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published: April, 2002

© Archives & Museum Informatics, 2002.
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0  License


Promoting and Re-Creating Physical Exhibitions
Rosemary Adams, Chicago Historical Society, USA
Matt Crenshaw, Chicago Historical Society, USA
Jill Sadler, Chicago Historical Society, USA

Demonstration: Demonstrations 1

In November 2001, the Chicago Historical Society opened Flappers, Fashion, ‘n All That Jazz, a costume exhibit that explores the changing fashions and social roles of women in the Roaring ‘20s.

For the Web site, we wanted to do two things. First, attract visitors through the front door while the exhibition was on display, and second, re-create the experience online after the exhibition had come down. All of the research and development put into the temporary exhibit would be used to create an online exhibit that would become permanent on the Historical Society’s Web site.

We started by identifying the stages in an exhibition’s life cycle: pre-opening, open, and closing. For each one of these phases, we have launched a unique Web site, in essence starting small and rolling out the site over time, so that at each stage the Web site is able to accomplish a slightly different goal in relation to the exhibition.

The first phase (“Exhibition Trailer”) launched a month prior to the exhibition’s opening, is a thirty-second animated piece, made to look and feel like a movie trailer. The trailer blends a montage of black and white photographs to exhibition, among other things, a policeman hovering over an illegal keg of beer confiscated during Prohibition, automobiles lining up outside the Chicago Theater, and flappers dancing the Charleston, before snapping into color details of the fabrics and hemlines that typified women’s fashion of the era. Not unlike a movie trailer, the first phase functioned to catch people’s eye, grab their attention and announce the opening date.

The second phase (“Promotions site”) launched concurrently with the exhibition and functioned as most museum exhibition Web sites do. With wide-angle shots of the galleries, dress details, a description of themes, a timeline of the ‘20s and an online guest book, virtual visitors were able to get a deeper sense of the exhibition’s direction and to post their questions and memories related to the 1920s. Museum hours and location were posted clearly throughout the site to satisfy our primary goal in this second phase: to draw visitors.

The third and final phase (“Online Exhibition”) is currently in development and will launch after the exhibition leaves the gallery next September. This final site will present all of the research, objects, and ideas (as well as feedback from the physical exhibit) in new ways on the Web. The design of the online exhibition will expand on the design we created for the second phase, giving the three phases a seamless presentation.

Our demonstration will showcase the first two phases of the Flappers Web site and preview the online exhibition as a work-in-progress. We hope to discuss with conference attendees why we chose to roll out a three-stage Web site, how this format can become a model for future museum projects, and ways to minimize the resources involved, showing how each phase borrows from the work done in the previous phase.