Tuesday, August 7, 2012

American Family at Children's Discovery Museum

Yesterday we installed this little photography show in the art gallery at Children’s Discovery Museum and in the few hours it's been open, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Not only is the content of the show exciting to me, it was a particular pleasure to collaborate on a project that came together so quickly- just a few weeks, concept to install. With a quick timeline and the promise of a limited engagement, we were able to work in a way that felt much more experimental and responsive than what I'm used to.

I collaborated with art educator and gallery curator Lisa Ellsworth to plan, design and install American Family. She chose seven photographs from Courteney Coolidge’s American Families project to highlight one Bay Area family with two gay moms. To make sure the show felt relevant for all our visitors, Lisa developed an interpretive approach that focuses on the meaning of family and we wrote labels in the form of questions that invite visitors to talk about their own families.

The show opened just in time for San Jose Pride weekend, August 18-19. The Pride festival takes place on the Museum’s front lawn and this is the first year we’ll have Pride-related offerings in the museum itself.

The gallery is in a challenging space- it's part of a hallway that extends around a corner, framed by bathrooms and a defibrillator unit. Most visitors take a glance down the hall and if they don’t have to pee, say, “Oh, there’s nothing down this way- let’s go back downstairs.” Not exactly prime real estate.

But we made the most of it. We placed the larger photographs in strategic sight lines to draw interest from down the hall and positioned a table and chairs in the center to invite the kind of thoughtful lingering that we hoped would happen in our talk-back station. The photos are hung at kid-height so children know the photos are for them and for a bit of extra fun we extended the gallery experience into the rest of the second floor of the museum by including additional questions in places like the bathroom and the elevator.

As soon as the gallery opened, grown-ups were reading the questions on the wall to their children and the clips in the talk-back station filled up immediately. Many visitors have said they really like the photographs and Lisa and I are happy to see visitors spending more time in the art gallery. We're already talking about what's next.