Archive for the 'The Museum Experience' Category

Month at the Museum (of Science and Industry)

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

When I was a girl, one of my favorite books was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. In the book, Claudia Kincaid and her little brother Jamie decide to leave home and, searching for adventure, run away to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The plot develops as Claudia and Jamie work to solve a mystery around a statue of a marble angel, which may or may not be a Michelangelo original. While I’m not going to tell you how the story ends, I will tell you that since first reading the book I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in a museum. I’m pretty sure the exhibits don’t come to life at night (at least they haven’t on the nights that I work late…yet…)

Well, she probably won’t get to solve any Renaissance art mysteries, but Kate McGroarty is about to start living in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry for one month. Kate won the museum’s Month at the Museum contest, beating out over 1,500 other applicants for the chance to, in the words of the contest application,

live and breathe science 24/7 for 30 days…this person’s mission will be to experience all the fun and education that fits in this historic 14-acre building, living here and reporting [their] experience to the outside world.

Kate discovering she's the contest winner

Here’s Kate’s entry video

From October 20th through November 18th, you can follow Kate’s adventures in the Museum of Science and Industry through the project’s website, Facebook, and Twitter.

If you had the chance to live in a museum, which one would you chose? I think my choice would be a tie between the Te Papa Tongarewa (the Museum of New Zealand) and the Natural History Museum in London.


Today is “Ask a Curator” Day!

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

I work with a bunch of museum curators, and let me tell you, they know a LOT of interesting things. Multiply that by all the museums in the world, and you’ve got a major collection of smarty pants.

Today marks the launch of a cool online project called “Ask a Curator Day.” The project is using Twitter to give people a chance to ask curators all over the world those burning questions that only a museum geek can answer! Over 100 museums in the U.S. alone are participating, plus museums from all over Europe, Canada, South and Central America, Africa, and Australia. If you can’t get your question answered by one of these folks, well, I just don’t know what to say.

You can find out how to participate by visiting the “Ask a Curator” website. There you’ll find directions for using Twitter to ask your question, and see a list of all the museums that are part of the project. If you find out anything interesting, let us know!

Note: This from Wired.UK — “The #askacurator Twitter hash-tag has proven to be very popular, currently ranking as the sixth most popular trending topic in the UK, and the fourth worldwide. However, popularity on Twitter is as much a blessing as a curse, with the tag’s real-time results overrun with spam and joke messages. You’ll want to follow the tweets of a specific venue to receive any worthwhile answers.”

Behind the scenes: Visitor Services

We’re beginning a series of behind-the-scenes looks at what makes the Museum tick. Our first stop is at Visitor Services, with Amy Scott. Amy is the Director of Visitor Services, and she also is the manager and buyer for the Museum Store.

More to Explore: How long have you worked here?

Amy Scott: Three and a half years, all in visitor services.

MtE: What does your job entail?

AS: It entails a little bit of everything, which is what I love about the job. The most important part of my job is making sure that visitors have a great experience at the Museum. Also in my day I will blow up beach balls, I’ll run out to the store and buy dry ice, I will talk to kids about their favorite dinosaurs, it’s just such a mixed bag, I love it.

MtE: What’s a typical day like?

AS: There is not a typical day. No two days are ever the same.

MtE: Tell me about the Museum Store.

AS: The Museum Store is a wonderful place to find unique things that you wouldn’t necessarily find elsewhere. I will be working on more custom merchandise in the future, so everyone can look forward to that. We have a mix of science and local history; we have a great selection of local history books, which I’m very proud of. It’s another opportunity for visitors to learn. We try to stock educational items in the store, and I’d like to think that the Museum Store shoppers’ experience is an extension of the overall Museum experience.

The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center store

MtE: What do you enjoy the most?

AS: I enjoy being in a climate where I get to learn something new every single day. And I get to share the things I learn with others. So everyday I do a little bit of sharing and a little bit of learning myself. That’s my favorite thing.

MtE: What are you looking forward to in the new museum?

I can’t wait to see what the exhibits look like. They’re going to be so spectacular. And it’s exciting not to know exactly what those exhibits will look like, it’s exciting to dream about what they will look like. I’m excited to see how visitors react to our fabulous new museum. I can’t wait for them to see how worth the wait it has been.

MtE: What would you like to tell our visitors?

I would like to tell them that museums are the best places on Earth! And that you can always take away something different from your museum experience even if the exhibits haven’t necessarily changed a lot, depending on your mood that day or what you choose to connect with, I think you can always have a different experience. We love it when you come. We wouldn’t be a museum without you. It’s your museum.

