Paintbrushes Ready – Seven Reasons to Make a Mural

Whitehall, Montana, uses murals to remind people of their place on the Lewis & Clark Voyage of Discovery route.

Whitehall, Montana, uses murals to remind people of their place on the Lewis & Clark Voyage of Discovery route.

 

 

Like banners, murals are another medium that offer some unique values in communities or natural and cultural heritage sites. We see them used effectively in some places, used poorly in others and often not used when they might be a great option. Here are some good reasons to consider them in your setting.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Murals convey information and a sense of place without the barrier of a specific language. People from diverse cultures can enjoy them and usually understand their messages. John Medina’s “Brain Rules” point out that visuals trump all other senses.
  2. Murals are usually less expensive to turn a large wall or space into a compelling part of the experience. They do require maintenance so choosing a method and medium that can be refreshed can be important. Letting them weather or degrade is usually not desirable but actually works in some
    A habitat mural at Elk Island National Park in Saskatchewan sets the scene for other exhibits in the Visitor Center.

    A habitat mural at Elk Island National Park in Saskatchewan sets the scene for other exhibits in the Visitor Center.

    settings where the desired feeling is one of times past.

  3. A mural can provide context for habitat next to a live animal exhibit. Animals are so compelling that people usually will not read extensive labels nearby but a mural can help you envision the animal in its natural habitat or make the entire area seem to be in that specific habitat.
  4. Historic murals take us to another time and event. Many communities or parks were the setting for important events or the former homes of important people. A mural can visually bring the past into the present.
  5. Murals may be used to beautify a blighted wall, an electric box or blank corridor. An old brick wall, a concrete garage wall, a connecting corridor, utility boxes, or a stairwell can be brightened up with a thematically appropriate mural. Murals usually work better than placing signs in these walkways since they don’t require that people stop and read to absorb the thematic material. Murals on outdoor surfaces may also discourage vandals from tagging, particularly if local young people are involved in creating the artwork.
  6. Great murals strengthen the thematic identity of a community or site. Murals can be messengers that deliver the theme of the organization and show examples of it in action. Because they are created by an artist/illustrator, they can be designed to be very clear in meaning and message.
  7. Murals can be used to reveal hidden assets. A mural can reveal an asset you cannot easily display in another
    Utility boxes in Fort Collins, Colorado, are painted with varied scenes by local citizens.

    Utility boxes in Fort Collins, Colorado, are painted with varied scenes by local citizens.

    way. It could tell the story of technology infrastructure in the building such as a solar or wind system. It could show artifacts or documents not easily displayed due to fragility or rarity. It can be whimsical or realistic, showing details of plants and animals in ways that are more compelling than a single photograph.

– Tim Merriman

Tingatinga artwork on this mural at the Serengeti Visitor Center in Tanzania tells the management story for the park.

Tingatinga artwork on this mural at the Serengeti Visitor Center in Tanzania tells the management story for the park.

 

 

Seven Reasons to Fly Your Banner High

The Aquarium of Western Australia in Perth has a banner at the building entry to attract attention.

The Aquarium of Western Australia in Perth has a banner at the building entry to attract attention.

I try to photograph interpretive media wherever we travel to serve as an idea file. In recent years I’ve seen some really creative uses of banners at varied sites, but especially at zoos and aquariums.

 

Banners are usually long strips of fabric or weatherproof vinyl with a verbal or visual message. As interpretive media they offer some unique qualities that may make them a better choice than a sign or exhibit or maybe to use in conjunction with signs and exhibits. Here are five reasons to consider using banners as a media choice at your location:

 

  1. Attention Grabber – A well-designed banner can brighten up an entryway or building exterior as an ad or teaser. Photos of highlights on the property often serve to entice someone to enter even better than words or descriptions. They create a festive look to a trail or large building interior that gets your attention.

 

Street banners in Monterey, California, remind you of the Steinbeck characters from Cannery Row.

Street banners in Monterey, California, remind you of the Steinbeck characters from Cannery Row.

  1. Wayfinding and Thematic Connectors – A distinctive banner can be used to mark a path or road and connect physically separated features into a thematic trail. Sub-themes can be designated with the banners by changing colors, or by using a different graphic or word while maintaining the general look to tie everything together.

 

  1. Sense of Place or Time Marker – A banner can be used to identify an event or person with a specific place or date. Intangible stories can be identified with the setting where they occurred, inviting curious guests to learn more. A banner that tells me I am standing where President Washington once stood or a peace treaty was signed can be a powerful attraction. While a sign might do the same thing, a banner’s movement may be more eye-catching.
Monterey Bay Aquarium has colorful banners that emphasize their themes of Explore, Discover and Act.

Monterey Bay Aquarium has colorful banners that emphasize their themes of Explore, Discover and Act.

 

  1. Branding – The organizational logo on banners throughout a property can reinforce the brand and make your boundaries clear, especially if your site merges with that of some other organization.

