The Sudden Magic of an Exhibition

Shipping crates and exhibition panels in a large room.

The exhibition Nature Unleashed in the process of being installed. Image: Kathleen Quinn © Canadian Museum of Nature

You may think it’s a simple task to borrow (hire) an exhibition from another museum. After all, isn’t all the work pretty much done?

Actually, no! While it’s true that borrowing an exhibition designed by another museum facilitates things a great deal, but a lot of work remains to be done. Often, some of the display panels need to be redone, the texts have to be adapted, the exhibition has to be installed, and finally, the specimens have to be inspected and set up.

One of the nice things about borrowing an exhibition, besides expanding our horizons in seeing the work of others, is that we don’t quite know exactly what the exhibition will look like until it’s ready to open.

Beforehand, of course, we have photos, text samples and artefact descriptions. An exhibition, however, is above all a three-dimensional experience. Nature Unleashed is the third exhibition borrowed by the Canadian Museum of Nature that I was able to work on as an exhibition intern and volunteer. And each time, it was a magical experience!

What will the exhibition really look like? How will all these pieces—texts, specimens, panels, interactive activities, videos—fit together to offer a unique experience?

Shipping crates and exhibition panels.

What’s the appeal of the exhibition Nature Unleashed? It’s only once all the pieces come together that it’s revealed. Image: Kathleen Quinn © Canadian Museum of Nature

Of the three exhibitions I worked on, I think Nature Unleashed is the one that personally touched me the most.

View through a car window of a highway and road sign.

On the way to Myrtle Beach… and a vacation cut short. Image: Ève Laforest © Ève Laforest

Two years ago, my partner and I almost experienced something similar to what a section of the exhibition describes. We were camping on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina, U.S.A., when Hurricane Irene suddenly dropped in. With our flimsy little tent, let me tell you we were packed up in no time.

We were able to avoid the hurricane as we scrambled back home in a hurry. Luckily, we had no casualties to report, aside from a shortened vacation. It was a harrowing experience!

Palm trees being blown by a hurricane.

A scene from a hurricane, on display in the exhibition Nature Unleashed. Image: © Andres Leighton/AP Photo

As I looked over the texts of Nature Unleashed, I could imagine myself living the situation they describe. And, I wondered what would have happened if we hadn’t left in good time.

The scenarios described in the exhibition deal with disasters, but they also speak of courage, determination and altruism. As I read them, I could appreciate the efforts people make to understand and prevent natural disasters and try to mitigate their impacts. Even so, reading panel-text is nothing compared to the real exhibition. That’s when we get the real picture!

A panel from Nature Unleashed on the topic of earthquakes.

A view of the exhibition Nature Unleashed, which opens today at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Image: Courtesy of The Field Museum

Visitors often think that museum workers know ahead of time what an exhibition will look like. Let me tell you that each unveiling, and each opening day, has its own magic, both for the general public and the staff. It represents the first time an exhibition is presented as a complete whole and reveals all its meanings. And I’m sure the Nature Unleashed exhibition that opens today to the public will be even more special!

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