Working with a catchy title for a display is the least of the tasks associated with bringing a new traveling exhibit into being. The first order of business is finding a place to put it. In a small museum that doesn't have special temporary galleries, space is a zero-sum proposition. If something new is going in, something else is going out. In our case, we have focused on the Long Gallery, not to be confused with a large hallway, which had temporary displays that had been around for several years. Although we can't block it off when it's under construction, it has an expectant look when it's between exhibits, as it is right now.
The second order of business, if one is availing oneself of the great resources of CERA, the California Exhibitions Resources Alliance, is participating in the arrangements for the delivery of said exhibit. There are several layers of people involved, including a group called Champagne Logistics, which is a catchy title. One day, a truck pulls up in front of the Museum and very strong people (okay, they were men) unload several big, unwieldy wooden crates and assorted packages, like very large and heavy presents. The boxes take up residence in the Long Gallery in their raw state, while we wonder what's inside. Unfastening the lids, we peer inside and see many items, wrapped and mysterious. It looks like a giant puzzle.
That's when the third order of business begins - to create the exhibit for our museum out of this packaged deal that looks impossibly complicated. The curator sorts through the items and lays them out on a large table, just like when one searches for edge pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. We look for related items in our Museum's collections. The curator needs to plan the lay-out for the exhibit. Where will that large tent be pitched? Where will all the pictures go? And the biggest conundrum - how exactly will the pictures be fastened to the walls?
Then we come to the always essential publicity - the fourth estate is the fourth order of business. Just like the sound of a falling tree in empty woods, there is no exhibit if nobody comes to see it. So we plan the opening reception and subsequent events, thanks to wonderful collaboration with two talented State Parks Interpreters and a troop of intrepid Boy Scouts. A volunteer, adept at Photoshop, has created a beautiful poster featuring this amazing picture of a couple in front of their striped tent and listing the special programs that we are planning. We want to create the atmosphere and share the story that will attract people to the exhibit, which is where that catchy title comes into play at last:
Come see "Past Tents - The Way We Camped", an exhibit developed by the California Historical Society and the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley,
and being installed over the next week at the Mendocino County Museum.
Please join us at the Opening Reception and Campfire Program
on Friday, September 3, 2010 at 6:00 PM.
After trying to figure out how to find someone to put together a website for the Museum for free, I finally sat down and figured it out for myself. And that's pretty much the story of the Museum. The administrative aspects of the job of Museum Director are long on tradition and short on budget. The entrepreneurial aspects are experiential and bracing - planning events to enhance the exhibits, running a store, developing a marketing strategy. The curatorial aspects - planning, designing, and building exhibits - involve orchestration by the Museum's curator, reading lots of relevant articles, and initiative balanced with practicality.
Altogether, the Museum calls for extraordinary levels of creativity, organization, and perseverance from staff and from volunteers. And if that means the curator crawls inside a cramped exhibit case to replace a burned out light bulb, the receptionist learns accounts payable because we had to give up a staff position earlier this year, a volunteer comes back in the evenings to ready posters for display, and another volunteer faces dozens of fifth-graders to explain the Gold Rush (and I figure out how to do a website on the weekend), that's what we'll do to keep the Museum going.
The Museum is a valuable resource for this county, whether in the behind-the-scenes collections of archives and artifacts, or the more visible exhibits and public events and school field trips, or the supporting role it plays in the local economy. It is critical that we continue to conserve our communities' heritage and provide a means of reflecting on and interpreting the events that have made Mendocino County what it is today.
This website and this message both communicate what the Museum is doing and how we can all work together to keep it going strong.
In this periodic column, I will share the challenges and the accomplishments of everyone who is a part of this grand adventure called the Mendocino County Museum.