jeweled platypus


saturday, october 04, 2014
A local history exhibit experiment

I wrote this on Facebook on October 4 and later realized it also works fine as a public post, so I’m posting an edited version here too, backdated to that day.

the left part of the table the right part of the table

When I lived in Isla Vista, I daydreamed a lot about establishing an Isla Vista History Museum, which would be me occasionally setting up somewhere outside with a folding table and the tons of cool old images I’d found and stories I’d learned, talking to people who stopped by. I wanted to share some sense of connection to previous generations of students, some kind of pride in our weird little neighborhood. But I didn’t know what would happen if I tried it, and I never got around to just going for it.

Today I got a chance to set up an amateur history exhibit about San Francisco’s Market Street for a street fair that was part of an event themed around prototyping public art and other interventions for public spaces. I made some cards with entertaining/interesting information, and since I had to make this interactive (a theme of the event), I decided to provide paper for people to make their own pretend “plaques” for some memory or meaningful place along Market Street. This was a little bit of a cheesy idea, but it turned out better than expected — most of the people who stopped by told me something they knew about the street that wasn’t on the cards, and I asked them to write down their information to share with the next visitors. Everyone knows something interesting about where they live and spend time. I talked to my mom on the phone this evening, and she told me a cool thing about Market Street that she learned while living in San Francisco many years ago: the story of the company that built its street lights.

Display cards I made:

A couple of the nice contributed “plaques”:

one of the volunteer plaques

one of the volunteer plaques

So I tested my idea for informal history exhibits and it worked, at least in this context. Some people read the cards, some watched the old video of Market Street, some enjoyed talking. There weren’t that many people who came to the street fair, but eight people were interested enough in this table to sit down and write something down. I even met somebody who works in the Market Street building that I did a longer project on (717 Market Street), and he was interested in this so I gave him the printout of it.

A fellow Double Union member volunteered to hang out with me at the table and help talk to people, which was fun and also meant that we could take turns finding water and food occasionally. Thank you to her!

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I’m Britta Gustafson.

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