Museums and Native American Awareness Month

by Cory Gundlach, Exhibit Designer

iPhone pics 103In honor of Native American Awareness Month, I’d like to share a recent experience I had at the Exhibit Museum of Natural History at the University of Michigan. “Native American Dioramas in Transition” includes fourteen dioramas on Native American cultures, each of which now includes contextual information far beyond the institutional didactics that first accompanied the exhibit over fifty years ago.  In order to give you a general sense of the environment that surrounds this exhibit, I think it’s helpful to know a little bit about the museum itself. From the densely ornate rotunda, a grand stairway leads to exhibits on the upper levels.  The second floor has exhibits on prehistoric life, the third—Michigan wildlife, and the fourth—anthropology, geology, a planetarium, education room, gallery for temporary exhibits, and administrative offices. As you enter the fourth floor, “Native American Dioramas in Transition” is the first thing you see.  It is predominantly modular in design, composed of two horizontal registers built into the wall. Each includes seven dioramas, one above the other.  The exhibit basically exists in the hallway leading to other galleries and offices, although on the far right end of the installation, disconnected from the dioramas, there is a supplementary display of contemporary quotes.  These are comments taken from the public, ranging from elementary school students, their aides and teachers, to PhDs who work at the university and elsewhere.  These comments are also superimposed over and around the dioramas.  They are brightly colored and simply designed, and they dominate the exhibit—both visually and contextually.  In some cases, they obstruct the view into the diorama:

I like the dioramas because you can see new things that are different from what you’ve already seen.  Native American people used different things than we do.  They had different houses and foods, probably because they couldn’t find as many things as we have and maybe because they couldn’t pay for them.

–Liam Coolican, Third Grader, Bach Elementary, Ann Arbor

iPhone pics 076The original dioramas are well-crafted, romantic interpretations of indigenous cultures, dating to 1959.  They are what you would expect from a big expensive university museum whose entry is flanked by the dusty white marble busts of its founding fathers. As you stoop down to gaze into some of these little boxes, you can just imagine yourself among the nude and scantily clad Indians going about their daily business, thanks to Dr. Robert S. Butsch, “a zoologist and museum preparator of European descent.”  Superimposed over the diorama on the Haida, portrayed within the idyllic landscape on the Northwest Coast, a sticker label reads, “Who Tells the Story?”, and the other, “Native Americans were not consulted when these dioramas were made.”

iPhone pics 104Another reads,

Do Indians Belong with Dinosaurs?

Visitors arrive at the dioramas after passing by extinct dinosaurs, stuffed animals, and an endangered species exhibit.  Some museum visitors, especially children, get the impression that Native Americans are just like the dinosaurs—extinct. Or that they are somehow “primitive” because they are displayed with wildlife.

It is critical to note that after fifty years, this exhibit will soon close—dioramas and all. This comes after years of feedback from the public. But rather than simply remove what has been an embarrassment for some time, the museum had the foresight and humility to recontextualize this embarrassment into a contemporary dialogue on the politics of display, which, in this case, literally “puts people in a box.”  This colonial gaze as method of display sits beside a text panel that advocates the cooperation of museums with indigenous peoples. A specific example is provided that takes place at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, on the Saginaw—Chippewa Indian Tribe Reservation.

I left the exhibit feeling transformed, inspired, and challenged.  I felt challenged to become more engaged in cultural exchange and the dialogue that informs the representation of indigenous culture.  As an exhibit designer at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center, I feel lucky to have a role in these processes, by way of making mounts for objects and interactives, and assisting with programs that advocate the integration of indigenous expression into everyday life. This month, on First Friday, FCM&DSC hosted the Northern Cree singers, originating from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation of northern Alberta.  It too was a transforming experience.  What the performance lacked in lighting was more than made up for in sound, and I think perhaps the sound was more powerfully expressed because of it.  In only three songs, I was deeply moved. Nearly to tears in fact.  After the first song, a statement was given about how the public receives the music of the Northern Cree. While many have never heard it, it is somehow familiar, and this deepNorthern Cree familiarity is the power that unites humanity. The next day I was lucky enough to see Northern Cree (who performed three times) and many others perform at the 27th Annual Pow-Wow at Colorado State University. This performance came just after I witnessed Kevin Locke’s hoop dance and flute songs at Laurel Elementary. As I reflect on the emotions that overcame me at both performances, above all I feel proud to be a part of an institution that advocates indigenous culture. While November may be the only sanctioned month in which to raise awareness of First Peoples, it is of course by no means the only month to do so.  Even as museums spearhead this cultural campaign, it is critical to engage within them to ensure that issues of cultural representation are part of a broad public dialogue.  What took the Exhibit Museum nearly fifty years to realize, and then publicly address, is an excellent example of how public engagement effects change in museums, and therefore the public at large. I would like to welcome the public to meet this challenge and opportunity as the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center continues to develop exhibits and programs that stem from the advocacy of indigenous expression as one of the core values of the institution.  Participate in museum programs and cultural centers, go to Pow-Wows, and celebrate the opportunity to be a part of something beautiful, enriching, and powerful.

