Popup cafes, restaurants and shops. Theaters, shoe stores and art classes. Short-term experimental popup ventures are popping up all over the place: in parking lots, alleys, and sidewalks; BART stations, office lobbies, college campuses. Museums are increasingly taking part in the pop-up action, notably through the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) which defines pop up museums as “temporary exhibits created by the people who show up to participate.” For a popup museum, someone chooses a theme and location and then invites people to bring objects on-topic to share. Participants write labels for their objects on cards and leave them on display for a set period of time.
USF’s Thacher Gallery began to experiment with popup exhibitions last year and this fall, the spirit of the popup continued in University of San Francisco Professor David Silver‘s Introduction to Media Studies course. Silver pioneered the idea of classroom as museum three years ago. This year, to explore the role of the tangible object in our experience of popular music, Silver’s undergraduate media studies students experimented with the pop-up museum format. Professor Silver gave his media studies students a few guiding ideas for their popular music popup museum. These included:
- Your topic can be your favorite band, your all-time favorite song or album, your favorite genre, or something else (“3 metal bands I can’t live without!”). Your approach can be objective (what makes the band great) or subjective (what makes the band great to you).
- Your exhibit can feature digital stuff (screens, MP3s, video, digital photos) but it must also include tangible stuff (an album review from an old issue of Rolling Stone, a ticket stub of that concert that changed your life, a t-shirt, you name it). Put another way, your exhibit can be comprised of entirely tangible stuff or be a mixture of tangible and digital but it can’t be entirely digital. An open laptop blaring a song and streaming a video does not make an exhibit.
- Your exhibit must contain at least three interesting artifacts. We’ve been discussing artifacts in class for a while so think hard and creatively about what you use. This is the portion of the exhibit that will make or break your project.
- The exhibit should tell anyone looking at it something about its designer (you). In other words, use the exhibit to share something about yourself.
A week before the popups were slated to debut, Silver invited museum studies faculty member Marjorie Schwarzer to his class to contextualize popup exhibition techniques within the history of museum exhibitions and describe her own work with popups in community settings. Silver’s students’ final exhibition opened at Thacher Gallery in mid-November 2014 featuring a range of music from Hong Kong pop artists to American rappers to San Francisco hippie bands of the 1960s.
As our society becomes increasingly digital, participating in popup museums can remind us of how tangible objects resonate in our lives. Objects and their stories become all the more powerful when exhibited together in an informal venue, stimulating conversation among diverse people, mediated by the objects they bring to the table.