Best Practices in Museum Exhibition Writing (2004)

Marketplace of Ideas, AAM Annual Meeting, 2004
Sponsored by the AAM Curators Committee

Chair: Brian H. Peterson, Senior Curator, James A. Michener Art Museum

Museums use audio tours, docents, and interactive educational programs to enhance the learning experiences of visitors, but most often exhibit professionals rely on the tried and true method: the written word. While there are many theories and recipes for label and text panel writing, people who are “in the trenches” of exhibit creation often have to work out their own solutions. These solutions ideally are informed by thought, research and evaluation, but also are customized to fit the writers’ own temperaments, their audience, and the particular nature of the exhibit concept. To help promote excellence in museum exhibition writing, museum professionals from around the country were invited to submit examples of their exhibit-related writing that was juried by a panel representing four AAM standing professional committees: CARE, EdCom, NAME, and CurCom. Winning entries were displayed at the Marketplace, along with books and articles on exhibit writing and related presentations by distinguished professionals.

In addition to the chair representing CurCom, the jurors for this year’s competition were: (CARE) Beverly Serrell, director of Serrell & Associates; distinguished writer and exhibit specialist, and author of the widely used book Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach (AltaMira Press, 1996); (EdCom) Vas Prabhu, Deputy Director for Interpretation and Education at the Peabody Essex Museum and the 2002 recipient of the EdCom Award for Excellence in Practice; (NAME) Lynne Friman, President of Envisions Design; past president of NAME and former head of exhibition design and facility development at the Henry Ford Museum and the Detroit Historical Museum.

Lynne I. Friman, Creative Director, Envisions Design:

Does the headline set you up for the rest of the content, is it grabbing? Do you want to keep reading? Is the body copy clear, to the point, descriptive, using active words, engaging, compelling, moving, perhaps witty. Does it set an appropriate tone for the content? Does it offer clear instructions – what to do and look for? Do I want to “continue” looking at this exhibit? Is language matched to the intended audience? Did the language and the length put me off? Did it use “big scholarly museum” words? Was it repetitive or go on too long? If a design or format is included- did it add to the interpretive intent and ability?

 Brian H. Peterson, Senior Curator, James A. Michener Art Museum:

Curators are always supposed to be the ones who fight to the death for long, complex wall labels that only other curators really understand. But my feeling is that books and catalogues are the right place for research and scholarship. A museum exhibition is, more than anything else, an act of communication, and our job is to reach out to visitors and somehow hit them where they really live. As a reader I’m always grateful when, for example, a science writer doesn’t assume too much specialized knowledge on my part, and takes the time to explain basic concepts and terms. Similarly, exhibition writers must always be aware that most people don’t know too much about the subject matter, and need some help with the basics. An attitude of generosity toward the viewer is extremely important. At the same time, exhibit writers must somehow remain true to the genuine complexity of their subjects, and therein lies the tension with which we all must struggle.

Finally, exhibit writing to me must be cognizant of the most basic writing skills. Is there a good opening line that draws me in? Is there a clear thread that connects the ideas? Does the writing use stories, quotes, and other colorful devices that humanize the objects and their makers? Am I given both the necessary information and a possible pathway or two for an imaginative response? Is each word important? Exhibit writing is a creative act – albeit one that occurs within very strict limitations – and sometimes those very limitations seem to generate clever and beautiful results.

Vas Prabhu, Deputy Director, Interpretation & Education, Peabody Essex Museum:

What do I look for in a label? I appreciate exhibit labels that take risks and experiment with techniques. I look for a positive tone of voice, one that respects the reader; that uses culturally sensitive and up-to-date language. I like it when the label poses a question, to help me look closer. I appreciate quotes, and knowing who the writer is…. Labels that make one key point or give me one interesting fact that I can then use to guide my viewing experience of the exhibition are really appreciated. Labels that use a good size font and are well lit are much appreciated!

Having worked in a variety of museums (children’s museum; university art museum, contemporary art museum, fine arts museum) and as a person that enjoys visiting any type of museum, I always wonder about the process of writing the labels I am reading. How was the exhibit conceived. Who is the intended audience? At what point were the labels conceived? Who wrote the labels? An individual?  A  team? What constraints did they have? What other “reading” is available within the exhibition? Within  the museum? I observe visitors: do they read labels? For  how long? Does it appear to help them view the exhibition? If only they knew how complex the task is to write one good label!

And then finally, I am constantly reminded, humbled and energized by the possibility that I can always write a better label, next time! Kudos to these Entries! I learned a lot.

