The third floor of the Penn Museum is home to our smallest gallery, which we refer to simply as our Special Exhibitions Gallery. Despite its limited size (approx. 300 square feet), this gallery has hosted some fascinating exhibitions in recent years—most recently, a cross-cultural survey titled Sex: A History in 30 Objects.
A new installation in this gallery is now open to the public—one that’s markedly different from most of the Museum’s other gallery offerings. It’s called the Idea Lounge, and it’s the embodiment of some interesting experimental thinking on the part of our exhibitions team. I spoke with one member of the team, Jessica Bicknell, to find out more about this project.
–What is your name, and what’s your role at the Museum?
I’m Jessica Bicknell, I work in the Exhibitions Department as the Interpretive Planning Manager. I collaborate with curators and designers to help create exhibit labels, interactives, and other displays for the public.
–What can you tell me about the Idea Lounge?
The Idea Lounge is meant to be a place where staff can share what’s happening in the Museum with our visitors, and to get some input about what we are planning for upcoming exhibitions.
–Is this an exhibition?
It’s not a traditional exhibition—what’s on display are prototypes of things planned for future exhibitions.
–What can visitors expect to see in the Idea Lounge?
Exhibit prototypes, temporary signs, test cases, or in-progress AV displays are all items that we plan to put up in the space. These displays are purposefully unfinished, and will rotate throughout the year as new elements are developed and improvements are made.
There will always be surveys that visitors can fill out, and sometimes other ways to give feedback (right now there is a magnet board). Staff or volunteers will be in the space from time to time to speak with visitors in person about their ideas for how to make things better. We will also be updating the space with information about upcoming gallery changes—a little bit of a sneak peek into what is coming soon. Right now, visitors can see some of the draft designs for galleries scheduled to open in 2018.
–How did you come up with the Idea Lounge concept?
Several museums have prototype testing spaces or dedicated locations for visitor feedback, especially as they are undergoing changes. Ours is specially designed to meet our needs, so it may be the only “lounge.”
–Has the Penn Museum ever done anything like this before?
We test ideas with visitors all the time, usually by setting up temporarily in a gallery space and conducting surveys, and the Imagine Africa exhibition was designed to garner visitor feedback, so we have done things like this before. This is the first time we’ve had a dedicated space for testing a rotation of prototypes in this way.
–What kinds of ideas are you sharing?
We are sharing all kinds of ideas! Some of them are basic signs designed to go into an upcoming exhibition or gallery, others will be displays of actual objects, interactives, or videos. The kinds of ideas and feedback we are seeking from visitors will change based on what’s on view, but it will range from a simple opinion survey, to voting on which version of an exhibit element works best, to thinking creatively about what they would like to see or experience at the Penn Museum in the future.
–What do you hope the Idea Lounge will help you to accomplish?
Feedback from visitors is critically important to our work—ultimately, they are the ones that will use (and hopefully enjoy!) the displays we create. So garnering more input will likely help us to improve our exhibits for our audience, and get them more involved in the process of creating exhibits.
-How long will the Idea Lounge project be active at the Museum?
It’s an experiment, so the plan is for it to be up for about a year (through summer 2017) and then we’ll see!
Drop by the Idea Lounge during your next visit to the Penn Museum, and share your feedback about how our ideas for changes to the Museum galleries are shaping up!
Photos by Tom Stanley.