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StoryBike records video stories
9 min read

The Rise of Popup Exhibits: Community Stories During COVID

Popup exhibits have been on the radar for many museums for several years now. These exhibit outposts can be located outside the museum, in community spaces, often outdoors. And now, during times of COVID-19, these outdoor, remote locations may provide new options for museums looking to connect beyond their walls. Our focus in particular has been gathering community stories, recorded in video, as part of a popup exhibit experience.

Although these examples were created during pre-COVID times, popup exhibits in general may lend themselves especially well to early engagement with museum visitors as museums reconnect with their visitors. Outdoor spaces at community locations provide visibility, and when supplemented with mask wearing and social distancing may provide connections currently not possible in indoor spaces.

In our project with Washington Post Magazine on the National Mall a few years ago, where we explored some of the possibilities when museums and other public venues use visitors’ stories to create content for the news. The project was awarded AAM’s MUSE Award — the stories themselves and the video created by Washington Post staff are remarkable and diverse.  Be sure to check out the inspiring compiled video of visitors’ stories in the online version of the story.

StoryKiosk popup with Washington Post
Capturing stories on the National Mall with Washington Post Magazine (photo by Fabiana Chiu)

For the Fresh Paint mural art festival in Springfield, MA, we created StoryBike with 42 Design Fab to record stories celebrating the transformation of downtown. With this project, we began to think of our installations less as “museum installations” and more as “community installations.” This mirrors development among museums too as they reach to work collaboratively with positive impact in their local community. We’re eager to continue this work as we explore the intersections of community development projects, public art, and community storytelling.

People using StoryBike at festival
Gathering stories at the Fresh Paint mural arts festival with StoryBike with 42 Design Fab


The main goal throughout the history of our Storykiosk and popup work has been to encourage verbalization of experience (including play) in exhibits. This is based on early work by researchers including Falk, Dierking, Borun and others indicating that the best sign of learning in exhibits is communication about the experience. Over the years, we’ve been adding new layers for sharing that experience, including a cloud-based content management system, workflows for social media sharing, and imaginative media formats for display. It’s especially rewarding to see the positive play between parent and child when creating the puppet shows. We design the program to encourage multi-generational collaboration, having ready-to-go puppets for parents to use with their child’s handmade spoon puppet.

StoryKiosk at Boston Mini Maker Faire
Popup station at Boston Mini-Maker Faire captures stories of visitors’ creations

For our recent project with Kingston Public Library, we created two stations with 42 Design Fab — one that is set up permanently in the Library’s local history section, and another that can go out to community events. The project points to a new model that combines museum-based exhibits with outreach community exhibits using cloud-based story management to merge them into a single exhibit. This model provides opportunities for museum/library collaborations gathering community stories between the institutions.

StoryKiosk stations at Kingston Public Library
Stations at Kingston Public Library can both live at the Library and be taken to community events

We’re look forward to expanding community collaboration through popup exhibits and rentals.

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.