NEWS: Project Award – Idaho Tetons Scenic Byways Visitor Center

Studio Tectonic and Plan One Architects were recently awarded the design for a new visitor center and 2,000 sq. ft. exhibit for the Teton Scenic Byways. Located in Driggs, Idaho, this center will focus on the “quiet side” of the Teton Mountain Range. It will feature the rich natural and social history of the area from Swan Valley, through Pine Creek pass and north through the Upper Snake River Valley. The exhibit also will integrate a collection of art by Thomas Moran and William Jackson.

Project completion expected in 2014.

A bit about this byway can be found at: Teton Scenic Byways

NEWS: BEER! Boulder’s History on Tap

Pleased to report that Boulder History Museum’s BEER! Boulder’s History on Tap opened to the public on March 1st. The exhibit is on display until October 27th.

View this project on the Studio Tectonic website here: BEER! Boulder’s History on Tap

View a recent article and video including interview with the exhibition curator and Studio Tectonic here: Exhibit brings to life Boulder’s love affair with beer


Interactive Spinning Beer Cask Displays

NEWS: USA Cycling Displays on Exhibit

Studio Tectonic has completed the design and implementation of five displays for USA Cycling in Colorado Springs. This quick turn-around project includes showcases each of the five competitive bicycle disciplines. Objects include bicycles ridden Olympians during their medal rides, as well as images and content showcasing the history of the disciplines.

View this project on the Studio Tectonic website here: USA Cycling Exhibit

View USA Cycling’s website here: USA Cycling Website

USA Cycling Headquarters Exhibition – Track

NEWS: Grant Awarded – Sites of Conscience Project Support Fund

In collaboration with the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Studio Tectonic’s work is being supported by a 2013 Project Support Fund grant through the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. This grant is for in-country planning of the national Peace Museum to serve as a living commemoration, archive, and memorial in this West African nation’s capitol, Freetown. From 1991 until 2002 the country of Sierra Leone was ravished by a violent and complex struggle leaving over 50,000 citizens dead and manyfold more dramatically affected.

The grant will permit planning and travel to and throughout Sierra Leone to work with local people, officials and project leaders to lay the foundation for the creation of the new museum within the United Nations’ Special Court building. The trial work of the Special Court will be ending in 2013, at which point the building will be transformed and belong to the people of Sierra Leone to serve as an enduring testament to the war.

The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, based in New York City, is a worldwide network of historic sites, museums, and initiatives dedicated to remembering past struggles and addressing their contemporary legacies. More information can be found at its website,

More information about the Special Court can be found at its website.

Studio Tectonic will continue to update and report on the developments and progress of this important and vital work.


Van Gogh – Scraping Together an Education

I had the opportunity to view the Denver Art Museum Becoming Van Gogh exhibit early this week (now sold out until the end of the exhibition on the 20th of January). The exhibition is a broadly sourced focus on the artist’s 10 year creative journey. In short, he began his serious art endeavors around 27 and continued until his death in 1890. The exhibit’s curators focused on his artistic development to the near complete lack of attention on his troubled life, ears and cause of death. I applaud that.

Van Gogh was not what you’d call a “self taught” artist, but rather an artist desperate to learn through any and all means possible. He plowed through instruction manuals, “how-to” books, community classes and hanging out where the artists hung. By the time of his death had had little following, but was respected by the artist community, in spite of his sloppy education.

DAM’s curators expressed this well, primarily through a “layered” audio tour. Two sets of numbers on the wall indicated if the audio stop was “adult” focused or “family” focused. I attended the exhibit with three kids who frankly didn’t care which level they were listening to. The adult tracks were more focused on his education and gathering of techniques. The family tracks were more focused on learning observation, both of Van Gogh himself and the viewer’s observations of the exhibit. I listened to all of them too, but agreed with the elementary-age critiques that other than tone and length, the content was appealing across the ages. Tracks were appropriately long, loaded with music and folly effects, which deepened the content, and naturally professionally recorded with skilled voice artists.