Beverly Serrell, director of Serrell & Associates:

I was looking for label text that was easy to read and understand quickly. Something that didn’t require me to re-read it to comprehend the content, but that I may have wanted to re-read because it was so interesting, fun, or provocative. I want the label to flow easily from beginning to end, and to leave me with a sense of completion and satisfaction. I want to be glad I took the time to read it, that it was worthwhile. Turn ons: Texts that are clever, fresh, and make me feel intelligent. Turn offs: Chirpy, overly familiar labels – ones that use “we” and “you,” give too many instructions to “Look at this” or
“Notice that,” and end with exclamation marks.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum: Pattern Wizardry

Writer: Elizabeth Reich Rawson, Senior Exhibition Developer

Writer/Editor: Paul S. Pearson, Vice President of Programs

Exhibit Description:

Pattern Wizardry is a tri-lingual (French, Spanish, English) 1,200 square foot interactive traveling exhibition designed to introduce children to the patterns that are the building blocks of our natural and manmade world. An introductory component invites children to become pattern wizard apprentices and select enchanted patterned capes so they are properly dressed for their initiation into the life-long study of patterns. Organized around five themes, four focus on the world’s elemental patterns: spirals, branching, tessellations, and linear repetition, while the fifth area facilitates investigations of symmetry—a dominant characteristic of many patterns. A resource center with patterning activities and computer stations with software created for the project completes the exhibition.  Featuring objects selected from the Museum’s collection of 27,000 cultural and natural science materials, the exhibit supports national elementary curriculum standards by exploring the cultural meanings and mathematical and scientific concepts underlying patterns.  Exhibit text is written at a third and fourth grade reading level and is in rhyme to evoke wizard spells and incantations and to extend the pattern theme. The exhibit was produced by Brooklyn Children’s Museum for the Youth Museum Exhibit Collaborative (YMEC) with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). A User Manual, detailing educational programming, marketing and sponsorship strategies and exhibition installation; a Portable Museum Kit; and a website ( support the core exhibition.

[Label is printed on a clear template illustrated with various spirals based on natural and manmade objects in the cases. Visitors use the templates to match the spirals to the objects and to compare different kinds of spiral. This poem is a clue for a snail shell.]

This shell has been my place to dwell
Since we were both quite little.
But as I grew, 
My shell did too,
Coiling outward from the middle.

[Primary label accompanying a tessellating building block activity. Visitors fill two niches by stacking hexagonal blocks to create a tessellating honeycomb. Both niches have a graphic honeycomb outline sized to match the blocks. One has a backlit illustration of bees that peer through the completed puzzle.]

Busy bees know our tricks,
Building blocks with sides of six.
Working hard each at her station,
Their hive’s alive with tessellation.

Jurors’ Comments:

The label is a clever poem that makes you think and solve a riddle. I don’t think descriptive prose would have been as engaging. The words are simple; my seven year old can read it. Which is good, as the target audience is children. It matches language skills with content. They are used to listening to rhymes. Why do we stop when we are older? I liked the label too. Lynne I. Friman

Both labels are short, in large fonts, readable by children and serve as clues to encourage them to use the interactives and look closely at the objects in the exhibition. They are well matched to the audience and the task(s) at hand. Vas Prabhu

 • • •

Monterey Bay Aquarium: Sharks: Myth and Mystery (Opening April 2, 2004)

Writer: Elizabeth Labor, Exhibit Writer/Editor
Editors: Ava Ferguson, Exhibit Writer/Developer, Susan Blake, Exhibit Development and Design Departments Manager

Sample Label:

Egg Cases: Some Sharks Lay Eggs

In a forest of golden kelp, a mother shark swims slowly out of sight. She’s left behind a tiny new life, wrapped in a leathery case. Can you see the big, round yolk that feeds her growing pup? When the time is right, the case will open—and the newborn will glide away to begin life on its own.

