Tag Archives: exhibits

Madrecitas: Exposicion de Pequeno Formato

Screen shot 2013-09-10 at 12.57.36 PMThe Museum has hosted it’s first all-Spanish exhibit, an art exhibit from Mexicali, Mexico. This is the first ever United States exhibition, making it now an international exhibit. The organizers of the exhibit are artists themselves and drivers of the artist community. They started this small format exhibit to provide an opportunity for their students to gain exhibit experience. Now, five years later, the blossoming students of CETYS Universidad are joined by artists ranging from Southern California to Mexico City and as far as Spain.

Based in a hallway of CETYS Universidad, the inaugural exhibit had 60 pieces. In 2013 the exhibit boasts 300 pieces (which I hung with an student curator – took 3 days) from artists ranging from Southern California to Mexico City and includes 2D, 3D and video format. The exhibit represents the vibrant artistic community just across the border.

This is one of the best events we have done at the museum. It engaged a new audience, had an amazing energy level, and epitomized the type of dialogue I want to encourage at this museum. I’m very proud of this one.


Adapting a Traveling Exhibit

At the Imperial Valley Desert Museum, we promise something new at every event. This promise has kept us hopping. The most visible change we’ve made is the installation of a temporary exhibit from Exhibit Envoy.

Exhibit Envoy is a California based non-profit organization that develops traveling exhibits available to museums for a nominal fee.  They provide the research, text panels, hands-on materials, and educational curriculum. For small museums like the IVDM having all these materials arrive in three neat little boxes is worth a couple thousand dollars. Our job was half done… but only half.

The broad challenge of this project was to take the stories in Gold Fever! and make them relevant to our desert community. Gold Fever! Untold Stories of the California Gold Rush focuses on northern California where the Gold Rush was at its peak. It was also developed in 1998 by the California Council for the Humanities in collaboration with the Oakland Museum of California. Now fifteen years later, visitor expectations lean towards the dynamic, particularly the IVDM’s audience of energetic desert adventurers. As we unpacked the materials we recognized an opportunity to enhance the standard exhibit. In the end, we added 43 supplementary panels, a miner’s cabin complete with early Imperial Valley newspaper wallpaper, and developed two interactive scale exhibits: at one you can calculate the price of a pound of coffee in 1850, at the other you can calculate your weight in gold.




The most important aspect of this project is that it focused a Californian story to an Imperial County story. Sometimes we are forgotten in this outskirt community, but that only means that this is a place where people can discover. The adapted Gold Fever! exhibit reveals secrets of the desert that you visit and in which we live. Supplementing the exhibit with local information supports our preservation strategy by encouraging pride of place to promote preservation of our landscape and cultural resources. The more people that learn about Imperial County the more conscious they become of our unique environment and the mysteries it holds.

We added to the exhibit in four key ways:

1)   highlighting facts and quotes in the provided text

2)   using existing online resources to supplement the exhibit

3)   incorporating local stories and players

4)   incorporating present day interaction with historic sites


1)   Highlighting facts and quotes in the provided text

The text developed by the Oakland Museum is incredibly interesting and the panels contain a wealth of research, but when we unpacked the 24 panels and lined them up, I was conscious of only one thing: a wall of text. Without a visual break in the information you have a foreboding that reading about the Gold Rush is going to take a lot of energy and focus. As a curator, it is my job to learn the history we interpret, but visitors don’t want to work. They are on vacation, or just trying to get the kids out of the house, or having a leisure day. We needed to facilitate the learning experience and help them pinpoint the most interesting bits. As the staff read through the text, we highlighted our favorite facts. The best one was that the first millionaire in CA wasn’t a miner, he was the guy selling the shovels. We used the flagged information as inspiration to develop meaningful stories for our audience.


2)  Using existing online resources to supplement the exhibit

One of the panels reference William Swain’s surviving journal. A little online research turned up a digitization project by Yale’s Beinecke Library making Swain’s journal accessible. An old desk and a printer allows visitor’s to read Swain’s first hand accounts in detail.


We are trying to make this relevant to Imperial County, so why stop with an out of town-er like Swain? The US census shows miners in Imperial County from 1850 through 1900 and the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America project has Imperial County newspapers back to 1901. Cited appropriately, these make for some really easy, useful resources.


3)   incorporating local stories and players

Inspired by Swain’s journal, we sought loans from the local Bureau of Land Management office. The additional artifacts and photographs create a fuller picture of mining in Imperial County. Coupled with the census material, we could now compare Swain’s experience with early pioneer life in Imperial County.


4)   incorporating present day interaction with historic sites

This leads us directly to incorporating present day life. Our 1930’s historic collection includes images of visitors having a picnic at the American Girl Mine, our field books describe archeology work at Picaho Mine, and two weeks before the opening of the exhibit I was hiking at Elliot Mine. The Valley’s residents and visitors have always moved in and around this history. Exhibit Envoy and the Oakland Museum sent us the facts of the Gold Rush and with a little time and effort and a large format printer, we used that baseline to develop an exhibit relevant to our local history, our mission, and our modern visitor.



Taking the time to adapt the exhibit had far reaching implications. Strategically, it was a fund raising tool that met our mission, met the expectations of our visitors, and furthered our strategic plan. It was also a community resource. One of the first comments a student made to me about the museum was “when is it opening? I’ve never been to a museum.” Now we have an exhibit in which our community is a main player. Imperial County may be geographically isolated, but these days that is a boundary easily transcended. Supplementing the exhibit turned a statewide story into a local story and it has the potential to show our community their role in a broader world and spark the idea that they have a place in it.

Exhibit Opening and Bran Nue Dae

Our first exhibit opened on May 2nd.