 

  1. Messages – Use of a thematic message on banners may make it more memorable through repetition. It might have to be a word or phrase that more telegraphically delivers the message than you would use on an exhibit.

 

  1. Use of Space – Often banners can be placed higher than regular signs or exhibits, using space that cannot be used for more detailed messages or graphics. The effect can be beautiful if the banners are professionally designed and produced.

 

  1. Cost – Banners have likely been around since there’s been cloth. Some of the new methods of transfer of digital images to fabrics make it easier and less expensive to generate banners than ever before.

 

At Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, one banner provides the branding and the other helps you identify the exhibit's theme.

At Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, one banner provides the branding and the other helps you identify the exhibit’s theme.

Because fabrics may be more fragile or may fade in direct sun, you may need to consider the longevity you require before deciding on materials. Fabric banners may work better for short duration, while vinyl might be needed for longer terms (over the course of a summer season, for example). Funding for replacement or changes when needed will have to part of the decision-making process when determining whether banners are the right medium for your site.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Museum Activism with Current Exhibits on Current Events

Kind permission from Colorado Public Radio for showing this Pat Mack photo.

Kind permission from Colorado Public Radio for showing this Pat Mack photo.

I recently listened to an interesting crowdsourcing story by Pat Mack on Colorado Public Radio about Denver’s History Colorado Center. The story detailed an exhibit project that lets homeless people connect with the broader community. The artifacts in the exhibit consist of handmade signs collected by Assistant Curator James Patterson from homeless individuals in downtown Denver. Patterson offers $20 for each sign along with the signmaker’s personal story. The exhibit tweaks the public’s consciousness related to issues faced by Denver’s homeless. Their stories are diverse and poignant, just like their signs. A few of the sign messages include:

 

  • Used hobo free to a good home.
  • Helping the homeless is sexy.
  • I talk 2 myself
  • Needs $ for room Plz HELP

 

History Colorado’s COO Kathryn Hill emphasizes that the museum’s approach to exhibits is becoming smaller, ephemeral and more current. They involve people in the community in their exhibits in a variety of ways including planning and development. Hill suggests that “connecting the present to the past will make History Colorado’s projects more relevant.” This approach makes a museum more likely to be a catalyst for conversations about current life. The older paradigm of sharing collections of artifacts in cases has not gone away but History Colorado and some other museums now seek more creative ways to engage with the communities they serve. Museums that focus on current community or global issues go beyond the cataloging and display of collections. Some go so far as to suggest specific actions people can take, while others maintain just enough distance in their displays that any activism on their part appears to be unintentional. Either way, bringing these issues into the public consciousness as part of a museum’s programs and exhibits not only captures them as part of our ongoing human experience, fulfilling the traditional role of museums, but it also creates the opportunity for reflection and action in real time.

 

Museum educator Aaron Maluwa has a frank discussion with a local woman during a program about HIV threats.

Museum educator Aaron Maluwa has a frank discussion with a local woman during a program about HIV threats.

I have written before about our admiration for the Museums of Malawi. More than a decade ago they refocused their efforts, moving away from the traditional display of artifacts in an urban museum to more active programming in villages to protect people from disease and starvation. They use cultural dances and stories to help people understand and protect themselves from malaria, HIV and hunger. Most people have no more than three or four years of formal education but cultural songs and stories are a part of their life continually, so new messages in traditional songs and stories will have impact.

 

Dance

Cultural dances and storytelling in Malawi have messages designed to inform and protect people from poorly understood diseases, HIV in this instance.

Aaron Maluwa’s work as a museum educator in Blantyre, Malawi, has placed him and the museum at the forefront of healthcare provision and social problem solving in local communities. Their educational programming in villages does not stop with the program. They partner with nonprofits working with HIV and malaria prevention so clinical services are provided after the cultural dances, songs and stories encourage people to use more safe practices in their daily lives. We introduced friends in Czech Republic to these programs several years ago and Dr. Rasti Madar and doctors from Czech Republic with International Humanity are now building a hospital in Fanuel, Malawi, in partnership with the museum programs.

 

I recently visited a major museum in a large city and generally enjoyed what I saw. I learned a few gee whiz facts that have no real relevance to my life, most of which I’ve already forgotten. There was no enduring message and I was not challenged to get involved with anything. I looked back through my photos of the museum to see if I missed the message, the stimulation, but it wasn’t there. I accept that some museums choose to stay rooted in the past, displaying but not interpreting the relevance of their collections. But I much prefer the museum that challenges me to think more deeply about the world around me, particularly the world I’m living in today. I appreciate the opportunity to see historical perspectives about how things came to be the way they are, but I crave the chance to have an impact on the present and future. Museums that look for ways to engage people in their communities with important ideas can help shed light not only on our past, but also on our potential.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

The Glamping Experience

 

The view from our bed at Ruzizi Tented Lodge.

The view from our bed at Ruzizi Tented Lodge.

