Effective Storytelling

Although this may be an unpopular opinion, I wasn’t quite blown away at the International Spy Museum. I thought that the museum prepared beautiful, colorful, and lively exhibitions but I couldn’t help but feel like I missed a certain depth in the information. The part where I felt like the museum did the best job with effective storytelling was the James Bond exhibit, “Exquisitely Evil: Fifty Years of James Bond Villains.”

The exhibition had quite a bit of depth: long videos to help introduce the cast of characters, some great text panels, and tons of objects that were used in the actual films. I particularly enjoyed seeing the teeth that Jaws wore in several of the Bond films.

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Villain Jaws’ teeth from the Bond movies

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Dress worn by female villain, Elektra King

It was very disappointing to hear that this exhibit would not return to the new building. I understood, of course, since the museum actually didn’t own any of these objects. Perhaps that is where some of the issues lie for the Spy Museum. The museum was littered with great, short and interesting stories. However, as a visitor, I felt I missed out on the context and often yearned for collection objects to correspond to such stories.

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Story of Garbo at the Spy Museum

One such example was the story featured above in the photograph. I had never heard of a man that fabricated an entire spy network to fool the Germans. I thought that this was such an interesting and unique story, but beyond the photograph on the panel, the museum didn’t provide much else. The museum set up the scene for great stories, but didn’t actually follow through with them. It was also overwhelming to jump from story to story within the same gallery.

It was refreshing to hear from the staff that they are aware of this problem and are intending to deepen the visitor experience in the new museum building.

Telling Difficult Stories

Today, we visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I had visited about 6 years ago, but I was excited to see what I may had missed previously and any new additions. I arrived early to the museum and an exhibit caught my eye. “Daniel’s Story” was an exhibit located on the first floor of the museum. The exhibit was aimed at children, but I was eager to see how museum staff presented the Holocaust story to a young audience.

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Diary image in “Daniel’s Story” exhibition

A short film began the exhibit and then visitors walked through Daniel’s life, scene by scene. Handwritten diary entries were placed in each room and helped tell the story. Daniel’s story began with happy memories and scenes from the family kitchen, home, and community. ┬áThen, the entries got darker as the exhibition progressed and the scenery switched to the ghetto and concentration camp.

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Daniel’s suitcase, after being forced into the ghetto

This really fit in wonderfully with our group projects since the entire exhibition was a mode of storytelling. It also did so primarily through objects and written text. Sounds were also utilized. Happy and pleasant sounds of a child helping his mother in the kitchen were at the beginning of the exhibit. Darker sounds, like terrified children and chaos, began to play after the Nazis came to power. At the end, there was an eerie silence as the hallway exit space narrowed, forcing visitors to leave single-file. It seemed symbolic as I could picture Jewish men, women, and children lining up in this manner into cattle cars, in the ghetto, and at the gas chambers.

I thought the storytelling was really appropriate for the audience and touched hard topics without being overwhelming for the children. While I really enjoyed the “Some Were Neighbors” exhibit, I didn’t think it would be a suitable place for families with young children to learn this story. I also thought that a warning by the shooting video should have been included in order to protect young minds from graphic images. Still, I was pleased that the museum had formulated a great exhibition space aimed at children.