Sample Label:

Sharks: Myth and Mystery:

Awe…fear…wonder…respect. Sharks and rays stir strong feelings and evoke powerful myths in cultures around the world. Nearly two dozen species of these magnificent animals—and the traditions they inspire—are united for the first time in Sharks: Myth and Mystery. The exhibit immerses visitors in strikingly different habitats, from colorful coral reefs with circling sharks to an Amazonian river full of freshwater rays. Visitors wind through seven galleries—from Africa to the Amazon—exploring how different cultures celebrate sharks and rays through art, dance, stories and other traditions. For example, the Pacific Islands gallery features a contemporary hula performance of a shark legend, while the Australia gallery displays Aboriginal bark paintings of sharks and rays. The Western Myths and Legends gallery highlights shark tales from the silly to the sublime, including a Saturday Night Live“Landshark” skit and a chilling World War II legend about shark attacks, as retold in the movie Jaws. Other highlights include a shark and ray touch pool, a space to try on Pacific Northwest tribal shark masks and a family activity room where visitors can make shark crafts. Live storytellers bring cultural shark myths to life, and other presenters share information on new threats facing sharks and how visitors can protect these magnificent animals for future generations. From its colorful, rich design to its fascinating stories, animals and artifacts, Sharks: Myth and Mystery helps visitors see sharks like they’ve never seen them before: through the eyes of world cultures.

Jurors’ Comments:

The label begins evocatively, almost like a story. The word choice will engage both children and adults alike. I can visualize a child reading it to others. It speaks directly to the visitor, asking an appropriate question to encourage closer viewing. It ends by enticing visitors to return to the case in the future, which is terrific. The label is accompanied by an image which assists viewers to view the moving image. The length is just right, so that viewers can concentrate on the experience. Vas Prabhu

• • •

The National Constitution Center: The Story of We the People (permanent exhibit, opened July 4, 2003)

Writers: Joe Torsella, President & CEO, National Constitution Center; Tami Koenig, Judy Rand & Associates.

Editors: National Constitution Center; Judy Rand & Associates

Exhibit Description:

The National Constitution Center tells the story of the Constitution’s past and explains the principles of its present to help visitors see that they will write the story of its future – and to inspire them to do just that. The permanent exhibit at the National Constitution Center, The Story of We the People, includes a chronological history of the Constitution comprised of 13 sections telling constitutional stories from 1765 until today. These stories come as a surprise to most visitors. Expecting to learn only of a sacred text handed down by a few, they find that our Constitution has been a work in progress by many: from the Anti-federalists who successfully demanded a bill of rights, to the 620,000 soldiers killed in the Civil War, to the marchers of the civil rights movement. The unfolding narrative reveals that it has been millions of individual actions that have upheld and shaped our constitutional practices and freedoms. Exhibit techniques reflect that idea. Wherever possible, human stories have been chosen as entry points into the content. Stories are told using a reporter’s voice, rather than an historian’s: datelined, and in the present tense.

Sample Label:

The people are the masters of their Constitution, to fulfill its purposes and to safeguard it from those who, by perversion of its intent, would convert it into an instrument of injustice. – Bull Moose Party Platform

Monday, October 14, 1912

Pushing reforms for the “general welfare,” TR makes another run for president.

Tonight in Milwaukee, tough-as-nails Teddy Roosevelt gave a campaign speech with a bullet lodged in his chest.

Shaking off an assassination attempt, he insisted on speaking to the crowd. “It would take more than that to kill a Bull Moose,” he said. He spoke powerfully for nearly an hour before being rushed to the hospital.

Roosevelt redefined what it meant to be president, bringing boundless energy to the office. He brought 44 lawsuits against the big trusts, convinced Congress to create a new Department of Commerce and Labor, and set aside lands for public use.

Now he and his Bull Moose Party are calling for child labor reform, new workplace laws, an income tax, the direct election of senators—and they’re ready to change the Constitution to do it.

His career makes us realize the Supreme Court isn’t the only force that can shape our Constitution.

Jurors’ Comments:

This label uses a voice that includes the viewer in the excitement of history in the making. The style is reminiscent of a radio news cast. It also shares historical facts that are understandable because they are embedded in this newsy narrative. The last sentence links the Presidency with  Supreme Court and the Constitution which is then addressed in the next label. The label makes the point that people make history but the quote accompanying the label copy doesn’t work; it is rather dry. Vas Prabhu

• • •

Canadian Museum of Civilization: Across Time and Tundra: The Inuvialuit of the Canadian Arctic
(November 6, 2003-January 9, 2005)

Size: Approximately 6800 square feet (temporary exhibition gallery)

Authors: Jennifer Elliott, Senior Interpretive Planner, Canadian Museum of Civilization; Dr. David Morrison, Director, Archaeology and History, Canadian Museum of Civilization

Editor (English): Jennifer Rae Brown

Exhibit Description:

The exhibition, Across Time and Tundra, introduces visitors to the culture and history of the Inuvialuit- the Inuit of the western Canadian Arctic. Featuring 200 artifacts, 150 archival photographs and numerous hands-on/ interactive elements, it explores how the Inuvialuit traditionally lived and how their way-of-life has changed since the arrival of Europeans in the 19th century.  The exhibition is targeted at visitors (particularly family groups) who have no or limited knowledge of the Inuvialuit.

