¡NUEVOlution! The Team Behind the Exhibit - Darcie Fohrman
What influenced you to pursue a career in the museum industry?
My passion is art education. After teaching art in public school for a few years, I realized that I wasn't suited for the formal education system. I wanted a change. I loved the Cleveland Art Museum as a kid but didn't think of museums as a career until I went back to graduate school in photography and got a part job at the Spertus Museum in Chicago. That was in 1971 and I've been creating exhibitions ever since. In the 1980s I was Director of Exhibitions at the San Diego Museum of Art and since the 1990s as a consultant for many types of museums. I prefer the informal education that happens in exhibitions. I haven’t lost my passion for art and bring art and artists into all my projects for a different perspective on any subject.
Based on your experience, what makes a museum exhibit successful?
I’m inspired when visitors engage with artifacts and ideas in news ways. The most successful exhibitions are emotionally engaging. Visitors will be moved and inspired if their experience is relevant to their lives, unexpected, interactive, and immersive.
You have worked with Levine Museum in the past. How does this NUEVOlution exhibit differ from previous ones?
In the other exhibitions with LMNS – COURAGE: The Vision to End Segregation, the Guts to Fight for It and Changing Places: From Black and White to Technicolor – we used individual stories to communicate universal themes that we can all relate to. COURAGE revealed the commitment, community, and courage behind one community’s, Clarendon County SC, fight for school desegregation – showing that's what it takes to fight injustice in society. In Changing Places, individual stories from a few different cultures of Charlotte—both new transplants and long-time residents—represented different aspects of demographic change that affects us all.
With ¡NUEVOlution! we don't want to just distill a few ways Latinos are changing the South and the South is changing Latinos. We want to communicate that it's complicated in many surprising ways. This was informed by two years of Listening Sessions supported by an American Alliance of Museums Innovation Grant and led to 7 insights that completely guided our exhibition planning process. This project was not just about Charlotte, it was a collaboration with the Atlanta History Center and the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum. Also our collaborative team is larger, more experienced, and involved coordination across all museum departments and many other consultants. While the other projects included volunteer members from each community we represented, for ¡NUEVOlution! the museum hired a full time Latino coordinators, first Melina Monita and Oliver Merino who continues on at the museum. We present many diverse Latino voices from the Southeast – not just Charlotte. It was a huge priority to have people speak for themselves through the produced videos, quotes, and stories recorded in the community and in the exhibit. I hope we succeed in reflecting the diversity of the Latino New South!
What ideas did you bring to the NUEVOlution exhibit? How do you think these ideas will influence the exhibit and stimulate change?
As I mentioned the team for this project is collaborative and the exhibition doesn't reflect any one person's ideas. My strength is facilitating and guiding the team during concept planning and exhibition development. During the planning process, I am always considering the visitor's perspective based on my experience creating hundreds of museum exhibitions large and small.
I was a strong advocate for creating an immersive environment, including art in the exhibition and for hiring a film maker to create original videos. And I did bring in Evelyn! Evelyn Orantes is Curator of Public Practice at the Oakland Museum of California with extensive experience working with Oakland's diverse populations. She played a key role at our early concept planning meetings. She envisioned the exhibition, programs, and community participation as encuentros which guided our direction for the visitor experience.
What were some of the challenges of making the NUEVOlution exhibit? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is creating a completely bilingual exhibition that communicates many stories. It's a design challenge to have more than twice as much text on the walls. Tom Hanchett wrote concise compelling commentary; Irene Morris did a beautiful job designing the graphic panels; and we had terrific 'transadaptation' (not direct translation but capturing the nuances of the narrative) from AC&M Cultural Marketing firm. Also, we used a lot of first person quotes and subtitled 17 videos and several interactives — to accomplish this there are just a lot of words on the walls!
Another challenge is not using artifacts to reveal the stories. This is a graphic and media exhibition. To tell personal stories and create a dynamic experience, we hired filmmaker, Rodrigo Dorfman, to create compelling short films of Southern Latinos; Tom, Rodrigo, and Oliver selected beautiful photographs; Irene used brilliant colors and compelling design; we brought back Brad Larson who did the video booth for Changing Places, to create interactive media pieces, working with Kamille Bostick and the education team gathering and presenting community voices and visitor participation with his Story Kiosk and video interactives; and VP of Exhibits Kate Ballion led the in-house team creating engaging interactives to encourage visitor participation and selecting the art. We've created an immersive environment. I hope visitors find it surprising, engaging, and fascinating.
What do you want visitors to experience viewing ¡NUEVOlution!?
We want visitors to experience ENCUENTROS and even desencuentros. Come, participate, and get to know many people who are changing the South and being changed by the South. Through the Levine Museum of the New South exhibition and programs, become part of this vibrant new New South ¡NUEVOlution!