Most people have no idea how museums put exhibits together. At UAMN, we’ve developed a process that, while slightly different with each exhibit, follows a basic structure of using a guest curator (myself, in the case of Denali Legacy) along with a curation team. The curator develops the initial idea and shapes the narrative, while the team provides expertise in their various areas, including digital media (Roger Topp), communications, editing, and interviewing (Theresa Bakker), graphic and exhibit design (Tamara Martz), and exhibit production & fabrication (Steve Bouta). The hands-on and interactive elements are developed and refined by our Education Department staff (Jen Arseneau and Maite Agopian).
The team efforts put forward on Denali Legacy echoes the team efforts put forward in the 1913 expedition of the Stuck-Karstens expedition. No one person should have received the credit for accomplishing that dramatic task, and likewise, no one person is responsible for the success of this engaging exhibition. I’ve felt incredible support for ideas I’ve put forward and the creativity of the team is showcased in many different products.
Roger Topp, our Head of Production, came up with idea and look of the Denali mountain model and the projection of 100 years of climbing routes. In addition, he crunched the numbers and worked out the animation for the routes, which will be a cool interactive. He has managed the project and kept us all on task and on time – not an easy feat!
Theresa Bakker, the Media Coordinator for the Museum, is also a former public radio person and has incredible interviewing skills. She has created a great social media presence through our Facebook posts, developing this blog, and managing the “Share the View” photo campaign. Her interviewing and sound editing are highlighted in both the documentary that she and Roger produced, and the audio diary components of the exhibit. She is also an excellent writer and has helped us keep the narrative and interpretive panels concise while communicating the personalities of each of member of the climbing expedition.
The exhibits department is headed up by Steve Bouta, our Coordinator of Exhibits and preparator extraordinare – and longest-time employee of the museum. His keen eye, excellent editing skills, straightforward communication style, and ability to work any tool in the shop translates into quality exhibits time and time again.
The task of figuring out the look of the exhibit falls on the capable and creative shoulders of Tamara Martz. Our resident kiwi who has come a long way from making our brass mounts for the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery back in 2005, Tamara met the difficult challenge of presenting an exhibition with a lot of text. From the creative designs and beautiful color palette, Tamara makes this exhibit more than just the words on the page – she’s made it accessible.
Making an exhibit interactive and fun for kids (of all ages) is part of what our Education staff tackle. Jen Arseneau and Maïté Agopian have researched period clothing, food items, and equipment, and have worked on finding ways to integrate learning opportunities with our exhibit narrative. And they have fun doing it. For Denali Legacy, a campsite in the corner of the gallery will be a fun place for kids to hang out while their adult family members are nearby reading about the experiences of the 1913 team.
As for me, well, I’ve spent a lot of time reading, emailing, talking on the phone, writing labels, working with objects, talking with people in person, and thinking about this group of men who did something so incredible that it continues to blow my mind. I’ve laughed over their journal entries, cried over the stories of the ends of their lives, and generally been in awe of what they each contributed to the story of Alaska and their families. I hope that everyone who visits the exhibit can connect with at least one of these men and shares with others the legacy they have left for us all.