I can’t believe it’s been a full year since I wrote my last installment of this blog post series “Inventing an Exhibition” about the development of the Places of Invention (POI) project. A lot has happened in 12 months! As you may recall from previous entries, the exhibition essentially explores this question: What kind of place stimulates creative minds and sparks invention and innovation? Through six case studies—1970s-80s Silicon Valley, CA; 1970s Bronx, NY; 1950s Medical Alley, MN; late 1800s Hartford, CT; 1930s Hollywood, CA; and 2010s Fort Collins, CO—plus an Interactive Map featured in the exhibition’s Hub, POI examines what can happen when the right mix of inventive people, untapped resources, and inspiring surroundings come together. POI will debut when NMAH’s first floor West Wing opens next July.
Over the past year, POI exhibition development progressed officially from 65% to 95% to 100% design, marking major shifts from concept to reality as we honed the fine details and prepared to build it. POI curators Joyce Bedi, Laurel Fritzsch Belman, Eric Hintz, and I interviewed inventors and innovators, completed secondary research, selected graphics and objects for the exhibition, wrote label text, obtained image rights, and otherwise provided information and finalized content with Roto, our exhibition design partners. We worked closely with them on planning interactive experiences, including a chance to try “scratching” a record like a hip-hop DJ in the Bronx and playing doctor by testing a cardiac pacemaker on a patient in Medical Alley!
After we completed final internal reviews and received official approval from the Museum’s Director’s Council, we started the exhibition fabrication process with Roto in June. This phase will go through the end of the 2014. Recently I traveled to Roto’s cool design studios in Dublin, OH to check on the progress of the exhibition. Photos accompanying this blog post give you a sneak peek at the interactives mentioned above and a few other exhibit components just to whet your appetite.
Other ongoing project activities include completing a complementary book with Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press. This publication has required a lot of hard work in a relatively short time, but it’s a labor of love for the POI team. The book is co-edited and introduced by Anna Karvellas and Art Molella, with case study chapters authored by Joyce, Laurel, Eric, and me, “Affiliate dispatches” by Anna, an epilogue, and a final chapter “What’s Next?” by project consultant Lorraine McConaghy. The ideas behind the POI book and exhibition could not be timelier. What is it about a place that sparks invention and innovation? How does “place”—whether physical, social, or cultural—support, constrain, and influence innovation? Why does invention flourish in one spot but struggle elsewhere? In short: Why there? Why then?
We are also collaborating with POI Affiliate museums and their community partners to complete their video contributions to the Interactive Map. In December 2013, we held a workshop for the Phase 2 Affiliate project participants: Berkshire Museum, with the Berkshire Historical Society, Pittsfield, MA.; Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, Fishers, IN, with the Howard County Historical Society, Kokomo, IN; National WWII Museum, with the University of New Orleans, LA; Telluride Historical Museum, with the Pinhead Institute, Telluride, CO; Western Reserve Historical Society, with WCPN/WVIZ Ideastream®, Cleveland, OH; and ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum, Ashland, OR, with the Southern Oregon Historical Society, Medford. We also trained a new addition/replacement to the Phase 1 Affiliates: the U.S. Space and Rocket Center with the University of Alabama, Huntsville. The POI project has a total of 12 Affiliate partners from Phase 1 and Phase 2 whose videos will be featured not only in the Interactive Map in the exhibition gallery but also on the complementary exhibition website.
The clock is ticking down as we aim to begin exhibition installation in the Lemelson Hall of Invention early in the New Year. It’s been a long road but we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and look forward to sharing this exhibition with the public after years of ideating and innovating. Mark your calendars for the July 2015 opening at the National Museum of American History!