A Visit with Mountain Gorillas – CANCELLED 3/21/16

Due to not meeting the minimum travelers needed to tour Rwanda in October, we have cancelled the trip as of March 21, 2016. If you have a group of six or more interested in a tour of Rwanda with us as your interpretive guides, let us know and we can plan for your specific group.

Festival of 1000 Bowls

IMG_3105We recently stopped by the Cool Fusion: Festival of 1000 Bowls held by the Donkey Mill Art Center at Keauhou Shopping Center south of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, with only a little idea of what the 4-hour event held in store for us. It was lunchtime and a Somen Noodle lunch is part of the fun of this event highlighting local pottery.

 

For $20 in advance of the event or $25 at entry you may pick a pottery bowl from the specified tables to use that day and take home. A volunteer with an iPad and Square app stands by to let you use a credit card to pay. Then you can shop at the other tables with pottery items to purchase, listen to local musicians or the Innovations Youth Orchestra or join one of two lines for food.

 

IMG_3097Volunteers served up home-style Somen noodles or gluten-free rice noodles. We could add up to eight or nine items of choice including a variety of veggies, kelp, shitake mushrooms, wasabi and fresh ginger. Home-style soy-based soup finishes the dish. We milled around, enjoyed the noodles and went back for seconds. The price includes as many visits to the food table as you wish. For $15 you can buy a pottery sake cup and taste sake samples or you can enjoy iced Kona coffee and tea for free.

 

I like this approach to fundraising because it directly supports the mission of the organization. Pottery sales support local potters, many of whom learned the craft at the DMAC. The food honors the many Japanese-American coffee and macadamia nut farmers that live in this area. The entertainment is local and very much a part of the arts scene for the community.

 

IMG_3100 (1)Too often smaller organizations hold bake sales, car washes and rummage sales to raise funds. These do not usually match the organizational purpose or build a stronger image for the sponsor. When the fundraising event is programmatically aligned with the mission, it works at all levels to build brand. Repeating the event annually usually allows fine-tuning each year to improve profitability. This was the Ninth Annual Festival of 1000 Bowls and it seems to have growing support in the community, fun for residents and tourists alike.

 

Fundraising can be a tedious chore for nonprofit organizations. When events are both purposeful programs and successful in building revenue, everyone has a better time.

 

Tim Merriman

 

Six Good Reasons to Stop Displaying Taxidermy Animals

I recently visited a major natural history museum in a U.S. city and again wondered at the tradition of displaying dead animals as so-called “live mounts.” I say “so-called” because the animals do not look alive. They just look dead, and are often displayed in unnatural poses or scenes. I will not judge the wisdom of taxidermy mounts in the past, but I sure question their use now or in the future. Much has changed since they became a major part of any natural history exhibit. I think there are NSbisonclassroommany good reasons to phase them out everywhere, but here are six to think about.

 

  • Videography is widely available and shows any animal in its natural habitat, behaving normally. You learn little from a still scene with stuffed animals other than how the taxidermist feels the animal might have looked at one particular second in time.
  • Some young people see taxidermy animals and want their own trophy. Encouraging trophy hunting in a world with declining wildlife populations is a dubious choice. A camera captures a trophy shot or video of a living creature that is far more easily shared with others than a mounted specimen. Why would we not choose that option over killing an animal for anything less than our own survival?
  • Making a stuffed animal "touchable" usually results in degradation of the skin and fur with some danger from arsenic if its an older live mount.

    Making a stuffed animal “touchable” usually results in loss of fur with some danger from arsenic if its an older live mount.

    Many older live mounts were preserved with arsenic to discourage insect damage. Placing these specimens where the public can touch them to feel the fur is a bad idea. It transfers the arsenic to anyone who touches it and hastens the loss of fur on the specimen.