I have always liked May.


The exhibit, entitled Every Day is Earth Day allows us to see the world through the eyes of seven members of the Imperial Valley College Arts Faculty.  We marked the occasion with a celebration of art and film that continued all evening.

Earlier in the month, we held a preview of the event for the Friends of the Museum, a support group of members who have made a commitment to support the museum with a gift of $500 every year for the next five years. Lauryl Driscoll, who attended both events, commented that her parents had worked for more than 30 years to see this museum get built, “and it is great to see it finally happen.”

“I like the idea of having a new cultural institution that will support the arts,” said Bernardo Olmedo, who was instrumental in organizing the exhibit. Carol Hegarty, the Head of the Humanities Department at IVC, agreed, “It takes everyone working together in a community for local arts to be successful. It is not about competition, it is about partnership.” As I said when I opened the event that evening, I am realizing that much of what the Valley has to offer is under-appreciated and the Desert Museum can help highlight this spectacular community.

Rachel Perkins discusses her film, Bran Nue Dae.

The evening continued with a screening from the Film Forward program. This international program from the Sundance Institute brought two independent films to the Imperial Valley with the film directors. Here at the Museum, we screened Bran Nue Dae – my absolutely favorite Australian film. Director Rachel Perkins captivated the audience and demonstrated, as I’d been promoting for months now, that this was not an event to be missed.

We had an intimate group of 30, a solid turn out for a weekend event 25 miles outside of town. And now they are 30 people who now understand my adoration for this quirky little film. They join the 8 million people in Australia who have viewed the film – a huge number for a country with a population of only 2 million. Many attendees commented that the film was funnier than they thought it would be and the director explained that this film is one of only 3 Aboriginal comedies – and she has produced two of them. Usually, she said, films about Aboriginal people are somber and serious and she deliberately made a film that people could see themselves reflected in and laugh. People asked about the lack of dreaming references (though someone else said the jail scene with traditional dancing – ie dreaming – was the best in the movie). Rachel explained that this film was not a vehicle for that aspect. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about this film. It’s irreverent and zany, reaches all audiences, and captures the contemporary spirit of Australians today. 

The night overall successfully stimulated conversation on the commonalities and differences between cultures, cultural expression through art, and the charming grace of passionate communities.

This morning the last Film Forward event was an informal chat with the directors. I went with an aspiring young film maker who is now so excited I have to go out and find film editing software so he can make movies in the Museum’s technology lab. As we left the event, I was incredibly loathed to leave. “Did you ever imaging that when you came here and made us watch Bran Nue Dae that you’d be having a casual cup of coffee with the Director?” Never in my wildest. But I should know better than to be surprised. Australia is the biggest small town there is.


Small stories

Just going through the pictures I’ve accumulated:

In-house pest control and conservation on baskets:


The sunrise leaves me with one more reason this place is next closest thing to Australia:

cause this:



isn’t far from this:



One difference: no sun-kissed Ocotillo like this in Australia


And one of our neighbors introduced me to the rarely seen desert tortoise. She has them as pets:


This is me at the midway Museum back in February, pushing buttons like a little kid:

"Uh, these don't work anymore, right?"


And, lest we need reminding, the most successful exhibits aren’t always the newest:



First Exhibit – Every Day is Earth Day

Bernardo Olmedo joins in one of the many simultaneous discussions about expressions of culture through art.

If Earth Day is just one day, our days are numbered. At the Desert Museum, we celebrate the Earth every day – and we have an art exhibit to prove it.


The Desert Museum is a community-based project. Our philosophy is “if you need it, we can help you build it.” One of the artists participating in our new exhibit came to the Desert Museum to discuss a project partnership, and left with a commitment to fill our empty walls. There are very few galleries to show artists work, he told me, and people are always looking for new spaces to showcase their talents. “Bring me something,” I said, “and we’ll put together a show.” In a matter of weeks we had the commitment of 6 artists, all members of the Imperial Valley College Arts Faculty.


We have filled our empty walls with our FIRST exhibit, and the artists have a professional looking exhibit. On May 2nd the exhibit opens with an artist reception. The director is away at a conference, leaving me in charge of the event. He’s nervous, as you might expect. The reputation of the museum rides on each one of these early events. But he doesn’t know I was trained by the best gallery owners Rhode Island has ever seen. They’ve since retired from the business, but they left beauty in their wake.

Researching Exhibits in San Diego

I’ve been told that you don’t want to reveal half-done projects to public eyes.


“People don’t see possibilities, they only see disappointment compared to their expectations.”


So I will ask the reader to see the possibilities. Look beyond the empty exhibit room, half built laboratory, and shell of a library to envision a stimulating, fun, technology-focused museum. The more we plan and share the vision, the more excited the staff gets. It’s a process that I can’t help sharing and, I promise, we’ll meet your expectations.


This month the IVDM is celebrating museum month by visiting San Diego museums with the goal to research exhibits and evaluate what type of displays are feasible and applicable to our collections.


Last week was a great success when we visited the San Diego Natural History Museum and talked to a curatorial assistant who offered a candid opinion on their popular exhibits.


The most telling thermometer for successful exhibits at ‘The Nat’ was in watching the kids. A cylinder intended to show how archeologists sift sand to find artifacts was reappropriated by younger visitors as a really fun moving part:

Repurposing archeology exhibits till they meet age-appropriate criteria for fun, San Diego Natural History Museum.


Back at the museum construction on our first temporary exhibits has begun.


Building the first exhibits after 37 years of dedicated fundraising for the new museum.


It is the beginning of the new Imperial Valley Desert Museum’s public face.