One of the best nights of my life was spent in a comfortable bed in Ruzizi Tented Lodge in Rwanda. It was intriguing and frightening at the same time. Before your mind runs wild with possibilities, let me set the scene. We (my wife, Lisa, and I) had just settled in under a light blanket after a long day of training guides at Akagera National Park. We watched vervet monkeys bounding through the trees in front of our tent and could see hippos outlined in the gathering dusk as they lumbered out of the lake to start their nightly feeding foray on the grassy banks. Darkness fell quickly as clouds rolled in and obscured the moon. And then it started. Rolling thunder that shook the concrete slab under the tent accompanied by unrelenting lightning strikes. It was like being in the wildest lightshow in the world, almost surreal as the rain pounded down and the ground shook amid lightning flashes so bright it hurt the eyes. Yet, with all the excitement outside, we remained calm and cozy in our queen-size bed, watching the spectacle and wondering where the monkeys and hippos would be able to get out of the storm or if they even wanted to.

 

john glamping

Ruzizi tented lodge serves exceptional food by a well-trained, friendly staff. Breakfast by Lake Ihema is amazing.

I’ve written about glamping (glamour camping) in this blog before (Feb. 2013), usually with reference to recent experience in one of the many great tent camps in Eastern Africa. Glamping has morphed the past few years from being a rare opportunity at some of the world’s most remote parks or a novelty overnight at a roadside “tipi motel” in the American West to being a common and highly valued experience in nations all over the world.

 

When I searched on the term for the first time about five years ago, I found websites for some of the unique places considered to be “glamping” sites. Now there are many websites that organize the glamping opportunities into categories such as tipis, yurts, huts, tents, pods, treehouses, safari lodges, domes, and cabins.

 

You will never forget a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti.

You will never forget a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti.

Glamping.com offers itself as “a discerning guide to experiential travel.” It explains the glamping phenomenon and helps you find the sites that best suit your travel needs all over the world. Glampinghub.com offers a choice of more than 7,000 unique glamping rooms. Goglamping.net is a British-based directory with prices in pounds sterling. Fodors.com offers “the beginner’s guide to glamping.” Each directory is a little different and a lot more fun to search than the usual hotel websites. These emphasize the glamping experience and related activities that could be a part of your trip.

 

We have stayed in hotels in all 50 of the United States and in dozens of other countries. I can only think of two or three hotels that offer an experience that I must have again. For the most part, hotels are simply places to stay overnight. Unless the food, service or ambience is somehow out of the ordinary, hotels tend to be forgettable. Yet I can name a dozen glamping destinations that I really want to visit again, largely because the glamping experience includes more than just a room that could be in any city anywhere. Glamping has a way of connecting you to the countryside by putting you directly in touch with the natural, cultural, or historical resources that surround and maybe even pervade the room.

 

Canopy hosts took us to a local pond near the tree houses to watch duck-billed platypus at dusk.

In Queensland, The Canopy hosts took us to a local pond near the tree houses to watch duck-billed platypus at dusk.

Glamping experiences vary in price from $30 to $2,500 so it is not necessarily a less expensive option for staying somewhere. At the better locations, the experiences offered and the lodging are thematically linked, though admittedly sometimes they are a bit contrived. Oddly, Native American tipis are offered at glamping sites in France, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, and the United Kingdom. Sometimes the stay includes meeting a Native American and seeing a typical dance. This out of context experience would not be my preference, but for those who crave some exposure to a cultural scenario they may not otherwise have access to, I can understand the appeal.

 

In my view, the best glamping places have naturalists or guides on staff and can set you up with a locally appropriate experience. For those of us who work in natural and cultural heritage interpretation, glamping is a great opportunity. If no such facility exists near your unique natural or cultural area, you could create and

Brush-tailed possums were welcome visitors at our Canopy Treehouse in Queensland.

Brush-tailed possums were welcome visitors at our Canopy Treehouse in Queensland.

operate your own glamping site. Or you might find a concessionaire as a partner. You provide the programming and they provide facilities and customer care. If you are traveling for your own enjoyment, look at the glamping directories and tripadvisor.com before you select that place to stay near a wildlife park or by a remote wilderness. It may cost more but usually it’s worth the difference in cost.

 

If you get to Rwanda, visit Akagera National Park and Ruzizi Tented Lodge to take advantage of the best glamping experience I’ve ever had. The friendly, well-trained staff members are quick to grab a light and show you a hippo or crocodile in the darkness that you might miss otherwise. The food is wonderful. They can arrange a night game drive, a boat trip or a safari guide for you. The setting on Lake Ihema is unparalleled with weaver finches, fish eagles, monkeys, hippos, crocs and much more. You will be camped by the lake named for the explorer Stanley’s tentsite when he visited Rwanda in search for of the Nile. It’s simply unforgettable.

 

  • Tim Merriman

P.S. Join us for some great glamping opportunities January 22nd to Feb. 1 in Tanzania.