Sample Panel:

The Seamstress

From marriage to death, a woman was responsible for keeping her husband and children clothed.
To make a complete suit of clothes for each family member, it would take her:
about 50 HOURS to prepare the hides, which had to be dried, scraped and softened;
about 30 HOURS of sewing.

Jurors’ Comments:

Everything in the label was modified by the title, “The Seamstress.” The first sentence provides the reader with a clearly articulated idea,  that was to the point. Unfamiliar words were not only defined, but also phonetically spelled, so that the visitor doesn’t feel challenged or ignorant. There were no extra words, everything added to the message. Lynne I. Friman

The Seamstress provides facts that accompany visuals and touching activity to sum up a portion of the startling workload of Inuvialuit women. There are probably more verbs-per-word in this label than most. I was exhausted after reading it – and that was the point.Beverly Serrell

• • •

Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave: Heroes and Villains of the Old West
(November 4, 2001-November 4, 2002)

Writer/Editor: Steve Friesen, Director

Exhibit Description:

This temporary exhibit exhibited memorabilia that had been borrowed from museums and collectors from throughout the western United States. The exhibit was intended to focus upon the current American “cult of celebrity” and the manner in which we approach relics from famous and infamous people of the West. Two months before the exhibit opened, the tragedies on September 11 sparked conversations all over America about heroism and villainy. We decided to change the direction of the exhibit and take part in that conversation.
The primary changes in the exhibit occurred at the title area and with label copy. The title panel at the entrance to the exhibit had a changing triad device that showed three different pictures of Sitting Bull in sequence with the words, “Hero?”, “Villain?”, and “Hero and Villain?” The visitor next passed a half wall with the statement in large letters:  “Sometimes heroism and villainy are a matter of perspective.”  Case labels for each of the historical characters included biographic information as well as statements intended to provoke the reader into deciding whether or not that person was a hero or a villain. As visitors departed the exhibit, there was a large chalkboard where they were then invited to write the name of their own hero. This simple interactive conclusion to the exhibit was cleaned every morning and was covered with names by closing time.

Sample Label:

First Panel:

Sometimes heroism and villainy are a matter of perspective.

Main Text Panel:


Most of the characters in this exhibit were heroes. Jesse James and Pancho Villa robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. Kit Carson and Teddy Roosevelt performed heroic deeds in the West and transformed American culture. Sitting Bull and Geronimo defended their peoples. Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane were independent women during restrictive Victorian times.


Most of the characters in this exhibit were villains. Jesse James and Pancho Villa were killers. Kit Carson took part in the repression of the Indians and Teddy Roosevelt was a war-monger. Sitting Bull and Geronimo were responsible for the deaths of many white settlers. Calamity Jane was a drunken and loose woman; even Annie Oakley was falsely accused of being a drug addict and a thief.

Hero or Villain? You Decide.

Case Label (one example):

Sitting Bull
1834 – 1890

Sitting Bull was a true patriot. Son of a Hunkpapa chief, he became one of the Sioux Nation’s greatest leaders. His life as a warrior began at age fourteen and by age twenty-two he was leader of a Sioux warrior society. He first fought white expansion into Sioux lands during the 1860s. By the mid-1870s Sitting Bull was recognized as both a spiritual and political leader of all the different Sioux groups. He became a pivotal figure in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Even though they won that battle, the Sioux lost the war. The U.S. Army redoubled its efforts to subdue the Sioux and in five years most of the Sioux had been moved to reservations. At age 47 Sitting Bull no longer led his people in battle, although he continued to speak out on their behalf.
Sitting Bull’s leadership during the Indian Wars gained the attention of the American people. He was also eager to learn more about the white civilization. In 1885 he joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West as a featured guest. He was treated by Cody with respect, though often booed by audiences. During this time Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley became good friends. Following four months of touring Sitting Bull returned to the prairie. When he left he was presented with gifts by Buffalo Bill. Five years later Sitting Bull was killed in his reservation cabin during a skirmish with tribal police.

