Nature Center Issues & Solutions: A roundtable of ideas & answers
Hosted November 2017
An informative and collaborative roundtable discussion about issues, trends, and problem solving at nature centers and visitor centers.
Issue 1 Creating Exhibits. Coming up with new exhibit ideas Solutions:
Make sure you create a plan to guide you and make it easier for your supervisors to understand your end game. Also create an exhibit coordinator so everyone sees the time commitment for this type of work.
Make sure to create your themes and return to them to guide you. Take the time to go through exhibit design planning.
See the 2016 Roundtable discussion for some exhibit ideas
See Randy's exhibit plan from Athens, GA.
Make sure when working with a professional exhibit design
Find retirees with the skills you need to rough out exhibits. For instance, a retired cabinet maker, artist, or retired builder to help. Federal surplus is a good way to get desks and furniture items.
Get creative. You don't need to have a lot of stuff, just a few centers with hands on items, or use inexpensive items.
Use eagle scout projects, but make your expectations and needs clear. This does require a good bit of your time and you need to have oversight.
Create an evaluation plan of your exhibit from the beginning so you know what is working, not working, if your exhibits are still relevant, and what people are interested in.
If you have professionally done exhibits, but also make in-house, staff developed exhibit items, make sure you get the style guide from the professional company so you match their design in color, font, layout. This way all exhibits connect and remain looking professional.
Use a nature trading post station for quick and a very hands on exhibit area. You must be able to staff this.
Get local art students to paint murals or use their artistic skills to create for you.
One idea is an interactive table with a plexiglass top. Around the edges can be different text or photos but the inside has items under plexiglass. Maybe even items that can be touched in this touch table. These items can then be continually rotated in and out.
When doing a school program, have students
Remember your audience and that as a local nature center, you have repeat visitors from your community. Don't always think you must put in big, expensive, static exhibits. You need the community coming back in and connected so have space where local art, writings, and history are encouraged and on display.
Issue 2 Trying to figure out where to fit in. How do you blend missions between your nature center and your larger organization. Solutions:
Figure out a theme that links the two missions. For instance, one department is in charge of hunting while you are in charge of interpretation. Make sure your themes show that conservation or appreciation keeps the wildlife in the park so you are able to do sustainable hunting. Possible theme idea: Nature Centers have a mission of building connections between the local community and natural history.
Connect with Association for Nature Center Administrators (www.natctr.org)
Institute for Museum and Library can be a possible source for funding. Call them first and talk to them about your ideas to see if you could be successful at getting their funds. They have grants available.