Alice Dommert founded Dommert Phillips in Old City Philadelphia with Andrew Phillips in 1998. The firm provides exhibition development and design, architectural design and interpretive and architectural planning to organizations, institutions and individuals.
I have known Alice for a number of years and have been absolutely fascinated by the work she and her company do. When we think of exhibits, we usually think of museums. Yet, in my work with a technology start up, the exhibit was the best solution we could find as a narrative tool.
I reached out to Alice so she could share what she learned about design of story through exhibits.
Valeria Maltoni: Many of us have an image in mind when we talk about exhibits. Tell me a little more from your experience.
Alice Dommert: Exhibits are identified by most people as one of three things.
- The kind of thing you might see at a trade show –- set up to sell you something
- The kind of thing that you might find at a museum that is a display of objects with labels with the purpose of educating, usually envisioned by a curator –- usually found in museums or other cultural collection oriented institutions.
- An experience that combines multiple media, environments, objects organized as a story to engage, inspire, connect and educate visitors. This third kind of exhibit experience have broken out of the museum-only environment and are now being found in hospitals and universities, corporate environments and retail environments, botanic gardens, archives, corporate lobbies, malls, etc.
Folks are realizing that only a small portion of the general population actually goes to museums –- so they use the exhibit, a very trusted medium, to tell their visitors, audiences, and customers stories about their institution, building, garden, product. This allows them to really dialogue with publics in relevant, meaningful ways that will change the experience they have and help them forge more personal and emotional connections.
Valeria Maltoni: What kind of problems do exhibits solve?
Alice Dommert: Clients come to us because they have one of three problems:
- They have an interesting collection or building or site and want to create some type of exhibition, and possibly some supporting educational programs, and have no idea how to go about making that happen.
- They need to wake up their dusty, dull institution with some new life… (we all know those terrible cases filled with dull old stuff that we had to suffer through on those school field trips… ) Dull exhibits = no visitors = no income = museum closes. It’s economics.
- Innovative senior staff at places like hospitals, universities, and businesses see the possibilities for using interpretive components (signage, collections and multi-media) in new ways to enhance the visitors experience of their spaces. They are using their organizations histories to connect with their audiences’ universal (emotional) interests.
We help them strategically to envision an engaging story that will resonate with their target audiences, and then we create an absolutely beautiful three dimensional experience to inspire and educate these audiences.
Alice Dommert: In the past interpretive exhibits were seen mostly in museums. But places like Nike Town where they display “artifacts” from famous athletes broke that mold. Good exhibits tell stories –- about who we are and how we live, what’s important and how we find meaning in life.
The traditional definition of an exhibit confines the possibilities… if you look around most people’s homes they have a form of an exhibit, a collection of photographs, paintings, prints, art, sculpture, floaty pens, bobble heads, all part of their personal collection that tells the story of their history and what’s important to them.
To be continued...
Have you used some forms of exhibits in your work? Are story boards exhibits in draft format?
UPDATE: Part two.