For more information on “Native American Dioramas in Transition,” go to

For the Director’s comment, got to

To contribute to a discussion on the exhibit, go to

Northern Cree Singers

Kevin Locke

“A place is a story happening many times”

by Brent Carmack, Assistant Director, and Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

One goal of every museum is to provide opportunities for visitors to make connections between what they see and learn at the museum with their own personal stories. A new opportunity to make those connections at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center went up a few months ago in conjunction with the opening of the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area.

One of the most impressive things about Soapstone is simply the vast landscape that overwhelms you when you visit that place. To know that people have lived and thrived on that beautiful, harsh, sometimes unforgiving landscape for over 12,000 years can be humbling and inspiring. For the people who lived there, that landscape was a part of their identities. For most folks, their own personal landscape helps define who they are and how they view the world.

At the Museum we give people a chance to learn more about the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and its history, but we are also interested in learning about our visitors’ own stories. We posed a thought and a question to our visitors and gave them the opportunity to tell us a little about themselves.

“A place is a story happening many times.”  What place tells your story, and why?

This simple question has generated tons of responses, some funny, some sad, some whimsical, others simple. Responses come from all ages and several languages. Each response shares a little something of themselves, a gift to others who might read their story. Each response is an opportunity for further connection with the Museum and a chance for a little reflective thought—all goals of any museum experience.

Visitor's responses to the question, What place tells your story, and why?

Visitor's responses to the question, What place tells your story, and why?

We’ve collected some of our favorite responses and put them together in an interactive VoiceThread slideshow. Take a look at what some of our visitors have shared with us. The slideshow will advance automatically, or you can use the large arrow buttons in the lower corners to move forward and backward at your own pace.

We would love to hear from you, too — you can participate in this project even if you can’t come to the Museum. Here’s how:

  1. You can add your comment to any of the messages in the slideshow by clicking the “Comment” button at the lower edge of the slideshow frame. You’ll see that a couple of us have posted some comments ourselves. You can type your comment, or record a spoken comment and upload it to the slideshow. You’ll need to register for a VoiceThread account to do this, but it’s easy (really! Just your name, email address, and password) and free (bonus!).
  2. The very last slide in the show is where you can add your own story of place. Again, you can type in your comment or record it and upload it.

Or — you don’t have to respond at all, just pause for a moment and ponder the meaning of place to you.

(But we’d be delighted if you did respond!)

New Museum website launches

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

We had a big day at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center yesterday — we opened as a joint science and history experience, featuring both DSC’s best-loved hands-on interactive science exhibits and the Museum’s history exhibits (see the Coloradoan online for some great pictures and a video from yesterday). Since DSC closed at their Prospect Street location on May 30th, we’ve been working hard to create this new combined space where visitors can learn, explore, and have fun. We’re very excited about the results and hope you’ll come see us soon to experience it for yourself!

As part of our opening as a combined museum experience, we also launched our new Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center website. It’s at the same address — — but has a whole lot more to offer, including podcasts, videos, do-at-home science activities, information for educators and researchers, ideas for planning your visit, and more. Slinky, our ball python, is even getting in on the action — he’s Twittering his “snake’s-eye view” of goings-on at the Museum. You can follow him on Twitter at SlinkyWorld.

All of this is to say there’s a lot going on at the Museum! Come visit us, whether in person or online — there’s always more to explore.

Early Childhood Education at the Museum

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education, Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center

How can we improve the museum experience for some of our very youngest visitors? For five years, I lived in Chicago and worked at the Notebaert Nature Museum, part of the Chicago Academy of Science. While at that museum, I had interns from the Erikson Institute, a specialized graduate school offering masters and doctoral degrees in early childhood development. Lucky for me, while I taught my interns about museum programming, they taught me about the unique needs of children younger than 7 years of age. I’m now applying that knowledge to our educational services at the Fort Collins Museum and Discovery Science Center.

