The Final Stretch

Two nights ago our exhibit (finally) opened. After months of planning, debating, and staring at paint samples in different lighting all our hard work paid off.

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(from left to right: Emily McInerney, Erika Allison, Colleen Filipek, Mary Challman, Rachel Tavaras, Kyle Dickson, Chani Jones, Katelyn Dickerson, Amy Ramsland and Maria Mears.Photo by Dr. MJ Rymsza-Pawlowska.)

While we are pleased with how polished our exhibit looked, we worked at the Tarble everyday and Friday morning to ensure successful responses. We would like to thank everyone who helped us make the exhibit possible, but especially the Assistant Director of the Tarble Arts Center, Mike Schuetz.

Throughout the week, we finished constructing and painting our mounts.

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The exhibit team planned out the tasks to be completed each day, making sure we would be completely finished Friday morning. Even though the room was painted before install week, as we moved text and photo panels we were patching and repainting holes. The entire class came together to make our exhibit successful.

We were able to learn how to use power tools, work as a team and to articulate our decisions to HA alumni and visitors.

This experience has shown us how much work goes into one single exhibit; moving forward we all can use this exhibit to become better museum professionals.


7 Ways to Advertise an Exhibit

It’s been a busy semester, and the Marketing Team hasn’t been exempt from the chaos. The exhibit opens in one week, and while there is still a bit to be done, it is also worthwhile to reflect on what has been done thus far to advertise Making Illinois.

Research how to advertise an exhibition, and one will find a lot of lists. These lists include ideas that engage the community and disseminate the plans for an exhibit to as wide of an audience as possible. In the spirit of “listicles,” this format can help us account for what the Marketing Team has done so far this semester.

1. Create social media accounts… and actually update them

We started accounts for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We have updated these frequently for the exhibit, creating content that includes artifacts to be included in the exhibit, tidbits about Illinois’s history, and our progress. In these final days leading up to the exhibit, we have been trying to post something everyday on at least one of the social media accounts to engage with as many people as possible. These accounts have been especially useful for keeping people that are not physically in the area updated on the exhibit (i.e. parents, mentors, et cetera).

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Pictured: The Twitter account page for Making Illinois
[Follow us: Twitter Facebook Instagram]

2. Same goes with the website

The exhibit website is the perfect way to connect with potential audiences by serving as an information hub for the exhibit. The site offers a comprehensive space for data about the Historical Administration Program, the Tarble (our host site, including hours and directions), the class blog, social media links, and more. The site is also home to interactive educational elements related to the themes of the exhibit.

3. Print a poster series and use them

It’s not enough to have catchy poster. Posters and flyers should be distributed throughout the community. For our exhibit, we created a poster and a flyer, both corresponding aesthetically. To make these creations worth our while, we distributed them across the EIU campus and around town.


Pictured: The poster and flyer for Making Illinois advertising the exhibit at EIU

4. Send out a Press Release 

Social media is great, but sometimes good old fashioned ink and paper can’t be beat. Creating and sending out a press release for local newspapers has been a great way to reach out to audiences that don’t engage with social media while continuing to engage with audiences that do.  Only a week until the exhibit, and some area newspapers are starting to publish bits about our work.

5. Make use of other community resources

Whether it’s through EIU or beyond, Making Illinois has made use of many such resources. We sent our press release to EIU’s student newspaper and will add the opening night to EIU’s webpage of weekly happenings. Beyond EIU, the Marketing Team taped a segment on CiLiving, a human interest news show for Central Illinois, to be aired on April 4th. These avenues ensure that awareness of our exhibit is forced into the lives of Central Illinoisans at EIU and beyond.


