In this blog, Erica Kelly, exhibition developer at the San Diego Natural History Museum, shares how she made her debut into the museum field and what her typical workday looks like. She also highlights her favorite aspects of being a key member of the Coast to Cactus in Southern California team. The exhibition is scheduled to open to the public on January 17, 2015.
How did you get into the museum field?
I actually stumbled into it. After studying theater at NYU, I moved to Chicago to work on my master’s degree. While there, I began working part time at The Field Museum, where got my first glimpse of the exhibit development process: how it involved taking a sprawling mass of content and shaping it into a story. It was then I realized I should really be doing this. While it wasn’t theater, it was what theater trained me to do: tell stories, create experiences.
Describe a typical workday.
My job is to take scientific content and distill it, giving it structure, theme, and narrative. I also help the designers understand the idea or story enough so that they can give it physical form. If curators are responsible for science and designers are responsible for the physical space, I’m responsible for the story.
I am always thinking about the visitor’s experience. For instance, we wanted to get a better understanding of how many of our visitors knew about which plant species are and are not native to San Diego, so we went out on the museum floor and asked them. We were surprised when more than 60% of respondents thought Eucalyptus trees are native (we assumed people knew they were brought here from Australia). Working at a science museum, it’s easy for us to forget we might have more specialized knowledge than most people do. But our visitors are a highly diverse group of people coming from different places and backgrounds. We need to keep that diversity in mind and make sure we’re creating great experiences for all of our visitors, not just for specialists.
Can you identify a highlight of working as part of the Coast to Cactus team?
How one person’s idea can evolve once it’s shared with the team and all those creative brains and talented people start working together. A good idea can go someplace you never anticipated. It shows what can happen when you collaborate and share ideas with people you trust. The final product is something greater than any one person could have come up with.
For more information on Coast to Cactus in Southern California, visit this page.