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History Museum Meets Reality TV

by Allison Weiss, Executive Director, Sandy Spring Museum on

Allison Weiss, of the Sandy Spring Museum, is leading a project to revamp the permanent exhibit space in her small museum. She’s set the project up like a TV reality show, with teams, deadlines, and people getting “kicked off” the project. The name of this project is “The Extreme Exhibit Makeover.”

Below is her description:

So we’re now officially two months into the three-and-a-half month process of conducting the extreme makeover, and we‘ve learned many lessons.

1.       History museums function much like reality TV.

Both teams have experienced a lot of drama.  This included a certain amount of fighting, “my way or the highway” impasses, personal life challenges (resulting in some drop-outs), and general partings-of-the-way for team members who were politely asked to “leave the island.”

2.      Creating museum exhibits is not for the faint-of-heart.

Many people ask me why we don’t change the exhibits regularly.  The answer is simple: it takes a lot of time to do it right.  You need to do research, write text, and find artifacts. First, though, you need to decide what story to tell and how you can effectively convey that story to a museum audience of varying ages, experience, education and interests.  It’s also very expensive.  It can cost as much as $300 a square foot to hire a professional exhibit designer and build the exhibit!

3.      You can do serious history and still have fun.

Performer Tania Katan, the curator of shenanigans at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, takes the serious subject of high art and turns it on its head (Arm Wrestling for Art, anyone?).  Tania will be the emcee when the teams install their Extreme Exhibit Makeovers on March 15 and 16.  The Sandy Spring Museum is committed to doing serious history, but on this occasion, we will do it in a very non-serious way.

I’m anxiously waiting for updates from the two teams.  I’m so impressed with how much time they‘ve devoted to the project and how resourceful they‘ve been, cajoling colleagues for donations of supplies and expertise.

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