Hotspot California: Bringing Dioramas to Life Through Community Voices
This project comprises the NSF-funded portion of the renovation of a 25,000 sq. ft. natural history gallery called "CHANGING CALIFORNIA." ORIGINAL PROJECT DESCRIPTION: The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) will develop, implement, and evaluate Hotspot California, a research-based natural science gallery transformation that will explore the educational potential of wildlife dioramas to engage the public in urgent environmental issues. The exhibition will showcase five real places in California that exemplify high biological diversity and complex environmental issues. Innovative approaches to interpretation will emphasize personal connections to these places and infuse static dioramas with visualization technologies that illustrate environmental change over time. The project will explore how such enhancements to dioramas might help visitors develop place-based connections to the natural world. The project has four major deliverables: 1) an innovative 25,000 sq ft gallery exhibition installation featuring five specific California places where California's unique biodiversity is threatened; 2) an application and evaluation of a new participatory exhibit design model involving community contribution, collaboration, and co-design; 3) a two-day "synthesis symposium" for informal science education professionals to consider broad applications of project findings for the field; and 4) "Diorama Dilemmas: A Source book for Museums," synthesizing relevant literature, case studies, and findings from the project's research and evaluation generalizable to the field. The project has evolved since the NSF award, but it remains aligned with its original goals. The team increased the number of California places from five to seven and worked to add a strong human presence within a gallery previously devoted almost entirely to other species. Innovative reuse of OMCA's dioramas and habitat cases continues to be the project's core, but the team's approach has emphasized re-contextualizing rather than revising those exhibits. New elements include iconic artifacts and environments reflecting recent human impact on California, relevant objects from OMCA's art and history collections, digital visualizations of dynamic natural phenomena, and spaces for hands-on investigation. Community focused elements include multiple co-created exhibits and media programs offering inspiring encounters with Californians deeply involved in these seven places.
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