Grasses reflect Van Gogh's experimentation with color through using multi-colored yarns.

Grasses reflect Van Gogh’s experimentation with color through using multi-colored yarns. 1887

Four “interpretive” locations were spread throughout the gallery. They focused on topics such as Van Gogh’s use of perspective frames, and ways of experimenting with color. The locations were positioned mostly adjacent to paintings that expressed the concepts being explored. They most compelling was the color stop. At it, there were several balls of mixed-color yarns in a case. The audio and panels presented Van Gogh’s frugal means of experimenting with color by laying strands of different yarns together. A nearby painting of clumps of grass nearly perfectly expressed the its colors through strands of multi-pigmented paint strokes. However, the curators missed a wonderful opportunity to implement a tactile and hands-on interactive with yarn. I for one, desperately wanted to grab the yarn from the case and play with it and experience the creative process of the exhibit’s subject. Many ways could have been crafted to keep the yarn from walking away and secured to the location. Also, rather than rely entirely on the audio and panels, a small bundle of yarn directly besides the grass painting could have reinforced the connection and offered it in different learning style and made an interpretive message immediately accessible without requiring a purely cognitive connection.

The first floor hands-on painting studio (which rocked, by the way) could have taken the four interpretive stations and had them come to life in ways that the exhibit itself didn’t. I’d like to see the museum build even stronger connections between the “play spaces” and curatorial content.

Small misses in otherwise strong exhibits are easy to find when Monday-morning quarterbacking, for sure. Still, even with temporary shows we should work to keep the curatorial and design process alive during the course of the exhibitions. We make endless changes to exhibits up to the point of opening and then too often walk away “sealing” the exhibit as final rather than continuing to add, adjust, refine and refresh.

Overall, as a savvy museum-goer, I found tremendous joy and meaning in this exhibition. I hope the others who had the opportunity to see it also found it as compelling – beyond simply seeing a blockbuster in the art world.



Museum Board as Consultants (What Outside Experts Bring)

On a recent AAM group chat site on LinkedIn, a posting presented a question about using board members instead of hired consultants. While this was mostly a discussion about making do in small museum environments, I read this with a bit of caution. I have seen board members successfully bring incredible expertise to institution. I have also seen projects stagnate, or worse, in obligating boards/volunteers to do “free” work that’s usually best for outside consultants.

I offered a voice to the conversation advocating for the benefits of using paid experts, and share the posting here. It helps articulate how a board can see consulting, and what it offers an institution that is hard to find on the inside.

Read more »

What Temple Grandin May (not) Say About Museum Exhibitions

Last night I attended a lecture here in Boulder by Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin was made popularly famous by the HBO movie featuring her life and work as an exceptional and autistic designer of humane beef slaughter plant systems. In fact, she’s the only person to receive an award from PETA and an inductee in the Meat Industry Hall of Fame. In 2010 Time Magazine named her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Dr. Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple Grandin

Her lecture was primarily focused on her thinking about autism and other spectrum brain disorders, although, refreshingly, there’s no separating her life’s calling in animal welfare from her views on human disabilities. She’s an entertaining and clear presenter – making concrete connections between seemingly disparate subjects in a most honest and real way. “The Spectrum”, as many call it, include a wide range of diagnosed brain developmental disorders that include autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, and other social and stimuli-related conditions. For simplicity, I’m referring to these collectively as “spectrum”.

Dr. Grandin talked extensively about how learning, social engagement and brain wiring are all interconnected. And while her presentation was not focused on museums, exhibitions or anything related to the design of public informal learning environments, Dr. Grandin’s words spoke strongly to the design of exhibitions.

From her comments, I drew several directly relevant concepts that may well inform the design of exhibits in ways that address a broader range of brain functions, and perhaps inadvertently propel quality engagement for both “normal” and “abnormal” functioning visitors.

I’ll explore two of the presentation themes within the context of the museum:

Read more »