Jurors’ Comments:

Right from the start it pulled me in. The headline was engaging and clear. The descriptions of heroes and villains made me scratch my head, smile and want to see more of the exhibit. It did just what a good intro panel should do, set up the experience for the visitor.Lynne I. Friman

The topic of Heroes and Villains is surprisingly edgy and thought-provoking. It presents two viewpoints, different facts, and asks the visitor to think. Rarely is a set-up for an exhibition this clear and concise. The labels that follow have a very nice flow, are colorful and have good endings (closure). Beverly Serrell

• • •

Winterthur Museum: Kid Stuff: Growing Up at Winterthur (March 15 – May 5, June 28-August 27, 2003)

Curator/Writer: Mary Jane Taylor, Assistant Curator of Education for Exhibition Interpretation

Co-Editors: Onie J. Rollins, Senior Editor & Mary Ellen Wilson, Assistant Editor

Exhibition Description:

During the spring and summer of 2003, Winterthur offered a thematic interactive exhibition for families. Kid Stuff: Growing Up at Winterthur combined historic photographs, child-friendly text and simple interactives to tell the story of Winterthur as a country estate during the late-Victorian childhood of museum founder Harry du Pont and his sister Louise. Visitors to the hands-on gallery explored the lives of the du Pont children and the children of Winterthur’s workers at eight “stations” representing different places on the estate. Activities ranged from planting a pretend vegetable garden and setting the table for Sunday dinner to collecting eggs from stuffed hens and carrying “water” to the animals. Kid Stuff communicated its message while providing age-appropriate learning opportunities for all visitors. With wooden eggs, play food, and old-fashioned toys, the gallery was a safe and stimulating play space for toddlers and pre-schoolers. At the same time, older children and adults were engaged in Winterthur’s history through historic photographs, board games, storybooks, and activities about collecting.

Main Text Panel:

The Laundry

In the 1880s, there were at least ten servants who helped with the work inside the Winterthur house. One was the laundress, who worked in the basement laundry and drying rooms.

Doing laundry long ago was hard work: items needed to be soaked, scrubbed on a washboard, and rinsed. The items were then hung to dry and ironed until they were crisp and smooth.

Try washing, drying, and ironing the sheets used in the Winterthur house.

Jurors’ Comments:

Winterthur got my vote because I was caught up in what they were doing, and I wanted to hear more after reading those two samples. I could picture myself there, reading outlaid to a child with me as we visited and did the activities. Beverly Serrell

• • •

Denver Art Museum: El Greco to Picasso from the Phillips Collection (October 4, 2003–January 4, 2004)

Writer: Lisa Levinson, Editor, Denver Art Museum

Editors: Timothy Standring, Chief Curator; Melora McDermott-Lewis, Master Teacher of European and American Art; Sarah Nuese, Editor; Allison Melun, Editor;Laura Caruso, Director of Publications

Exhibit Description: 

El Greco to Picasso from the Phillips Collection was a traveling exhibition of European paintings and sculptures culled from Washington, D.C.’s Phillips Collection. The show contained fifty-three artworks from collector Duncan Phillips’s museum of “modern art and its sources,” which focuses on art from the mid-1800s to the 1930s but also includes influential paintings from the 1600s onward. Expecting the show to be one of the best-attended in the Denver Art Museum’s history, DAM exhibition planners focused on crowd control and kept interpretation to a minimum. About half of the artworks had brief object labels, and an introductory panel kicked off the show. In place of large-scale labels proclaiming the show’s themes, most galleries of El Greco to Picasso contained a “provocative question” label instead.

Sample Label:

The contents of a stranger’s shopping cart, the books in an acquaintance’s living room—every collection of objects says something about its owner. This one is no exception.

Duncan Phillips put together his art collection like a host making a guest list—always searching for the right mixture, harmonious yet diverse. Looking through these rooms, you may notice his preferences. He had a weakness for color. He avoided art that he considered overly intellectual. He was drawn to emotion, wherever he found it: human gestures, haunting color, expressive brushstrokes.

What is it that makes you like the art you like? How much do your tastes match those of Duncan Phillips?

Jurors’ Comments:

This label clearly follows in the DAM’s traditions of involving art museum visitors in making value judgments of their own. It gives readers information that they can use to answer a personal question about comparing their taste with those of the art collector, Duncan Phillips. Rarely do art museum labels ask so much of their visitors and assume so much intelligence (without being art experts) on their part. Beverly Serrell

• • •

Chicago Historical Society: Chicago Sports! You Shoulda Been There (March 29, 2003–January 25, 2004)

Exhibition Developer: John Russick

Project Historian: Peter T. Alter

Editor: Emily M. Holmes

Academic Consultant: Elliott Gorn

Exhibit Description:

Each year, thousands of Chicagoans and countless visitors delight in the city’s sports. In that spirit, the Chicago Historical Society presented the exhibition Chicago Sports! You Shoulda Been There. Different sections featured stadiums from the city’s sports history—Chicago Stadium, Comiskey Park, Soldier Field, and Wrigley Field—and the legendary events they hosted. Visitors also received a valuable look at the city’s lesser-known sports stories, from DuSable High School’s Wonder Five in the 1950s to the invention of sixteen-inch softball. Through powerful photographs and awe-inspiring artifacts from the original fields of play, Chicago Sports! went beyond the trophies and the scandals to explore how the city defines itself through sports.