  • People who see a taxidermy mount often ask, “How did you obtain that?” You are faced with the opportunity to say it was found dead or tell the unflattering truth that it was shot or trapped to become a display. In either case the person asking will likely be wondering if your organization’s ethical position is one they want to support.
  • Even expertly mounted specimens do not always look like the live animal. It is not easy to precisely recreate its look when building a body from artificial materials. In some cases, specimens are placed out of context or in juxtaposition with other animals in a scenario that would be highly unlikely in nature, misrepresenting reality and negating any educational value that might be gained from the display.
  • Lions of Tsavo exhibit in Chicago, IL, at the Museum of Natural History.

    Lions of Tsavo exhibit in Chicago, IL, at the Museum of Natural History.

    Taxidermy mounts often show only a single example of a species and sometimes that example is the largest, the most unusual, or some other hyperbolic example instead of the average. The diversity of colors and shapes among that species may be bypassed. The man-eating lions of Tsavo National Park in Kenya were anomalies in lion behavior but display of them at a Chicago museum keeps this unique and frightening story alive instead of celebrating the important role that lions play in African savannahs, usually with very little danger to humans if we behave appropriately.

 

My views on this grew from observing people viewing taxidermy mounts at a state park visitor center in Illinois in 1972. I watched and listened as children approached them and asked questions of us. A few weeks into that job, I pulled all of them off display and moved toward photography and works of art to show examples of animals. I enjoyed not explaining how we came to be displaying dead animals at a place where we were charged with protecting living animals. I had inherited the exhibit from a previous manager, but could not ethically keep it in front of the public.

 

The media we choose to interpret natural history also tells people quite a lot about our ethics. Isn’t it time to take dead animals off display and share the amazing experiences of seeing them in nature?

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

Encouraging a Community of Arts

Today we stopped by the Donkey Mill Art Center just south of Holualoa, Hawaii, and enjoyed a small but fascinating exhibit based on area artists taking the challenge of creating a unique work of art from one eight foot two by four, the most basic unit in wood home construction. The variety of results achieved by the artists inspired us.

 

By Kathleen Dunphry

By Kathleen Dumphry

I actually liked all of the pieces to varying degree. The burnt one to create charcoal to write on a graffiti panel, the carved birds and chameleon, the large colorful face, the sidewinder and the people figures were my favorites (my names for the examples, not the names provided by the artists). The Art Center invited the artists to participate in this year’s event, but may offer a more open event in the future that would allow anyone to submit a creative 2x4x8’ entry.

 

We have lived near Holualoa the past eight months while building a new home near Kealakekua Bay about fifteen miles further south. Holualoa is a charming heritage community that has seen good times and tough times over the last century and a half with the economic challenges of growing sugar cane, coffee and avocado on the rugged terrain of Hualalai, one of the five

Bus Stop by Kate and Will Jacobson.

Bus Stop by Kate and Will Jacobson.

volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii. But even before European and Asian farmers began larger scale production of those crops, the area comprised part of the ancient Kona Field System that Hawaiians used to raise breadfruit and other crops. In recent years Holualoa has become well known, not only for its exceptional Kona Coffee, but for the many artists and art shops in the two-block downtown area.

 

Started in 1994, Donkey Mill Art Center states their vision as”

 

We are a gathering place where people develop as creative, conscious and healthy human beings through art, education and experience.

 

Charcoal by April Matthews.

Charcoal by April Matthews.

They offer art education and experiences to people of all ages and abilities at the center, which is a beautifully restored part of the agricultural history of the community. Holualoa hosts a “community stroll” one Friday evening each month that keeps the varied creative businesses and cafes open later than usual to invite everyone to stop by and enjoy “pupus” (snacks), beverages and local music while celebrating the artistic creations of the community.

 

Several thoughts come to mind from looking at the important work of Donkey Mill Art Center.

  • Communities with an artistic vision create a very strong sense of place that brings people, stories, and ideas together to grow and embrace heritage.
  • A simple challenge like “make something creative from an 8 foot 2X4” can demonstrate the depth and power of creativity in any community.
  • Cultural heritage, agricultural identity and artistic endeavors create a beautiful community fabric of expression, a stronger identity.

 

Sidewinder by Ken Little.

