Lori Kartchner recently completed an internship with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo – she writes about her experience here…
From January to April 2013, I worked in the exhibits department at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. I had never worked with a living collection before, and I loved the dynamism that the animals brought to the everyday experience at the Zoo.
At the National Zoo, I created a photography exhibition to go in the Small Mammal House. One of the animal care specialists had proposed the idea to use photographs from the Zoo’s volunteer photographer, Clyde Nishimura, to enhance a part of the building that had no interpretation.
In my first team meeting with the Small Mammal House staff, we set out our goals for the exhibition. We hoped that displaying the photographs would allow visitors to see the species in the collection any time, and know what to look for when the animals are difficult to spot. The photographs would also serve as a tool for interpreters to use when talking to visitors. These things would help us meet our ultimate goal: encouraging visitors to practice closer observation of the collection.
By conferencing with the curator, biologist, and animal care specialists for the Small Mammal House, I came up with a theme and concept that worked for everyone. The exhibit “Living
Large Small” features two-part labels. The first thread of ideas addresses special adaptations each animal uses to survive as a small creature in a big world. The second thread of ideas in each label gives visitors some insight into the intimate interactions keepers have with the animals. These “keeper notes,” as we referred to them, give more than just biological or behavioral information. They serve as an opportunity to tell people what it means to work with a living collection.
The project was a great success! We completed the show in great time (4 months) and had it installed before my internship ended. The photographs look beautiful and even hang over a fresh coat of paint. The whole process of creating the exhibition was exciting and meaningful for me because I was able to develop and manage it from start to finish. The exhibits staff acted as a wonderful support as I learned the process of exhibition development. The animal care staff brought expert knowledge and great enthusiasm to the project, making it really fun to work on. Everyone gave me positive feedback as I went through the steps of the process, and in the end, the Small Mammal House loved the finished product.
The photography exhibit, “Living
Large Small” is currently on display at the Small Mammal House at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park.