We can’t truly understand other people unless we have walked in their footsteps… This is one reason why I enjoy travelling to other parts of the country and world, and it’s also one reason why I enjoy theater and museum/exhibit design — the chance to create immersive environments that transport us into a different culture, time period, or set of circumstances.
Earlier this month I traveled to the “Deep South” for both business and pleasure… to visit a friend and also to visit some highly-acclaimed museums and cultural centers. Because I work in exhibit design, every time I see a new museum I am learning from others’ techniques, materials, and methods of presentation, but I also get the benefit of education about such vast topics when visiting these places.
My week began in Louisiana, where my good friend Peter has been Executive Director of Knock Knock Children’s Museum in Baton Rouge for the past couple of years.
I’m really proud of the work Peter has done at Knock Knock and am also thrilled that he will soon be back in MN as a full-time museum consultant, so we will hopefully get to collaborate on some projects soon!
After a couple of days absorbing the culture of the bayou (where we had close encounters with a Piggly Wiggly store, lots of deep fried seafood, and both alligators and dolphins), Peter, Mandy, and I hit the road to cram in as many museum/cultural sites as we could for the next 3-4 days.
One of our first stops was the Mississippi Children’s Museum, in Jackson, MS. I have seen 15-20 children’s museums around the country by now, and each one is unique. It’s especially nice to see how they each present their region’s distinct qualities through interactive exhibits.
Talk about heavy material... I was born in the South (1968 in Memphis, TN, just 10 days before Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated right there), but I haven’t spent much time there since I was a baby. Learning about the Civil Rights while you’re actually IN the states that have felt some of the most turmoil (and being old enough now to really understand the significance and see how far we still need to progress) is a very different experience than reading about it in history class in mostly-white Minnesota as a teenager.
The next day, we moved on to Montgomery, Alabama, where we went to the Legacy Museum (located in a former warehouse where black people were enslaved while waiting to be sold, and a block away from one of the most prominent slave auction sites in America) and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
The Memorial has 805 hanging pieces of steel that represent the 805 counties in the United States of America where documented lynching has taken place.
Sadly one of those lynchings took place in my current home of Duluth, MN. One section of this National Memorial will eventually be brought to Duluth and erected at the site of the lynchings.
The last museum on this journey was the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, LA.
Wow, that place really takes the interactive/immersive concept to a new level. Each room is full of historical artifacts and video that really transport the visitor to another time. I was fascinated when I started to count how many video projectors and Source Four lighting instruments were in each room — I can only imagine the complexity of maintaining these exhibits.
In all, I’ve given you just a small taste of what was a very intense and thought-provoking week… I may have started from the goal of experiencing a variety of museum styles and exhibit construction techniques, but I gained so much more from my experiences than just that. Every time we make the effort to understand someone else’s history or stories, we also understand a little bit more about ourselves.
OK, now since you patiently read all the way to the end, here’s my dramatic Louisiana ‘gator picture for you as a reward.
I’m heading out again next week for nearly three weeks of residency gigs in the Twin Cities, doing a lighting design at Stages Theatre (Mary Poppins Jr.) and both lighting and scenic design at Maple Grove High School (Tuck Everlasting). Feel free to keep an eye on my Portfolio pages for other recent and upcoming endeavors!