At SITES, the Smithsonian's Traveling Exhibition Service, where I work as a writer/editor, we bring exhibitions to museums and venues all over the country. In fact, we've been packing and shipping art, science, and history exhibitions for more than 50 years. As a result, millions of people outside Washington, DC have been able to experience the amazing collections and research programs of the Smithsonian.
Lately we've been working on ways to educate the public on green initiatives and climate change, and taking small but meaningful steps to try to reduce our own carbon footprint. For example we recently joined a group of Smithsonian colleagues and staff from 13 government agencies, including the White House Office of Science and Technology, NASA, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation, to brainstorm about how to best collaborate and develop future exhibitions on this critical topic. Another example is our plan for one of our shows thats about to hit the road: Elvis at 21, Photographs by Albert Wertheimer. For this exhibition, we've opted to use vinyl lettering, which can be applied directly to the walls, instead of text panels. This means less material to fabricate, less to crate, and less to ship.
The biggest task we're undertaking is an exhibition called Rock the Green Revolution, a totally digital project unlike anything we've done before. There's no crates, no shipping, no trucks, and, if all goes according to plan, will have virtually no carbon footprint. The idea originated with the Museum of Science and Industry (MoSI) in Chicago. They created a highly interactive, family-oriented exhibition called Green Revolution--and built it all out of re-purposed materials. No new exhibit components had to be made.
Working with MoSI, SITES has taken the design plans, blueprints, and programming information for that exhibition, digitized them, and is making them available to museums across the US. With these detailed plans, venues can create a low cost, high quality exhibition on renewable energy, organic food, and other issues affecting our environment. Old text panels gathering dust in museum storage areas can be flipped over (or painted over) and reused. Vitrines can be recycled and used as well, for just about anything--from containers to hold aluminum cans and bottles to showcasing the latest composting techniques. The exhibition will also include a robust website and video components.
The best part is that Rock the Green Revolution can be customized to fit just about anywhere, and museums can pick and choose the content that is the most relevant to their visitors. We're excited about this new kind of SITES offering, and anticipate that a few adventurous museums will join us to launch this project, and open their own versions of the show on Earth Day, 2010. Please visit our website to learn more.
-Teresa G. Gionis is a writer and editor at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service