For over 30 years, Paul Orselli has worked to create inventive and playful museums and exhibits. He is now the President and Chief Instigator at POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) an exhibit design and development corporation that he founded.
Paul has consulted on museum projects throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle East. His clients include such notable organizations as the New York Hall of Science, the Exploratorium, the National Science Foundation, and Science Projects in London. He has taught and lectured at universities on museum topics and has presented at professional conferences throughout North America and Europe.
Paul has also been the editor and originator of the three best-selling Cheapbooks, published by ASTC, and has served on the board of NAME (National Association for Museum Exhibition). He lives on Long Island with his wife and “in-house exhibit testing crew” of four children.
I started out working in museums — mostly Children’s Museums and Science Centers, but for the past 10 years or so, I’ve run my own exhibit design and development shop called POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop).
Now instead of working with one museum at a time, I get to work with several museums at a time! Mostly I help folks turn good ideas into great exhibit experiences.
What’s your educational background?
I did my undergraduate work at the University of Michigan — a BS in Anthropology and Zoology. I was in such a rush to get a job and get out into the “real world” that I finished up in three years, and swore I was done with school. Of course, less than a year later I started my Master’s degree at Wayne State University in Detroit and finished my MAT in Science Education while working full time at the Science Museum at Cranbrook.
What was your ‘sticky’ moment?
Since I was born and raised in Detroit, it’s hard not to associate my “sticky” museum moment(s) with museums like the Detroit Institute of Arts or the old Detroit Children’s Museum. Specifically the Diego Rivera frescoes at the DIA hold a special place in my heart and brain.
What is the name of your blog? How long have you been blogging?
My blog is called ExhibiTricks. It’s billed as a Museum/Exhibit/Design blog, and I started blogging back in June of 2007.
What do you blog about? Why?
I like to write about the “Tricks of the Trade” (or the “Nuts and Bolts”) of Exhibitions and Museums. Hopefully I provide some useful information and resources for museum and exhibits folks. I appreciate how many people in the museum biz are willing to share information and expertise, so this is a way for me to reciprocate.
What’s your most read blog post?
The two most read/popular postings both relate to the use of digital media in museums. The first is a full on rant (from me!) entitled “Are Screens Killing Museums?” Hoo boy! Did that stir people up!
A much more nuanced (and research-based) guest post from Susie Wilkening of Reach Advisors on related subjects was called “Screened Out: Preferences for Technology in Museums.”
What’s the last exhibit you saw?
The last “exhibit” I saw was actually in a Metro (Subway) Station in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. This station is called “Serdica” after a Roman city that was on the site. When excavation for the subway station and nearby highway started all sorts of Roman ruins were discovered including public baths and temples.
So now if you visit there, the subway platform is lined with display cases filled with artifacts found nearby. As you ascend to street level there are active archeological sites being studied and preserved, both in the station and up on street level. Very, very cool and unexpected for a visitor to Bulgaria.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever bought at a museum gift shop?
Definitely one of my most memorable purchases was a “Mr. T In Your Pocket” that I bought at the American Visionary Art Museum gift shop in Baltimore. When you press one of six buttons, you get a different recorded phrase in Mr. T’s actual voice!
What do you see as the biggest challenge (or opportunity) facing museums today?
The biggest challenges, as well as the biggest opportunities, involve the changing demographics and expectations of our audiences and communities. Demographically the audiences in U.S. museums skew “older” and “whiter” than the population at large, and continuing demographic trends. How can museums reach these audiences? (And not in a tokenistic or patronizing way.)
As far as visitor expectations go, museum goers now expect to have more say and more control regarding the experiences that happen inside the museum. This is very exciting, but still disruptive and scary to many museum people.
Scary or not, museums must embrace and maximize these changes to grow, evolve, and ultimately to stay relevant.
Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the museum field.
Try and soak up as many experiences and gain as many skills as you can. This will make you not only a more well-rounded person, but also a much more marketable job applicant.
Once you get a museum job, remember to “Pay it forward.” By that I mean try to help peers, and new people coming up. I always remember the people who took the time to help me when I was starting out — with a kind word, or a key piece of information. So now I always try to respond in a timely way to people who approach me for information or help.
Thanks for participating in Meet a Museum Blogger, Paul! I love the “Pay it Forward” advice – I know I’ll never forget the people who helped me get my foot in the door. For those of you reading this, how do you “pay it forward” in the field?
Do you agree with Paul on the the changing demographics and expectations of museum audiences and communities as a challenge AND opportunity? I do. What can/should museums do reach AND serve these audiences?
In case you missed it, Paul blogs at ExhibiTricks. Do you have any additional questions for Paul regarding his profile above? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments below or reach out to him directly on Twitter. His Twitter handle is @museum_exhibits. I highly encourage you to use the #MuseumBlogger hashtag. TY!
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