Museums help preserve art, history, science, and general knowledge for future generations. Some are dedicated to renowned locations or people, niche interests, or famed events. Whatever their dedication, museums rely on signage to display, enhance, and direct visitors to permanent and temporary exhibits.
Attracting approximately one and a half million visitors a year, the Museum of Science, Boston, MA, is dedicated to providing an interactive experience to science, engineering, and technology. Founded in 1830, the museum features a number of flagship exhibits such as the Thomson Theater of Electricity, Charles Hayden Planetarium, Mugar Omni Theater, Gordon Current Science & Technology Center, 3-D Digital Cinema, and Butterfly Garden.
In addition to its permanent attractions and internally created temporary displays, the museum hosts high-profile travelling exhibits. The latest, A Day in Pompeii, is presented in partnership with Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompeii (SANP), which selected and prepared hundreds of artifacts. SANP operates four archeological sites and a museum at Boscoreale. The museum collaborated with three other museums and previous tour venues to bring this collection of artifacts to the U.S.
Carl Zukroff, manager of marketing communications, Museum of Science, Boston, oversees promotional on-site signage of such displays. While they don’t have the capability to produce wide format graphics in house, the work is outsourced to local experts. Zukroff says the museum tries to distribute sign work as consciously as it can between two or three companies.
There is no specific set of standards when it comes to producing innovative signage throughout the museum. Formats and paper stocks are varied from time to time, depending on the application or exhibit. “For example, we recently used an iridescent paper for posters promoting an exhibit on animals that live in dark environments,” says Zukroff. He notes that working in collaboration with the print suppliers, they are very careful about the substrates they chose, although at times they are limited by size.
A Day in Pompeii
To entice visitors to view A Day in Pompeii, which is a separate attraction from the museum itself, wide format signage is strategically used in locations throughout museum grounds. “We’re restricted to using established spaces that have been set aside for many years,” says Zukroff.
This includes the large entrance windows, and in the concourse from the garage that leads to the main lobby there is an opportunity for coming attraction and "now showing signs," some of which are backlit and some are overhead. Additionally, poster cases are available in various lobbies. For most exhibits a series of directional signage is also created. Pompeii also took advantage of hanging banners from the lobby ceiling, as well as a balcony in the lobby. Aside from printed graphics, there is an eight-foot volcano model that erupts in the lobby.
Zukroff shares that traveling exhibits are most often created by outside, independent groups, and are leased to institutions such as the Museum of Science. There are contract obligations, such as providing appropriate credits in all printed pieces. These exhibits also generally come with promotional art, whether it is rendered art or photographs of exhibit components. Depending on the particular exhibit, the museum has varying levels of freedom in terms of what art is used for promotional use. For Pompeii, Zukroff shares that they had some leeway with how to present the exhibit and the number of different elements they could show.
One notable installment for the exhibit is on the tower, which featured a rendered graphic of a volcanic eruption. This element was chosen due to the location of the graphic, as it needed to be viewable from a distance and still showcase the essence of the exhibit. “It’s only readable from certain vantage points. So, when we have to reproduce something on the tower, we look carefully at how photography will reproduce versus a flat drawing. More often than not, flat renderings are used. In the case of Pompeii, we have just a volcano with the word Pompeii. The smaller phrase “A Day In” would have been difficult to read, so they defaulted to the word Pompeii.
The 22x27-foot tower graphics were printed on vinyl, canvas-like material. This substrate was chosen because the graphic is exposed to winds that can exceed 100 miles per hour due to cross breezes from both the Charles River basin and Boston Harbor. Tower graphics were created by DGI-Invisuals of Burlington, MA.
DGI is also relied upon to wrap the museum’s traveling program vehicles, a fleet of three or four vans that go out to schools, libraries, and community centers to bring science and technology programs to these groups.
All other large format signage work for A Day at Pompeii was completed by BL Makepeace, Inc. of Brighton, MA. This includes a series of window graphics found on the entrance to the museum.
Perforated vinyl is always used because it allows light to come through the vinyl. “It’s also a lot of fun to know that you can’t see it from the other side. We stand with people in the lobby and ask them what they think of the graphics. They correctly say, ‘what graphics?’ And we take them outside, have them look up, and they say, ‘how did they do that?’ and it becomes a discussion of technology at that point,” says Zukroff.
Institutionally, traveling exhibits are planned anywhere from six to 12 months in advance of the opening. While the production of the signage only takes two to four weeks to output, many considerations, such as weather, need to be taken into account for installation. For example, the installation of entrance window is restricted by weather. If installation is scheduled during Winter, graphics may be put up or taken down early or late depending on whether the temperature is less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, graphics won’t adhere or peel off easily.
Although the Pompeii exhibit travels from one location to the next, visitors can expect a different experience between museums. In Boston, A Day in Pompeii features over 250 artifacts, including 13 wall-sized frescoes, over a dozen pieces of gold jewelry, marble and bronze statuary, and gold coins.
Signage for the display is short term. Once installed, graphics are typically only up for four to six months. Depending on where pieces will eventually be displayed protective laminates and coatings are used only when needed.
Signage is used for many purposes. For the Museum of Science, a collaboration of design, marketing, and trusted print providers helps encapsulate the essence of Pompeii. In addition to the notorious eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the Boston exhibit strives to showcase the historic artifacts in a way that depicts the true spirit of the city, which is described as a bustling metropolis before its destruction—and preservation. Promotional and wayfinding graphics help visitors find their way to A Day in Pompeii.