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Circus—Starring YOU! Behind-the-Scenes: Exhibit Development

By Cathy Hamaker, Children's Museum Exhibit Developer

Cathy has developed permanent exhibits like Beyond Spaceship Earth and ScienceWorks, as well as traveling exhibits like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secrets of the Sewer. Coincidentally, Cathy has ancestry from the circus capital of Indiana, Peru. In this blog, Cathy talks about the development process behind our upcoming exhibit, Circus—Starring YOU!

We didn’t build this exhibit on shaky roman ladders or loose tightropes. Circus—Starring YOU! required a lot of research, concept development, and physical construction. The exhibit began as the brainchild of a few members of our development team—museum professionals and educators who work to find shared ground between extraordinary experiences and learning. Simply put, we see an exhibit from start to finish.

Okay, so, what does that look like? 

For Circus—Starring YOU!, members from the team (including myself) traveled to Montreal, Peru (Indiana), and Sarasota, Florida to study a variety of circus performances. We attended everything from small, one-ring circuses to massive, three-ring spectaculars. There are many aspects to the circus, but we decided to home in on the human experience. We spoke to circus performers and production professionals to ultimately learn that circus performance is about personal creativity; bringing your unique skills and ideas to the table as a performer. 

We watched awe-inspiring acts from performers young and old, which got me thinking—what can we do to put these activities in the hands of any child who just wanted to try it out? And how do we do that safely without losing the thrill of circus performance?

Between purchasing some circus equipment for prototyping and building some from scratch, we tested six activities with help from children of varying ages and their adults. We observed their initial actions, asked them what they thought about the difficulty and ease of each act, and used our findings to make improvements from there. As this process wrapped up, some interactives were let go for lacking a wow-factor, or being too dangerous or inaccessible, and others were kept and adjusted for heightened safety and thrill. The idea is that if we make the interactives simple, yet entertaining, participants will want to add more layers to sculpt a full act. In this exhibit, visitors will be able to make themselves the star! 

We settled on four major activities to be featured alongside circus history and other interactives in the exhibit: the roman ladder, rolla bolla, lyra ring, and tightrope. For the first few months, there will be workshop-style programs about juggling and clowning so families can work together to create their own extraordinary acts. Programs like this will rotate in topic through the duration of the exhibit. 

Now we’re putting the finishing sparkle on Circus—Starring YOU!, and can’t wait for families and children to get into the act. Come one, come all! The exhibit opens Feb. 18, 2017. 

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Categories: Exhibits
About the Author
Lori Byrd-McDevitt
Lori Byrd-McDevitt
Lori is the Manager of Digital Content and Social Media. That means that she's the face behind all of the museum's social media channels! Lori loves to learn about all of the fun and surprising things that go into making The Children's Museum so extraordinary—then she helps museum staff and community members share it all right here on the blog.
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