By Sara Francis, Glenwood Springs Historical Society & Frontier Museum, Glenwood Springs, CO
I am grateful to AASLH for awarding me the New Professionals scholarship to attend the Exhibit Makeovers workshop in Denver last month. New Professional – the term itself makes me itch. As a career librarian, I thought the transition to museums and archives would be more seamless, but there is a huge learning curve. As part-time archivist in a small-town historical society and historic house museum, I have been tasked with the work of archivist, research librarian, and registrar. My director and I share the responsibilities of curation and exhibit work, but we haven’t made significant changes to the exhibits in several years.
The class was a diverse mix of large and small museum staff, solid and shaky budgets, and varying skill level. Though I was excited to have the class at History Colorado and tour some of their exhibits, I started off feeling intimidated: We’re not History Colorado, we can’t do that…
I think it’s easy for small, underfunded organizations to get intimidated by the big sites, and to feel like we don’t have the resources to do great work. But I left the workshop with a better sense of scaling projects for what we can do.
Ultimately, what I appreciated most about the class was that each step in the exhibit design process served to answer a question. I can take questions of story and community back to my museum and start small. I can take a corner of a room or small display case and tell a new story. Our instructor, Ann Craig, was also helpful one-on-one. I was stumped on the lesson of forming a committee to design an exhibit. How do I scale that when I work part-time and in a small community? She helped me generate creative ideas to gather community input on a potential exhibit idea.
Back in Glenwood Springs, I am inspired to make exhibit changes in our museum. There are still things I need to learn about fabrication and physical design, but I understand the workflow of an exhibit now. I tend to get impatient when I look at all the work to be done, but after the workshop, I understand that meaningful change doesn’t happen overnight. Now I have the tools to think strategically about how to make incremental changes to the interpretation in our museum and how to make it more meaningful for our visitors.
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Read more about AASLH professional development scholarships here.