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Behind the scenes of a new exhibit

As we described in a recent blog post, this past spring the Fire Museum of Maryland received a significant donation from the McLaughlin Company Insurance Agency. In order to showcase this donation, we have been hard at work renovating one of our galleries. These changes will allow us to more adequately display some of the lithographs and fire-related toys that are part of this donation, and the renovation work also provides us with an opportunity to reinvigorate a space that had become outdated. Read on to find out a bit more about what goes in to creating a new exhibit….

Whenever we design a new exhibit, we pose several important questions to ourselves:

  • What do we want the public to learn?

  • How do we want the public to learn it?

  • What objects or artifacts do we intend to use to teach the public?

  • How do we want to display those objects?

Often, we have to drastically reduce our answer(s) to the first question. Time, money, and space constraints all limit what we can effectively teach to our visitors, and this must be taken into account. This is true for most museums, whether it’s due to a lack of space, an opening date that creates a time crunch, or a lack of funding. However, once we take all of those variables into account, we still want to get as much information to our visitors as we can while they are here. In many cases, we also want to continue a dialogue with them after they’ve left.

How we teach the public varies considerably, based upon what we are trying to teach and what artifacts we have to teach with. In some cases, we can provide hands-on experiences, such as during our annual Steam Show or our fall motor muster. Other times, we use audio or visual mediums to provide information, such as our video on the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Our text panels are always available to our visitors, but of course we only have so much space for text. Often, the best teaching method we have is the personal interactions between museum staff and visitors. Face-to-face conversations allow for both a greater amount and a greater variety of information to pass to our visitors, and also provide them with opportunities to ask questions that a text panel or an inanimate artifact cannot answer.