Looking for Loci: a mobile museum experiment

SFMobileHeaderby Maria Mortati

“Have you ever found a place in your home, neighborhood or city, and felt an invisible energy, almost like magic? In Roman culture, this was called "Genius Loci", which referred to a location's distinctive atmosphere, or spirit. In our urban environments these places can be more difficult to find, or lost altogether– but they do exist.

Locate a special place in your city and create a visual tribute to the genius loci of the spot. It can be part of your home, in a park or garden, on a street corner, or just a forgotten place in the alley.

Artifacts can take any form; photos, drawings, handmade sculptures or totems, a written account - anything that shares the essence of the place.”

This the challenge that co-curator Jaime Kopke (of Denver Community Museum fame) and I developed for "Looking for Loci", a mobile, collaborative exhibit about place that toured this summer in Denver, and is opening here in SF on Friday, Aug. 28th in the Mission.

We asked 37 citizens of San Francisco + Denver to locate these special places and create a visual tribute to them. The results from the challenge have been delightful- I can't decide which I like more, the contributions made by people, or the descriptions in their own words.

SSMob1Now that it has come to the Bay Area, it's part of a museum experiment called The San Francisco Mobile Museum. It's an exhibit platform that was designed and built to be reconfigurable, and adapt to a variety of environments indoors and out.

I'm starting with this exhibit and adding to it by inviting visitors to add their stories about place to a large map of the Bay Area. These will show up on our blog, and likely evolve into a larger piece geo-tagged artwork that will live online. We'll also have a phone number where folks call in and leave messages of their favorite places.

SFmob2The folks who made the boxes in Denver are going to be writing about their experiences on the blog, as will the SF participants over time.

My plan is to host openings in Bay Area neighborhoods this Fall: open on a Friday night with an event where the community can come and add, as well as throughout the weekend-- and then move the exhibit to the front windows while I am... at work during the week.

Since this is a personal project, time is limited. However, I'll be iterating it and adding to it as I learn from the process and the public. Feel free to keep track of future openings at our blog or website.

If you'd like us to appear at your institution, please contact me at info [at] sfmobilemuseum [dot] org.

…and come to the debut this weekend and add your thoughts to this experiment!

Maria Mortati
San Francisco Mobile Museum




Thanks for this post Maria and looks interesting.

One question - how will you gauge "success" or "impact "of this program. I don't mean to put a downer on this coz, as readers would know, I am truly a believer in experimentation, but in the cold hard lite of day what will a program like this bring in to the institution in terms of visitor numbers, impact, revenue and repeat visitation??

Hi Lynda, thanks for your note. That's a great question, and one I devote an extensive amount of energy on (esp. at my day job at Gyroscope).

I don't know how this program will bring in revenue, or what its impact will be on us, or on any space that would host us at this stage.

For this opening weekend, we are simply testing out the entire system including, blog, website and the "in-house" experience.

The primary external goal of the San Francisco Mobile Museum is to go out into the community and bring the museum to the people, at a scale that feels accessible-- whether the exhibits are by them, or simply for them.

So the repeat engagement model thus far is to:

- go out to where the public is (not unlike a Science Café)
- engage with them online and in person with community challenges from time to time
- develop experiences that reflect, or add to their reality

Our internal/organizational goal is to have a flexible platform to test out ideas around community, display, feedback, exhibit, and engagement.

I will report back on my blog and here on WestMuse from time to time with results from our experiment!

What can be more intimate, personal and hands-on but a community-engaged museum! Love the idea and will look forward to seeing it evolve.

I remember around 8 years ago when Tom & John a Design Collaborative left post cards around San Francisco, with a simple statement left for finders to finish. Each card was about a different neighborhood in SF. Something like... The Mission is_____. They had a website where you could fill in the answer as well. They also did a photo review of each neighborhood at a gallery where the floor of the gallery was designed as a street map of that area. The photographs were incredibly personal. It was a testament to the connections people feel about a place and how it grounds (or abandons) them.

Project M's Pie Lab in Greensboro, AL is another analog that comes to mind. It's a pop-up pie shop intended to really be a gathering place for community to share ideas to improve the town.

Good luck with the continued experiment, Maria!

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Just want to see if you are a robot.