I was pleasantly surprised by the exhibits at the International Spy Museum. My one major critique was that they were hard to navigate in a direct fashion (e.g. I went through the duct work and skipped a quarter of the exhibit). Wayfinding was also made more difficult by the large amount of people visiting the museum. Yet, Anna Slafer and Jackie Eyl seemed well aware of these difficulties.
I was impress with all of the thoughtful planning and prototyping that Anna and the exhibits team has done in preparation of the Spy Museum’s new building. Thinking about how current events and technologies affect interpretation and using espionage as a lens for STEM, history, social commentary on gender & ethnicity, hands on learning and critical thinking skills makes this museum one to watch.
Their desire to create exhibit spaces that both delight and insight reminded me of the interpretation style at Hillwood. Hillwood worked to create “guided serendipity” remarkably similar to the spy museum’s “discovery environments.” In both cases the museum works to scaffold exhibits to give visitors multiple entry points and then use design, hands on objects, narration, or other interpretive methods to draw visitor’s attention to a new discovery. This is my definition of relevancy, and I am thrilled to see museums working to take visitor prior experiences into account when planning exhibits to create discovery based on something relevant to the visitor.
Lastly, this post would not be complete without noting that I spent about three hours touring the main exhibit of the Holocaust Museum. This exhibit, with its simple yet incredibly thoughtful layout was extremely evocative and informative. Going through phases of dark and light signaled to the visitor when it was time for hard content and when it was time for an emotional rest. I also appreciated the straight forward exhibit panels that allowed me quickly to know what the theme of the area and all necessary details. I sensed that the vocabulary on the panels was advanced (high school age and above, which is the target audience) so I was glad to see parents and teachers explaining to “tweens” when they had questions. I think it would be good to have more museum staff near by to answer questions as well. There were few objects for an exhibit that size, but what objects there were, were extremely powerful. To me the most powerful was the photo tower from the shtetl and the collection of shoes. This museum does a tremendous job broaching a very difficult subject.