a Dunkin Donuts, also a florist...

Anyway, we got to our destination with a minimum of fuss, and after standing around for a needlessly long time we were shuttled in to watch the orientation video. The exhibit area is arranged in a semi-circle (consistently referred to as a circle...which it was not) and divided loosely by region. Here the problems start. In a, misguided, effort to create a more immersive experience this museum has chosen to keep title cards and other identifying information to a minimum. They provide a narrative brochure and a once daily guided tour, but honestly this is not enough. It is possible to label artifacts in an unobtrusive manner. This brings us to the all important matter of context. Without knowing what these things are, what their function was, when they were made, or who precisely made them the visitor is left out in the cold. The artifacts in each section were rather poorly sorted, with no distinctions made between items made for use, for sale to a white market, or for ritual purposes - distinctions that are absolutely critical for the proper interpretation of the objects. The maps that detailed what part of the country each section of the exhibit represented were far too small, and often placed in odd corners. There were very few photographs, a dearth of personal context that became rather jarring as the exhibit progressed. This was basketry and beadwork and woodwork without makers. The objects themselves were really beautiful, this museum houses some great examples of Native craftsmanship and culture, but they have a lot of work to do to place this stunning content in an appropriate context.

Ultimately, though I know it is difficult for a small museum short on manpower and funds, they need to design a comprehensive labeling system - one that ties the artifacts together while more clearly delineating the regional and functional differences.

I find myself increasingly convinced that I belong in exhibit design, if only because awkward or unfortunate display and interpretation decisions make me so very itchy and uncomfortable.

On the way home we were stuck in some pretty terrible traffic, slowly cooking in the little metal box of my boss' car. After a (pretty dang amazing) late lunch we finally made it back to the Plantation and from there back home. After all that sweating at the museum and in the car, my roommate and I took full advantage of the pool here at our house. A (slightly too) cold dip was the perfect end to an interesting, cramped, overheated day.

Tomorrow is a work day at the Plantation theater, so perhaps I will have stories of mischief and mayhem...or perhaps just painting and sewing... we shall see.

There is also a book and rummage sale at the library...

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