Lights, Camera, Exhibit! overview image

Lights, Camera, Exhibit!

  • Post Date: 02/11/2022
  • Author: Beth Watkins, Education and Publications Coordinator
  • Reading Time: 4 minute read

In a year of limiting and scaling back plans due to the pandemic, museum staff are particularly pleased to have had a recent opportunity for a new project we’re truly excited about. IT Director Jack Thomas and I spent several days with curator Dr. Nathan Tye to create new digital video content interpreting objects and topics from the temporary exhibit Debates, Decisions, Demands: Objects of Campaigns and Activism.

The last 18 months have highlighted a need for more kinds of media to bring exhibits to visitors wherever they are. Additionally, museum staff value providing social connections and opportunities to engage curiosity, whether in a classroom or self-driven informal learning in leisure time. The videos we’re creating with Dr. Tye take steps towards all of these goals.

Producing The Videos

The process began as all projects seem to lately: on Zoom. Multiple brainstorming meetings with the video team dispersed across Illinois and Nebraska, including IT student Seetha Ramaswamy, helped us identify themes to highlight. Next we made a prioritized list of what we could reasonably accomplish in 2 days of in-person filming. From those discussions emerged lists of shots, including Dr. Tye with artifacts and detailed views of objects on their own.

  • Dr. Tye sitting in the gallery in front of lighting equipment

In early August, supplied with new lighting equipment and the curator actually sitting in the gallery—a rare treat in the pandemic—we filmed 9 different videos. They range from an introduction to the exhibit to women’s suffrage to famous American campaign slogans. Filming in the gallery brought a particular set of challenges. Exhibit lighting usually prioritizes making artifacts and labels visible, but filming had different requirements, and we spent hours adjusting ceiling and stand lights to keep the visual focus on Dr. Tye and the objects he discussed, while also minimizing distracting reflections and glare on the glass in exhibit cases.

  • Recording Dr. Tye presenting artifacts to the camera in the exhibit
  • Recording Dr. Tye presenting historical plates, cups, and statues to camera in the exhibit
    Practicing some shots in front of a exhibit case of presidential campaign materials.

Interviewing The Curator

As the coordinator of the exhibit, I was also interested to hear Dr. Tye’s thoughts on what it had been like to work on public interpretation of political topics in such a tumultuous year. We did an audio interview about the process, discussing pragmatic issues like studying collections of 3-dimensional artifacts from remote locations and the difficulties of telling central Illinois stories when the pandemic made it impossible to borrow objects from other institutions. We also dug into the challenges of using ephemeral, sometimes kitschy historical pieces to reach contemporary audiences and to illuminate vitally important issues of political involvement and representation.

Explore More

Look for these videos and my interview with our curator on our YouTube channel (external link) in the coming months. You can enjoy Dr. Tye’s previous online events any time using this playlist (external link), including an in-depth overview of the exhibit (external link, a look at presidential politicians on the UIUC campus (external link), and the Illinois years of populist William Jennings Bryan (external link). Dr. Tye earned his PhD in History at UIUC in 2019 and is currently an assistant professor of History at the University of Nebraska Kearney. He specializes in the history of the American West and Midwest, labor, gender, and sexuality, as well as digital and public history.

Support for these video projects and other programming for Debates, Decisions, Demands comes from the anonymous gift of the People's Collection, US History and Culture.