Sidewinder by Ken Little.

Art centers are often seen in large metropolitan communities but this one in a small town makes the point that the arts help us identify our own sense of self and place and could be in any community. The creative 2x4x8 exhibit could be used by nature centers, zoos, aquariums, museums and parks as a way of bringing attention to recycling, reuse, biodiversity, and any number of other concepts. Creative expression is a great way to engage people of all ages and build a stronger community. Kudos to the Donkey Mill Art Center.

 

– Tim Merriman

 

Mass Media Ethics in Films and Videos

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Confessions-of-a-Wildlife-Filmm

Early in my career I delivered snake programs with live snakes for people to touch or see at a state park. Each year my live snake show at the Illinois State Fair would draw four or five daily audiences of hundreds. I was trying to provide an alternate narrative to the misinformation about snakes delivered through movies, TV news reports and friends’ flawed stories, exaggerated over time. One of my examples from that time period, the 1970s:

 

Remember Tarzan movies with Johnnie Weismueller? Tarzan is walking through the African jungle, an Austalian cockatoo sings from the treetops, an American alligator yawns in the river nearby, a Central American jaguar growls from the underbrush and a South American boa constrictor falls 5,000 miles sideways from a tree landing right on Tarzan’s chest. The 200-pound man wrestles the 15-pound snake with only his bare hands and a 10-inch knife. Most of what we hear and see about snakes is just as bizarre and just as made-up as that scenario.

 

Movies back then employed stock footage from diverse sources to tell their stories. Accuracy and ethics were not discussed. But decades later, it seems little has changed, or has it? We expect movies based on fiction to present unbelievable events and we overlook things that are unrealistic since it’s supposed to be entertainment, but what if credible non-fiction videographers and storytellers do that same thing?

 

Animal Planet, National Geographic Explorer and Discovery channels provide cable programming on diverse nature and culture topics. From Shark Week to Rattlesnake Republic to Finding Bigfoot, these programs attempt to build an audience with seemingly real content. Are their producers concerned about accuracy, conservation issues and the ethical treatment of animals?

 

Chris Palmer is a successful wildlife videographer who teaches about his profession at American University. In a recent TED talk he spoke candidly about the ethical choices a filmmaker makes routinely. Much of what we have seen and enjoyed in video storytelling about wildlife is a blend of real footage shot in the wilds and staged shots that help tell the story. The public is usually disappointed when they find out that seemingly realistic views into the private lives of animals are often confections, not the amazing videography they seem to be.

 

Palmer points out that our very best cable channels about animals now tilt heavily towards overly dramatized dangers. Rattlesnake Republic on the Animal Planet follows four groups of rattlesnake hunters to varied setting for roundups that make a spectacle of animal cruelty. On another program, “researchers” seek the mythical creature, Bigfoot. Pseudoscience gets better ratings than real science and program executives give us what we want, not what we need. Chris Palmer ends his TED talk with his thoughts on what we might do to improve the situation. I urge you to listen to his talk and consider his ideas.

 

Nature centers, zoos, museums, aquariums and wildlife sanctuaries seem to be the logical alternative for people to learn about the real world and counter what they think they know from sensational but inaccurate and overdramatized cable shows. But it may be a challenge to draw people away from their videos and TVs to take part in activities based in the real world. How do you compete with and/or complement the virtual programming in your area?

 

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

Your Message Could Be Many Places

Signs, exhibits, videos and TVs are the most common media selected for interpretive messages at natural and cultural heritage sites and in communities. There are some variations on these approaches that will convey a message powerfully and creatively. Here are a few to think about:

 

You find Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch card on an exhibit or in the hand of a volunteer but you carry around in your wallet because the message is helpful and business card size.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch cards are given out on an exhibit or by staff or volunteers. The card can be  carried around in a wallet so that the information is readily available when buying seafood after leaving the aquarium.

A well thought out message on a food lockbox at Yosemite reminds people to protect the bears and yourself by storing food properly.

