|I am probably doing this right now! Unless you're reading it in|
the future, in which case I'm done now. Photo: Mixing cob for an
oven at the University of Washington. By Josh Larios via Flickr.
Museum signs are expensive, yo.
I'm probably not allowed to tell you the exact amount, although nobody told me I couldn't. See, I'm helping out in the graphics department at the moment, which is all kinds of awesome. If you've ever been to the Exploratorium, you might've noticed that all the exhibit signs don't exactly have a unified look to them. They're from all different eras, and they've got all sorts of different shapes and sizes and colors, and each exhibit is signed a little differently. Usually I'm all for groovy bucking of conformity, but actually it is a little confusing to have every single sign set up differently, so you're not sure from sign to sign where the instructions or the explanations are. Because every exhibit is interactive, and actually does something, having the instructions and questions to ask and what-the-hell-is-happening texts set up in a cohesive way is actually very helpful. Also, some of the signs are really, REALLY old. (My dad worked there in the early 80s, and some of the signs he wrote are still there. I've probably told you this before. Oh god, I'm getting old already. )
So, as part of the epic move to Pier 15, they're redoing all the signs. And I get to help. (I drew a chair! You will see my drawing if you go to the new Exploratorium next spring!) As I help, I learn all sorts of things - about the exhibits themselves, and how people use them, and how people use signs, and all sorts of stuff. I also, today, got to see how much the signs cost. We're talking, like 11"x17" here, not like dozens of feet. But a dozen signs is easily a month's rent for me. I know, I know, I'm a broke artist, I keep saying, but this is the SF Bay Area I'm talking about and it is not cheap to live here. Part of the reason? They're solid, sturdy signs. This is a hands-on science museum, and as one staff member put it to me philosophically, "anything that can be banged on them gets banged on them." They're supposed to last; over 500,000 people visit the museum every year.
|Here's Frank, by David Barker, Explo Art|
Director for Institutional Media, from
the Exploratorium WikiCommons page
Also, people here are super creative. So I have this thing where I think cellphones, especially cell phones with cameras, are a really horrible drain on our ability to actually have meaningful experiences of the world. When you're busy taking pictures of an exhibit, you're not actually engaging with it. I've been thinking for a long time about ways to ban camera & cellphone use in the Museum of Joy in a way that won't make people furiously angry and/or resentful. (I mean, even the fact that I know perfectly well that a request like "please refrain from cellphone or camera use inside the Museum" would be seen as ridiculous and unreasonable is in itself an indication of how addicted we are to our devices.) I was talking to my Explo boss about this today as we were walking around the floor. Some kind of punishment would totally not work, I was saying, because it would make people upset, and that would have the opposite effec of, um, my whole museum.
Well, he said reasonably, it can't be punitive. Why not make it rewarding? Turn it into a game. Give people a reason to explore the museum without their phone. Challenge them to put their devices away, and give incentives or rewards for doing it - stickers, whatever, just something that will push them to actually think about how hard it is to put the phone away, and make them excited to experiment with what it's like to just see with their eyes as opposed to through their devices.
(You see why I like hanging out here?) Yeah! I said. Or have them spend half an hour in a gallery while using their cellphones, and another half hour without, and ask them if they experienced it differently.
In fact, he said, you could even go further. Ask them to take their blood pressure when using their device, and then again after half an hour of experiencing the museum without it. All kinds of things. You just have to think creatively.
What do you think, friends? What would get you to put down your phone, tuck away your camera, and just be in a place? What kind of encouragement or incentive or reminder would compel you to do that?