Upcoming Book – Fostering Empathy Through Museums

Seth Frankel, Studio Tectonic’s principal, is a contributing author to a new professional book entitled Fostering Empathy Through Museums. Published by Rowman & Littlefield, the book release is scheduled for Spring, 2016, around the time of the American Alliance of Museums conference.

For more about the book from the editor Elif Gokcigdem, please go to: Fostering Empathy Book

Seth’s chapter looks at:

Interpreting Arapaho Chief Niwot – Complex Pasts in Contemporary Community

Street, buildings and towns throughout the community of Boulder County, Colorado are named after 19th Century forebears. They exist largely without question and often ignore the histories for which they are named. Native American names romantically pay homage to a people long removed by force. European names sit in recognition of a complex blend of progress and brutality.

Chief Niwot, a deeply astute Arapaho leader who’s people suffered in the ever shifting politics and public opinion of the Civil War era saw his efforts for his people’s future destroyed through massacre and displacement. Using wide-ranging exhibition, performance, public programs and multicultural community dialogue the contemporary legacy of this history became a centerpiece for embracing our role and responsibility today as inheritor’s of a not-so-easily-summed-up multifaceted past.


AAM Session Accepted : Empathy & Evil: Moving Beyond ‘Good-guy/Bad-guy’ Narratives

Seth Frankel is leading a panel at the May, 2016 AAM Conference in Washington DC. The session title is Empathy & Evil: Moving Beyond ‘Good-guy/Bad-guy’ Narratives. Seth will be presenting with colleagues Mark Katrikh (Museum of Tolerance, CA), Dr. Adam Nilsen (Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, CA) and Sarah Pharaon (International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, NYC). Over 440 proposals were received for the conference. We’re honored to have been selected.

The session will appeal to museum educators, planners, curators, developers and designers.


Museums are tasked with unpacking complex social narratives in order to accurately document conflict and actively further public understanding. Even seemingly benign narratives are often told through the eyes of an oversimplified “good guy” and “bad guy.” This reduction is rarely accurate and may, in fact, be harmful: victims get presented as powerless and victimizers as non-human monsters.

Through example exhibitions, programs, and research, panelists and participants will explore theories and approaches for pushing beyond such one-dimensional portrayals of difficult history and contemporary conflict, with the goal of encouraging audiences to engage with social complexity and more fully envision their role as agents in social progress.

Purely Fun – Tube to Work Day

Why would anyone ride a tube down a river to get to work? Well, it’s just plain silly fun! Zach and Seth donned their wetsuits and joined in the City of Boulder’s 6th Annual Tube to Work Day with about 200 others.

Happy commuting!

Before getting wet in proper water play attire

Before getting wet in proper water play attire

Seth showing his commuter style

Seth showing his commuter style

Exhibit Booth Made of Paper

At the recent National Association for Interpretation conference in Denver, we designed and fabricated our expo hall booth nearly entirely from recycled cardboard. Using 1″ thick packing honeycomb pads we cut the large sheets into strips and stacked/hot glued the pieces together leaving room for photos and some LED strip lighting. Text was applied of lettering from our vinyl cutter. Plywood boxes were fabricated to serve as bases to add weight and stability for the five vertical sections.

The standing desk was constructed out of five sheets of material and all fit together with no glue or hardware. Two sheets were shaped for the top and we left a little space for hiding keyboards, papers and junk. The whole desk packed flat and went together in a few minutes. Total weight was about four pounds and easily held up to abuse with lots of nice water marks from coffee cups! We cut slots in the top to hold business cards and our handouts.

The entire booth received great attendee reviews…especially the desk. In fact, we had about five offers to buy it. In the end we donated it to NAI for their live auction after they inquired about putting it up for bidding.

Recycled, recyclable exhibit booth designed and built by Studio Tectonic for the National Associate for Interpretation conference in Denver

Recycled, recyclable exhibit booth designed and built by Studio Tectonic for the National Association for Interpretation conference in Denver

Tips on Use of a Multiple Languages in Exhibits

Wide ranging cultural institutions often wrestle with when and how to use multiple languages in their exhibitions. As well they should. Any institution, except for those in the most homogenous areas, need to be asking how their use of language embraces, pushes away or ignores visitor needs. This is also not a static analysis but rather important to understanding audience engagement with each new and aging exhibit.

An interpretive sign in Denmark includes three languages in dense copy and becomes a vast Baltic Sea of type.


In some regions, such as Montreal, choice isn’t an option but rather dictated by law (English and French). In other areas and institutions there aren’t governing rules, but rather exhibit language is a matter of common practice. However, most institutions are left somewhere in-between without a hard and fast policy or even obvious direction on the use of additional languages.

Through our work with institutions around the world, we’ve advised that issues around language be considered at the early conceptual phase of planning an new exhibit. Sometimes there’s a bit of pushback…that the subject really isn’t important until writing copy and designing panels and media components or that their just isn’t a need to examine that part of visitor communication. We find, though, that by including language discussions early on, the exploration of audience needs is brought upfront through these discussions. We all want our exhibits to be inclusive and Read more »

Best of Papers – 8th International Conference of Museums for Peace

Seth Frankel’s paper Sierra Leone Peace Museum: A Remembrance of Violence, Peace and Rebuilding was recently published as a Best Conference Papers by the No Gun Ri International Peace Foundation in South Korea.

Studio Tectonic is pleased to have been able to participate and been recognized for its work about this important museum. Click HERE to view the paper with project images as a PDF.


International Network of Museums for Peace Conference

Seth Frankel presented on the creation and opening of the Sierra Leone Peace Museum at the 8th INMP conference – this year in South Korea. The conference occurs every three years at a different international location. Approximately 200 participants gathered at the NoGunRi Memorial near Gimcheon, in south central Korea. NoGunRi is the location of a peace museum centered around the massacre site of nearly 300 civilian Koreans by American soldiers at the early days of the Korean War. The massacre was denied by both the US and Korean government and only acknowledged in 1999 thanks to the decades of pressure by one of the Korean survivors.

Studio Tectonic’s conference paper is available here and chronicles the efforts to create the Sierra Leone Peace Museum by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience and Studio Tectonic (4mb, 10 pages).

Sierra Leone Peace Museum_Seth Frankel_Page_01


Learn about the INMP at http://inmp.net

Museums for Peace – ST Featured on The Evergreen Mind

The Evergreen Mind Blog, at The Evergreen State College, recently featured Seth Frankel’s work in creating museums of peace. Here’s an excerpt and link…


“Few stories are harder than the stories Seth Frankel ’93 designs and develops into exhibitions for museums across the country. As principal of his Colorado-based exhibition design firm, Studio Tectonic, he’s developed wide ranging exhibits. He’s created exhibits on watersheds, paleontology and beer (the beer and paleo exhibits aren’t the same, by the way, but he claims eyewitness account that there’s plenty of beer in paleo field camps)…”