Introductory Label:

Sports bring us together. We freeze at Soldier Field cheering on the Bears. We complain about the Sox or Cubs while watching from the bleachers. At neighborhood taverns, we relive the Bulls and Blackhawks glory years. In city parks and school gyms, we root for our neighborhood teams.

While sports unite us, divisive issues often simmer near the surface—funding for women’s athletics, racial tensions, conflicts between players and owners. Still sports remain a powerful social glue. Our games help transform us from a city of strangers into fellow Chicagoans. As players and fans, sports help us forge communities and find our place in the city. Out of thousands of great Chicago sports stories, we can tell only a fraction of them here. We hope this sampling conveys the richness of the city’s sports history.

Jurors’ Statements: 

This label speaks directly to the (Chicago) audience and the experience of attending games there. The label refers directly to the title: how sports convey a sense of community and a sense of conflict. The last line conveys how the labels will share the stories behind the sports an important feature to encourage visitors to read as they view the exhibition. Vas Prabhu

• • •

San Diego Museum of Art: Try This! Body Language in Asian Art: An Interactive Discovery Tour

Created by Caron Smith, Senior Curator of Asian art; Maxine Gaiber, Director of Education; Cornelia Feye, Manager of Docent Programs

Exhibit Description:

The attached samples are two of eight interactive labels created to enhance visitors’ experiences in the San Diego Museum of Art’s Asian Sculpture Court. The Court is part of an on-going exhibition entitled Asian Crossroads that features Asian art works in the Museum’s permanent collections and explores how cultural ideas and their visual manifestations travel across East Asian cultures. The exhibition already had a great deal of in-depth labeling about each of the ideas and objects displayed but Asian Art Senior Curator Carin Smith felt that the objects on display were still difficult for a western audience to decipher or relate to. Carin worked with the Museum’s education department to come up with a unifying “entry point” that would transcend cultures, be familiar to audiences of all ages, and encourage people to look in-depth, and interact with, the artworks. The self-guided discovery tour, Body Language in Asian Art, was the result. The eight labels are made of extremely durable high density plastic affixed to wood and are each mounted on stands that are attached to object cases or platforms. The outlines of the illustrated objects are raised and visitors are encouraged to “touch” the art through these outline drawings. (In fact, visitors often make rubbings of the images, a use that the Museum didn’t anticipate but doesn’t discourage.) Cushions are available for viewers to use to facilitate their assuming the pose of the sculptures. The labels are used by visitors of all ages who are visiting the Museum on their own and have been very effective in encouraging people to spend more time looking at individual objects. In addition, interactive handouts were developed based on these labels so that the tour could be used with San Diego fifth graders who come the Museums in Balboa Park as part of a week-long study of culture and diversity.

Sample Label:

Hayagriva (Dharmapala)
18th century

Find these clues that show us that this is a figure of a fierce warrior:

Snakes beneath his feet
Skulls as crown
Animal skins
Jewelry—necklace with heads and wheel of power on his stomach
Snarling facial expression

Trace the raised outline drawing of the figure with your finger. Now try it
with your eyes closed.

Assume the pose of this figure. Can you do this by yourself? How are you
holding your hands? Is your weight all on one foot? How does this pose make
you feel?

This about this: Hayagriva is a Buddhist figure whose pose and symbols
convey anger and fierceness.  He used his anger to destroy those emotions
considered obstacles to enlightenment (passion, aggression, ignorance). What
threatening poses can you make? What would you wear to look fierce? Can fierce
figures do good deeds?

Jurors’ Comments:

A good label motivates and rewards the reader. These labels made me want to participate. I could imagine myself looking, touching, feeling and especially assuming the pose, under “do”. The layout was helpful in directing the visitor in what to try. Lynne I. Friman

In the description of the Try This labels, it said, “The labels are used by visitors of all ages who are visiting the museum on their own and have been very effective in encouraging people to spend more time looking at individual objects.” To me, that’s evidence for what a good label does. Beverly Serrell