Museum Studies’ Sarah Chicone Co-Authors New Book
Dr. Sarah Chicone, Assistant Director and Senior Lecturer for the MA in Museum Studies Program, has published a new book. Entitled Dinosaurs and Dioramas: Creating Natural History Exhibitions, she co-authored the book with Dr. Richard Kissel, Director of Public Programs at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and Adjunct Instructor in Museums Studies.
The book is available from Left Coast Press.
Interview with Dr. Chicone
What inspired you to co-author Dinosaurs and Dioramas: Creating Natural History Exhibitions?
The need for such a resource became apparent following the development of Exhibitions Strategies, a core course in the online museum studies graduate program. The course was designed to offer an introduction to exhibition development and design. It is also taught by Dr. Kissel. An exhaustive survey of the literature revealed significant gaps in comprehensive resources available for students and museum professionals. Much of the existing literature neglects to account for the role of technology and its influence on audience development, the treatment and presentation of science within informal settings, and the basic nuts-and-bolts of design, nor does it stress the competencies and nuances of 21st century approaches and skills. The majority of the literature surrounding effective exhibit design and development comes from a combination of journals and relatively comprehensive texts. Articles on effective exhibition design and development strategies are found scattered within journals such as Museums and Social Issues, the Exhibitionist, Curator, and ASTC Dimensions. Texts seem to be divided into those that offer an analysis of existing design and those that offer instruction on how to create engaging exhibitions, with the majority of texts providing analysis of existing design strategies. The course inspired the book and based our backgrounds—Dr. Kissel a Paleontologists and myself an Archaeologist—it seemed natural to tie it specifically to natural history museums/topics and embed it in the process of science.
Has the exhibition development process changed over the years? Please explain.
Exhibitions were traditionally designed and developed exclusively by curators, subject matter experts in a given field whether this was art, history, anthropology, geology, etc. The curator picked the topic, the objects, the layout, the design, did the research, and wrote the panels. The traditional curatorial model to exhibition design was a vertical hierarchy, which could result in a narrowly focused exhibition with little broad visitor appeal and generally inaccessible to a wide visitor base. A shift occurred in the late 1970s that moved to a more lateral and inclusive approach. As can be imagined this more inclusive approach faced initial criticism by those comfortable with the traditional top-down model, but the formalized idea of designing and developing museum exhibitions as a contributing member of a larger team has since become the preferred way of creating visitor-centered exhibits. While subject matter and content determine the focus of an exhibition, it is the team that creates the visitor experience.
What are the top tips and tricks practitioners should keep in mind when developing exhibitions?
A well-organized, institutionally support process, and teamwork—for other tips and tricks you will need to read the book!
What advice would you give a student who is interested in exhibit design?
This depends on their background and interests. Within exhibition teams there are a host of roles and responsibilities. From graphic and 3-D designers, to content coordinators, to educators, and project managers. So any advice would depend on a variety of factors unique to that individual and their interests.
As Assistant Director, what do you enjoy the most about the MA in Museum Studies program here at JHU?
It would be impossible for me to focus in on just one, there are so many things I enjoy about our program.
The first, of course, would have to be our students. I also happen to be our program’s alumni liaison so I have the good fortunate of interacting with our graduates on a regular basis, even after they finish the program. Because we are a part-time degree program many of our students are currently working, volunteering, or interning in museums. They are able to incorporate what they learn in the digital classroom often immediately into their own practice and conversely share their experiences in class discussion Our students come from all different kinds of institutional genres from botanic gardens, to aquaria, to art museums, historical societies, natural history museums, science centers, etc. and from all different kinds of positions—registrars, curators, development officers, directors, collection managers, educators, etc. this makes for engaging classroom discussions and a broader understanding of museums on both a national and global scale.
We have been particularly successful in creating a sense of community among the student body and alumni. With an online program, we often get questions from prospective students that fear they will feel alienated and disconnected. Small class sizes and a good use of digital technology and social media tools have allowed us to foster and support community within the program.
Ultimately, I think we do a particularly good job of taking advantage of our medium. The online nature of the program allows us to pull adjunct faculty from all over the United States and the World. Leading professionals in the field from the world’s best museums offer our students access to cutting edge practice and provide a strong networking base for our graduates.
Our on-site seminars (the only required on ground course in the program) offer a particularly unique opportunity for our students. These two weeks of intensive on ground study in museum rich cities around the world remain a highlight of our curriculum.
Why should a prospective student choose the MA in Museum Studies?
Our program is unique in format and execution. We offer the flexibility of a part-time degree program and are especially attractive to museum professionals who are unable to relocate for graduate school, or who would like to continue working full time in their current position while pursuing their degree. Our focus on emergent technology and a global perspective positions us on the cutting edge of the field. Because our program is online, we offer flexibility, access to a diverse faculty and student body, and the often immediate applicability of course materials.
Sarah Chicone has over ten years of professional exhibition design experience, and has been lead curator, developer, and designer for contemporary art, history, anthropology, and natural history exhibitions. She has a breadth of experience in large and small projects, and has worked in a variety of capacities that range from Director of Exhibits for a small natural history museum to a content developer/ coordinator for an exhibition design company. Her academic and professional interests include material culture studies, cultural resource management, informal education, cultural heritage, exhibition design, and public archaeology.
Watch the Course Schedule for her classes each semester.
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