Pictured: The Marketing Team on CiLiving (Left to Right: Matt Metcalf (Host), Mary Challman, Rachel Tavaras(me), and Kyle Dickson)

6. Plan an enticing opening night and send out personal invitations

Planning the opening night has been slightly chaotic. Luckily, as the graduate assistant for our host site (The Tarble Arts Center), I am regularly in close contact with the Tarble’s office manager, Sally. I was able to look at menus for opening receptions in the past, and I have adjusted the menu to fit our needs and budget. With Sally’s guidance, I was able to order some delicious refreshments from the local restaurant What’s Cookin’ for our opening night.

However, opening night isn’t just about the food. We had to create a program for an organized, enjoyable experience. We arranged for a few speakers to give their welcoming comments at the beginning of the reception, and we distributed the program with the flyer and personalized invitation to VIPs and exhibit contributors.

7. Create a fabulous trailer

The trailer was a daunting task, but one of our Marketing Team members made it work. Not only did she create an exhibit trailer that conveyed each theme of the exhibit in a collective way, she created three sub-trailers of sorts, each elaborating on one of the three exhibit themes. These videos give audiences an intriguing taste of what the exhibit will offer, effectively expanding our audience.

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Pictured: Still from our exhibit trailer, can be found with the other Making Illinois videos on our YouTube channel

The marketing process for the exhibit is far from over. However, the momentum that we have built so far will hopefully draw many interested visitors this upcoming opening weekend! In the mean time, follow us on social media (TwitterFacebook , and Instagram) for more updates!





Exhibit Trailer is LIVE!

Creating an appropriately representational, multi-dimensional snippet of the “essence” of our exhibit was one of the more unique challenges I’ve faced throughout the exhibit development process. Such an ephemeral exhibit concept required an equally loose audiovisual depiction of our content – a palatable yet complex expression of what interested visitors can expect in our exhibit. My initial vision for the trailer was to create a “mini-documentary” of sorts, with voiceovers and talking heads (see picture) to explain our unique exhibit concept. However, I quickly and unfortunately discovered that without the correct audio equipment, any effort toward professional sound quality was futile. In an ill-fated attempt to create a DIY sound room to counter a very echo-y room, I draped several blankets over my Mac desktop and me – as you can imagine, it didn’t work out so well.


An apt example of a “talking head” in a documentary!

Despite my audio woes, the replacement of verbal audio with music was ultimately beneficial to the final product. The inclusion of music added another wonderfully complex layer to my audiovisual interpretation of our exhibit. Music has always been an important part of my life (I almost went to a conservatory for oboe performance), so choosing the right piece was of paramount importance. Any amateur movie-lover can attest to the power of music in film – can you image “Titanic” without your heart going on? The first battle scene in “Gladiator” certainly wouldn’t have been as gripping as it was without Hans Zimmer’s heart-stopping score. I was determined to find the perfect piece of music to convey the essence of our exhibit. I believe I found it. On a late-night internet excursion to find any piece of music with the word “Illinois” in the lyrics, I came across a song called “Illinois Blues” (this is the version I first found, this is the version we used in the trailer). The gritty, almost-guttural sound of the blues guitar conveyed a sense of deep connection with the Illinois dirt while having an other-worldly quality that is inherent to Delta blues. I couldn’t have found a better piece of music.

All in all, the exhibit trailer is what a trailer should be – concise, complex, and communicative. It conveys the essence of our exhibit without being overwhelming, and leaves a little to the imagination (we’re trying to “draw in” our audience, after all). Stay tuned for three additional videos that explore our exhibit themes of land, people, and experience – they go live on Sunday! In the meantime, please enjoy our exhibit trailer. Only a few more weeks ’til the exhibit opening – we hope that you’re as thrilled as we are!


When an Exhibit Comes to Life

The lines between different teams began to dissolve this week as fabrication started at the Tarble Arts Center. After our State of the Exhibit presentations this past Tuesday the abstract planning and designing officially came to a close and we began to fabricate.

Working with the physical pieces of our exhibit bring our plans from the theoretical to reality. On Monday the Education team cut our first die-cuts to bring as examples for the class in the State of the Exhibit presentation. Having some of the pieces of the puzzle helped us all to ‘see’ the final product to come.