Although the design could be improved, a well thought out message on a food lockbox at Yosemite reminds people to protect the bears and yourself by storing food properly.

Even the sewer grate in Monterey has a message about where dumped liquids go in the environment.

Even the sewer grate in Monterey has a message about where dumped liquids go in the environment.

 

Entry tickets become keepsakes at many places and the message stays around, a reminder of an important story.

Entry tickets become keepsakes at many places, a reminder of the important stories found at the site.

Bathroom messages at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo share relevant messages to where you are.

Bathroom messages at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo share relevant messages about solid waste management.

Murals share heritage stories in very public places like this one in Philadelphia.

Murals share heritage stories in very public places like this one in Philadelphia.

Even electrical utility box in Old Town Fort Collins is a location for a mural, a visual message.

Even the electrical utility box in Old Town Fort Collins is a location for a mural, a visual message.

The El Paso Airport places memorable messages from their tourists in the floor for new arrivals to read near the baggage claim.

The El Paso Airport places memorable messages from residents in the floor for new arrivals to read near the baggage claim, answering the question “what’s special about El Paso?

A museum in Philadelphia uses outdoor building walls as a place to share local poetry.

A museum in Philadelphia uses outdoor building walls as a place to share local poetry.

The Rainforest Cafe invites donations through a unique use of a parking meter with a clear message.

The Rainforest Cafe invites donations through a unique use of a parking meter with a clear message.

Rainforest Cafe uses messaging in varied creative ways with napkins, table tents and menus.

Rainforest Cafe uses messaging in varied creative ways with napkins, table tents and menus.

Kids are invited to create artworks that have a message and then they are used as the sign.

Kids are invited to create artwork with a message that is then incorporated into sign design.

Public sculpture in this heritage community near Perth, Australia, reminds guests of the fishing traditions of the area.

Public sculpture in this heritage community near Perth, Australia, reminds guests of the fishing traditions of the area.

This path near Perth explains the challenges of new immigrants arriving with limited personal resources.

This path near Perth explains the challenges of new immigrants arriving with limited personal resources.

Visiting natural and cultural heritage sites and communities will become more interesting if we broaden our view of where messages can be shared.

– Tim Merriman

 

 

 

10 Guidelines for a Useful Brochure

 

Rack systems managed by marketing firms can be an easy way to get your brochure in front of diverse audiences.

Rack systems managed by marketing firms can be an easy way to get your brochure in front of diverse audiences.

We once asked a state park office how often they have to fill their brochure rack. The enthusiastic clerk explained, “It’s great, virtually never. No one takes them.” Here are ten guidelines to keep your brochures where they belong, in the hands of your guests, instead of in the rack or on the ground.

 

  1. A colorful brochure with great illustrations attracts the eye and makes it more likely to be picked up in the first place.
  2. The title should telegraphically identify the brochure’s purpose or theme. If I need a site map, I want to be able to find it easily, but if I’m interested in the story behind the site, I may be willing to read a little more if the title is intriguing.
  3. Use illustrations and photos instead of words whenever possible. Pictures can often convey universal concepts, understood even by those who do not know the language.
  4. Make the folded shape and size convenient to carry in a pocket.
  5. Make sure the design is consistent with the distribution system. If your brochure rack has opaque covers across the lower half of the brochure, put the title or theme on the upper third where it can be seen.
  6. Make brochures readily available in a rack system or location where they are likely to be seen and used, not hidden in an administrative office where guests have to ask for them.
  7. Give people a place near exits to repurpose gently used brochures. Soiled ones can be put in paper recycling and clean ones reused.
  8. Make the papers and inks used reflect your values. Recycled paper and organic inks may be the best choice if your organization specializes in conservation stories, even if they are slightly more expensive.
  9. Think of who will use it and design to help them make easy use of the brochure. (e.g. larger print for seniors, digital app for young people, sized for convenient distribution).
  10. Hire a professional designer who knows how to use color, typefaces, spacing and overall design carefully. This may not be a project for an intern.

 

Enough said – Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

– Tim Merriman