Sunday, September 4, 2016

Celebrating and Interpreting the Desert

-from the Director

Current outdoor trails in the front of the museum lead to picnic benches
Our visitors want to learn about the desert. This has been made clear by the last several months we have been collecting information from visitors and members in preparation for completing a new five-year Strategic Plan.  In July, we acquired and protected two new parcels of land adjacent to the museum through a grant from the Protect Our Communities Foundation. The new properties will allow us to develop outdoor programming in the future, and part of the Museum’s long-term plan must now look at addressing questions and opportunities outside of the museum.

The Great Outdoors
The Desert Museum has a mission to preserve, celebrate, and interpret the desert.  Celebrating and interpreting the desert can take many forms. We are just beginning to think about outdoor exhibits and displays around the museum. Touchable displays, guided nature walks, and informational signs are all methods of enriching the visitor experience by highlighting the importance of what people experience outside of the museum – in the actual desert.  Outdoor exhibits are meant to make people think about their experience, and to make new connections between the information they learn and their previous perceptions.  We do not know what our exterior exhibits will look like, but with the protection of the property surrounding museum we can now start thinking about it. 
Future trails will allow visitors to explore the desert with outdoor art, seating areas, and signage

Outside, Inside
As the Desert Museum begins the interpretive planning process that will lead to outdoor trails and exhibits, the main question is: what do visitors want?  What interests them?  How do they want to have information presented to them? 

In 2013 and 2014, we spent many months testing and developing interior exhibits.  The results of that work can now be seen in the new permanent exhibit Land of Extremes. This week we began testing some early sign ideas for exterior exhibits. This work will continue throughout the next year and we are hoping that many of our friends and members will come out and participate in this exciting phase of exhibit development.

4 versions of a sign on roadrunners encourage visitors to think about what they want in outdoor signage
Young visitor Lexi Romo writes down what she likes best about a sign
What kind of signs will interest people in the animals of our desert?  The staff was inspired by a roadrunner, a regular museum visitor, to start testing ideas and getting a feel for the kind of information visitors want about local animals.  Visitors coming out to the museum can, for the next few weeks, look at four different test signs and decide what they like and what they want to see that is currently missing.  Do people want a map of the animal’s habitat?  What their tracks look like? Fun factoids or just basic facts?  Single panels or ones you have to flip open?

The current signs have been up for a week and already the staff has learned a lot.  So far visitors have all loved the idea of signs that include identifying the animal’s tracks.  But people have been split on preferring single panel signs and flip signs.  Those that like the flip signs are split on the idea of whether the first panel should be a picture of the animal or a more teasing “You Might See A . . . “ that extends visitor interaction by forcing you to open the panel to see what animal it is talking about. 

Visitor feedback on these early ideas will be the basis of conversations as the museum works with graphic designers and exhibit builders to create future outdoor exhibits that meet as many visitor expectations and interests as possible. 

A visiting roadrunner inspired the newest test panels in the museum
Each one of the test signs contains similar basic information on the Greater Roadrunner.  For example:
·      Diet: Lizards, snakes, insects, mice, scorpions, seeds, fruit
·      Predators: Hawks, owls, cats
·      Size: 24 inches long from beak to tail.  10-12 inches high
·      Tracks: The unique shape of a roadrunner’s foot leave a single-file line of X shaped tracks

Because of the additional space available on flip signs, more information can be added.  Is there a point where people get bored by too many words?  Or are you still interested to read:
  • ·      Roadrunners can run almost 20 miles an hour.  Fanning their wings and tail lets them stop suddenly and turn on a dime
  • ·      They make a range of sounds from clicks and coos to beak clacking

What about fun facts like:
  • ·      The Greater Roadrunner’s scientific name Geococcyx californicus means “ground dwelling cuckoo”
  • ·      Roadrunners are in the same family as the cuckoo bird because they share a similar zygodactyl foot shape
  • ·      A group of roadrunners is called a “marathon” or a “race”

This article can also be seen in Saturday, September 3, 2016 Imperial Valley Press. IVDM's Land of Extremes series.

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