The die-cuts purpose in the interactive was trifold. First, using die-cuts allowed us to reference our artifacts; farm animals in relation to the agriculture section, a football in reference to the community section, etc. Second, die-cuts reinforced, in a small way, our design concept of utilizing raw materials. We are simply cutting out cardstock pieces, doing nothing else to process the material. Thirdly, the die-cuts serve a very practical purpose. They are easy to write on and hang up, allowing visitors to participate in the interactive without hassle.



On Tuesday the Design Team presented their fabrication and installation schedule and almost immediately after fabrication commenced. Wednesday afternoon we put on our first coat of paint in the Tarble E-Gallery. The finality of this action was at the same time reassuring and slightly terrifying; there was no going back from here.

The first work day included spackling holes in the dry wall, sanding the walls, and taping up the room. And by the end of the day the E-Gallery was covered in a fresh coat of paint. Three of the four walls were a tan-cream color, deliciously titled “Humus.” The back wall was covered in a deep burnt orange, titled “Maple.”

These initial four gallons of paint dramatically altered the look of the gallery. We returned on Thursday to apply a second coat of paint, finalizing the room’s color transformation.

Today we are finishing the painting by applying a thick grey coat to the three pillars that divide the room into thematic sections. We will also start working in the EIU Art Studio to create our metal mounts. This process involves bending thin metal sheets into strong triangular forms which will hang off the wall of the gallery to hold up a number of artifacts.

My fellow educators are also planning on completing our programming script and questionnaires today. We know that we want to include the evolution of our exhibit concept. From “Made in Illinois” as a static, artifact-based title to “Making Illinois,” more active and people-focused. From an exhibition based in objects to an exhibition based in concepts and ideas. In order to explain this process we will utilize some of our concept maps and graphics we, as a class, have developed over the past eight months.

In the coming week we will forge ahead on fabrication as Install Week looms ever-closer.


Finding Artifacts Can Be Messy..Literally

This week the exhibits team got even closer to having every artifact found and put in the Lab. We have made contact with almost everyone who might have something to loan to us, and are staying within our budget.

Thanks to Dr. RP, we have a great button from the 1996 Democratic National Convention.  IMG_1841.JPG

Now that the labels are finally written, we can focus on fabrication and finalizing the last few artifacts.

Today, Chani and I went to the EIU Student Rec Center to pick out and pick up trophies for the exhibit. We were able to look through each trophy case in the Rec and even got to go below the pool in their storage area where dozens of trophies are kept.

After being taken through the maze that creates the building, we found ourselves on the ground floor, being led through two sets of doors and past maintenance equipment. When we got closer to our destination, our lender, Mark, informed us we would need the flashlight on our cell phones to see properly. Once he opened the last door all we could see was outlines of boxes and smell chlorine.

He let us look through as many boxes as we wanted to find two trophies that caught our eyes. We knew we wanted to get a football trophy, and one that was older but looked cool. Since we knew what the label was going to say for the “experience” section, we figured once we saw a trophy that fit we would know.

All the way in the back under another box was a women’s softball trophy.


Mark was able to unlock a trophy case on display in the football office so we could borrow a newer one. He is also looking into letting us borrow a Tony Romo jersey, if he remembers after Spring Break.

Our adventure today reinforced something we both knew: never obtain loan items from an unknown source alone. While everyone in the Rec was helpful, it would have taken forever to look through all those boxes alone and in the dark. Plus, there is someone with you to check for spiders.


Making Labels: Hot Off the Press

In class today, we learned how to dry mount our exhibit labels. This is the first part of the exhibit that we put together as we finally head toward the fabrication and installation stage. The education and design team have been working hard for weeks now to get the labels finished and pick out all of the appropriate pictures to accompany them. Their work paid off today as we saw the images they had selected printed out to scale and mounted on foam core. Bev Cruise in the Media Services department at Eastern walked us through the process and has been a huge help with getting all of the labels and images printed for us.