The first thing I learned is that young children THINK differently than adults. They lack the physical development in the brain to understand some phenomena. For example, if you pour all of the water from a tall, skinny glass into a short fat glass and ask a 3-year-old if the amount of water in the second glass is the same as the amount that was in the first glass, they will say no, there is less water. They cannot comprehend that the volume of water is the same because the water level in the second glass is lower. It doesn’t matter how many times or ways you try to explain this concept, they lack the physical connections in the brain to understand. Ask the same child the same question in a few years, and your answer will change to the correct one because the child’s brain has further developed.

The next thing I learned is that young children FEEL the same as adults. We tend to think of children has having a different set of emotions from us because they express those emotions in much different ways. In reality, the feeling and intensity of emotion are alike in children and adults, but adults have mastered socially accepted ways of expressing (or repressing) those emotions. My Erikson Institute interns often stress to me that adults tend to think the reverse of this because adults don’t (or at least, shouldn’t) have tantrums over the types of things children do, making us think that the children feel differently than we do.

Because of this great wealth of information and experience I gained from my Erikson interns, I’m planning an early childhood program at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center that will debut this summer. Children 3 to 5 years of age, along with a caregiver, will meet at the Museum on Tuesday mornings from 10 to 10:45am, beginning in July, for activities and experiments created just for them, in consideration of how they THINK and FEEL. Keep an eye on our blog for more information!

Bruce Springsteen and Museums—More in Common Than You Think

by Brent Carmack, Assistant Director, Fort Collins Museum

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in concert in Denver. Why, you might ask, am I writing about my Springsteen concert experience on a museum blog? In thinking about the show I realized that there are a number of lessons that museums can learn from Bruce’s continuing career and his consistent presentation of a great product.

  1. Visitor Expectations. Springsteen has always treated his fans with respect and has been the consummate professional in his field. He always provides a first-class experience for the people that pay to consume his product. Much like a museum visit, most visitors have some preconceived notions about what their experience will be like. They have a set of expectations that must be met otherwise they won’t come back to the museum in the future and they won’t tell their friends about the positive experience they had visiting the museum. So Bruce has to play “Born to Run” at each concert or people will leave disappointed. But like Bruce, museums should exceed visitor’s expectations by providing surprises that will make their visit special. Bruce played “E Street Shuffle,” a song not often heard anymore in concert but one that die hard fans know and love.
  2. Consistency of product and experience. I first saw Springsteen and the Band almost twenty-five years ago after camping out 4 days and nights for tickets. It was one of those college experiences that make college what it should be. This time the ticket experience changed (10 minutes on the internet) but the concert experience did not. He delivered as well as he did way back when with a mix of new songs, old hits, and a showmanship that is unmatched in the business. What tricks can museums learn from Bruce? Many museum goers can remember that special moment when they were kids, going to a museum and seeing that special artifact or having that experience that turned them into museum fans for life. Much like hearing Bruce play “Thunder Road” twenty-five years ago and again the other night, it served as a tie to a special memory that helped make me a Bruce fan. When I took my family to Colonial Williamsburg, we first had to go to the magazine where the colonists kept their arms and ammunition because that’s the place that fascinated me as a child. Many visitors to our Fort Collins Museum first go to the cabins in the courtyard because that’s what they remember from their first visit.
  3. Opportunities for inter-generational experiences. Almost all museums are designed to provide opportunities for families to have positive educational experiences. Often the key to these positive experiences comes from older members of the family interacting with and passing down information to a younger generation. Artifacts in museums serve as connecting points and touchstones for these conversations. The same thing happens at a Springsteen concert. Because of the way that Bruce meets his visitor’s expectations, and consistent quality of his concert experience, he has been successful at what he does for over 35 years – and because of that success, my wife and I could take our fourteen year-old daughter to the show and shared an experience we had from our youth with her. And by the looks of the audience the other night we were not the only inter-generational audience members in the house. The fact that as parents we could share this experience with our daughter not only brings us closer together as a family, it also proves to our daughter that her parents are not as uncool as she thinks! There are other common themes between Bruce Springsteen and museums: cultural relevancy, historic landmark status, heritage tourism, competition for leisure time and money, to name a few. It doesn’t take much of a leap to make the connections. I’m just glad I work in a field that can consider going to a Springsteen concert as “professional development.”

March 2023

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