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StoryKiosk at Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center
10 min read

Community Stories: A New Model for Onsite / Offsite Exhibits

Last week we wrote about popup exhibits and their potential for extending the reach of museums. This week, our final in the series, we look at a model that includes contributions from visitors onsite as well as offsite at community events and from home. Especially now during COVID-19, there is a need to look for models that include participation beyond the physical museum. Our focus has been the gathering of visitors’ stories to connect to the museum.

Our focus on visitors’ stories, and the power of including them in exhibits, began with exhibit installations, including our installation at Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. We asked visitors to record short stories on topics such as “Have you ever boycotted something? How do you feel about it?” and “Have you ever taken a stand for something you believed in?” (See below). These questions become even more relevant today during a time of national dialogue on racism.

StoryKiosk menu screen at Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Installation at Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Design by Chris Danemayer, project with Amaze Design)

Designing for Onsite / Offsite Exhibits

One of the lessons of COVID is that we may not be able to rely on visitors coming into our exhibits — that we may have to design exhibits that have built-in components that work offsite as well as onsite. One of our pre-COVID projects with Museum of Durham History used installations that were designed to work in both locations.

For that project, community members could record their stories on a popup station, as well as on their own devices from home. The Museum of Durham History incorporated our cloud-based tool to record stories of members of the Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center in Durham.

Ar-Razzaq is one of the oldest Muslim communities in North Carolina, and a year long community-storytelling initiative culminated in an exhibit at the Museum, “Building Bridges through Good Faith.” The exhibit chronicles through first person testimonials the contributions of the mosque to the West End neighborhood in Durham.

StoryKiosk at Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center
Popup recording station at Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center in Durham

The whole initiative, spearheaded by colleague Katie Wright, points to a new model for museum initiatives using personal connections and stories to reach out and connect with community. It’s a model that intertwines use of story technology with a community-minded workflow.

The project use both a portable, event-based Storykiosk rental as well as our mobile platform to record video responses to questions such as:

  • How did Ar-Razzaq help shape you into the person you are?
  • Share a memory from growing up at Ar-Razzaq
  • What’s one thing you want people unfamiliar with Ar-Razzaq to know about it?
Smartphone with Story Recorder
Community members record on their own devices

Using Cloud-based Tools to Connect Locations

 We realized when using our cloud based Content Management System in Durham that technology can allow us to connect stories between institutions across town. And it can allow us to connect between institutions across an ocean in different countries. We developed a prototype allowing visitors to create and share puppet shows between a tryout space at Boston Children’s Museum and an afterschool program in London. The idea behind this: simple, fun moments of creative family expression go a long way toward building connections.

Photos of cultural exhibit story sharing
Part of our conference advertisement encouraging cross cultural sharing at ACM Interactivity

We worked with Vicky Cave, an exhibit developer in London focusing on early childhood projects, and Katie Wright in Durham, developing an emerging body of work on community storytelling. We also prototyped this at the Association of Children’s Museums Interactivity conference in 2018, noted in our conference ad above. Some of the areas we focused on:

  • Encouraging parent/child collaboration, and building on that dynamic
  • Appealing to universal “story shapes” as a bridge between cultures
  • Use of puppets to convey emotion
  • Warmup activities that scaffold the storytelling and encourage creative engagement

Beyond a focus on puppets and museums, cloud-based story gathering can be applied to a range of other topics that span communities and countries, including aspirations, nature observations, songs, and a range of other topics.

This concludes our four-part series on community storytelling in the time if COVID, as an Industry Partner in AAM’s AVISO newsletter. If you’d like to continue to receive occasional updates on our thoughts on community, stories, and technology, please fill out the quick Subscribe form on this page and we’ll be sure to include you with latest thoughts on this evolving topic.

Brad has contributed to the field with presentations at AAM, ASTC, and ACM Interactivity, where he has led sessions on empathy in exhibits. He has served as a website judge for Museums and the Web and the New England Museum Association, and as a Reviewer for IMLS Leadership Grant proposals.