Meet the Museum Teams of Tomorrow – Everyday Einstein student challenge

By Maryanne Venables

On Saturday 23 August, National Science Week may have been winding down, but here at Queensland Museum, we were cranking up!

Twenty one students from years 7-9 participated in a workshop called the Make your Museum student challenge. This (mutual) learning experience was generated in partnership with Queensland Academies as part of their Young Scholars program.

Students arrived for a day of “professional work” at Queensland Museum’s INVENTory. Upon arrival, they were presented with a challenge that they had only hours to complete (when museums actually take several months or, occasionally years).

Their task was to devise plans for an exhibition and associated visitor experiences, inspired by collection material – while assuming various staff roles. Most teams comprised a Curator, Exhibition Designer, Programming Co-ordinator and Marketing Co-ordinator. While all students gave input into their team’s developing concepts, each “staff member” was asked to consider the responsibilities and tasks their role may demand.

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Students began with a collection of animals including this crab
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Osprey from the Queensland Museum Collection

Teams were randomly selected and assigned a staff role and small collection of authentic Museum specimens and objects. Many students had not met or worked together before, yet this was indiscernible as they observed their collections, exchanged information and shared ideas elicited collectively and individually.
As the day progressed, teams were actively problem-solving and working collaboratively to devise and negotiate exhibition content, key messages, titles, slogans, spaces, resources and experiences.

Students recognised that the ‘exhibition experience’ extends well beyond viewing, as their plans included zones for creativity or play, iPod programs, QR codes, touch screens, green screens, soundscapes, theatres, billboards, merchandise, gift shops, cafes and sponsorship.

Some ideas developed within the five teams plans included:

  • Insect Kingdom: This exhibition space was designed as a platform among a “living museum”, sitting within a canopy of trees.
  • Hello Possums: Visitors follow the footprints around the exhibition using clues like tracks and traces to identify our marsupial “backyards friends”.
  • What Lurks in the Dark – shining a light into the night: This team explored multi-sensory experiences such as soundscapes in a darkened, nocturnal environment.
  • BeacH2Ocean: This exhibition explored different marine habitats and included an aquarium and touring module for outreach.
  • Eggheads – everything you need to know about eggs: This egg-shaped exhibition with crack-shaped doorways offered an interactive game with a conservation message.

Towards the day’s end, teams delivered presentations using their collections, models, audio visuals, role play and dialogue. Team plans were being carefully noted by our staff judging panel of Professor Suzanne Miller (Director and CEO), Dr John Hooper (Head of Head of Natural Environments Program) and Peter Tonkin (Creative Producer, Exhibitions).

After deliberations over very close scores, the BeacH2Ocean team were declared the winners.

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Winning Team BeacH2Ocean congratulated by Museum Judging Panel. L-R: Peter Tonkin, Prof. Suzanne Miller, Braydon Walton, Loren Walton, Dr John Hooper, Robert Matthews and Sara Fraser.
Exhibition title treatment. Words communicate with the visual language of colour and graphics. “Exploring our waterways from the hot sandy shores to the deep dark depths of the blue abyss”.
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This 3D model represents the touring “mini exhibition, designed for dis-assembly and transit.
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The exhibition design and concepts mapped out on paper

Queensland Museum Exhibition Designer, Chris Hall was quoted, “the exhibition title is like the beginning of a great song”. The winning team’s clever title treatment was suggested by Robert (Year 8) and produced in visual form by Loren (Year 7). Befitting their roles as Programming Co-ordinator and Marketing Co-ordinator, both showed they were attuned to creative ways to connect with and attract audiences.

What gave the winning team an edge was their “portable” (touring) exhibition module and commercial enterprise. Sara and Brayden (both Year 7) recognised that exploring opportunities for funding and generating revenue are demanded of the 21st century museum.

For this workshop, the Museum called for the “future keepers of our past and present stories”. We definitely met our dynamic “future keepers” in all five teams. Each student worked a day and walked a mile (in the shoes of staff), reminding the next generation that museums are less about the dead things and more about the living.

Fifty percent of species living in Queensland are endemic – found nowhere else in the world. Students, like those we met during our Everyday Einstein National Science Week program are the future custodians or these natural treasures.

Find out more about some of the roles of Queensland Museum staff or about some of the projects that keep us busy.