The dry mounting process was interesting for those of us who had never done it before. We began by cutting out the images and stacking them based on their size, color and if they had a typo. Unfortunately, we did spot a few typos but nothing that a second round of printing can’t fix. Typos are not uncommon in this process and we were lucky to only have a few simple mistakes.


Once the images were cut we placed them face down on the foam core mounts. We were able to reuse foam core from a previous exhibit and thus save some money. But because we were reusing the mounts and foam core is a fairly fragile substance we had to be extra careful to avoid and bumps, dents, or wrinkles when placing our images. The images were tacked to the dry mounting tissue and then flipped over and tacked to the foam core before heading off to the hot press.

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Dry mounting is a process of attaching a print (such as our labels) to a mount (such as foam core) using a layer of adhesive and a hot press. The dry mount at Media Services was set to 160⁰f. The press had a pressure seal so once we laid our prints down and closed the mount it began to suck the air out and compress the mount. Once the air pressure reached 18psi we waited 3 minutes and the released the press. We now had several huge pieces of foam core with several images firmly attached to them.


The final step was to cut them to size. Using the large mat cutter provided by Media Services we cut the images down closer to the correct size. Then we trimmed them even further with precision knives and sanded the edges to give them that museum quality look.

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There is still a lot of work to do before the exhibit is complete. Matting the images was only the first step but it was a good way to start. Today was a productive, fun, learning experience for many of us and I am filled with excitement as we finally begin to see the physical manifestation of all of our hard work.


3 People, 1 Voice: Making Illinois Labels

I can’t believe I’m actually writing this, but the education team is finally done with label writing! This has been quite the process and truly a collaborative effort and I could not be happier to move on to putting our full focus on interactive and web elements.

Label writing has truly been a learning experience. Colleen, Kate, and I each have a unique style of writing and our own individual voices that come through in our work. One of the more difficult things that we had to accomplish was to make cohesive labels that sounded like one overarching voice that would tie together the entire exhibit. Because of this, we had to go through all of our labels together, step by step, and together our three voices really became one that has given us the tone of our exhibit.

Another challenge that we all struggled with was word count. No one wants text heavy labels. We hear it all the time, “No one reads!” “That’s too much text!” Because our exhibit is conceptual, our labels had to convey large ideas rather than concrete facts or object descriptions. Rather than connecting objects, we had to connect themes and topics to create a story.


For this reason, our labels racked up a pretty high word count. We wanted to touch on all of the artifacts in our exhibit, obviously, but we also wanted to create narrative for this complex conceptual exhibit that our audience may not see right away without some description. Beverly Serrell, label-writing expert and author, cautions museum professionals to not go over 75 words for interpretive/object labels. Our labels are a little longer than this because of the nature of the exhibit. I have found, along with my team, that even more important than abiding by general rules set out by established professionals is just being flexible and having the ability to adjust when something is not working. We could not come close to getting the information and ideas we needed to convey to our audience in under 90 words (for the most part). We realized that our exhibit was different, and because of that we needed to bend the rules a little to give our exhibit justice.

Another interesting experience in collaboration was when the education team presented our final drafts to the class this past Tuesday. Going through our work label by label was tedious and left us feeling pretty vulnerable. We’ve been writing and editing since the beginning of the semester, so the idea of seven other people picking apart our hard work is scary, but completely necessary. Critique is how you grow, and it is also how you find mistakes and are able to see how someone with fresh eyes views your work. Collaboration and listening to other people’s ideas and suggestions has been by far the most important part of this exhibit. Communication can be difficult at times, of course, but being able to bounce ideas off of other people in a manner that is productive and constructive has given us the opportunity to present the best labels possible. Although it’s really three people that have written the labels, it’s been a class effort to gather the information and give us feedback.

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A sneak peak at our labels. This one is the introduction, so ideally the first label you would read in the exhibit.