Stories & Ideas

Mon 11 Nov 2019

Telling ACMI's new tale through collaboration

ACMI renewal Behind the scenes
Chris Harris

Chris Harris

Director of Exhibitions and Touring, ACMI

Chris Harris, Director of Exhibitions and Touring talks about the process of shaping ACMI’s new exhibition

ACMI’s new permanent exhibition is being designed collaboratively with many contributors across a range of disciplines, but primarily with Exhibition and Experience Design partner Second Story. The gestation of this partnership was a lengthy one, starting four or more years ago when ACMI commissioned the Art of Fact firm to develop a Master Plan for a renewed permanent exhibition and a renewed ACMI building. We wanted to bring our permanent exhibition into the 21st century and better represent the ever-evolving world of digital technology and moving image storytelling. We also wanted to make our difficult building more workable, more user-friendly and more social, for today’s visitors.

Finding a design firm

The Master Plan helped us clarify our direction with the new exhibition and align it with our overall future strategy for the organisation. We used it to raise funding and generate excitement around the redevelopment. We put the design of the new exhibition out to market, seeking expressions of interest, and then went to international tender. We received some fantastic submissions with a wide range of suggested approaches to the design and experience of a new permanent exhibition. In the end, we chose Second Story based on their deep knowledge of technology, their understanding of building experiences, and their approach to telling stories through design. We also loved their collaborative approach; this is how we like to work at ACMI. Over the last 12 months or more and working with our curators, technologists and exhibition makers, Second Story have designed the physical exhibition spaces and displays, as well as the visitor’s journey through the new spaces and their encounters with ACMI-curated stories and objects.

Much of what has been conceived and designed with Second Story has been intentionally developed to enable further input from our collaborators. There are many other design and developer firms involved in finalising these designs and delivering individual exhibition elements. Local Victorian and Australian designers and interactive developers like Grumpy Sailor, Megafun, Arterial and Mosster, as well as joiners and fabricators like Arete and Show Works all have a role to play in realising the concepts. Companies such as these are working with us to enhance the deep design development with their specialised expertise. This is a particularly rewarding phase of the process as it allows for renewed fresh ways of seeing our concepts and delivering on their full potential.

Challenges and opportunities

Our curators and exhibition makers are sourcing objects and other content from collections around the world. Creating an exciting and consistent narrative that makes sense for audiences – physically, conceptually and aesthetically – and not allowing either the stories or the experience design to dominate, is a fun challenge for our teams. The opportunity to start from scratch with the world of the moving image and make stories come to life is so exciting. Conceptually, almost anything is possible, especially with help from our generous donors.

Second Story visits the ACMI X office for a workshop
Second Story visits the ACMI X office for a workshop

Unpacking exhibition experience

The process of developing the exhibition experience has been complex and great fun. It has involved audience research and testing (what do people expect, want, understand, bring to the experience), consultations with key industry players like filmmakers and videogame developers, ACMI staff workshops and brainstorms, and lengthy development workshops with Second Story. Second Story bring a range of specialists to the table, including creative producers, 2D and 3D designers, interpreters and story makers. ACMI put together our core team too: curators, exhibition design and production specialists, digital and visitor experience experts, technologists as well as our educators and film programmers. Second Story wrangle all the knowledge and ideas and, ultimately, shape them into an unforgettable exhibition experience.

In the past, our curators and exhibitions team have taken the lead role in designing temporary exhibitions. We work with exhibition designers we think will help bring a subject to life for each exhibition. They might be architects, but they might also be theatre designers or costume makers, digital developers and storytellers – even some actual trained exhibition designers.

A unique, down-to-earth sensibility

At the heart of all our exhibitions is a love of our subject matter and a desire to bring it to life for audiences. Key to this is a non-hierarchical approach – we value the craft of a videogame developer, a big film studio’s special effects animator, a world-renowned or emerging video artist, a TV producer or a great costume designer, equally. We love exploring and celebrating the processes and final product of all these artists.

We like to have fun in making exhibitions and allow our audiences to participate in that sense of play. We can achieve this while being respectful to the works, allowing the discovery of process and craft to uncover a new understanding of our world through the moving image. As a result, our exhibitions often look very different from each other. We don’t have a house style; just a way of making which is collaborative and hopefully deeply engaging for our visitors.  

Help us reimagine our new exhibition

The design that sits at the heart of our new exhibition will redefine visitor experience and allow new ways of understanding and interacting with the moving image.

Support us to use the best possible design in our exhibition. Donate today.