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MoPOP Mailbag: How Do You Pick New Exhibits? What's The Most Unique Way You Obtained an Artifact?

Museum of Pop Culture Aerial Exterior

As part of our 2020 celebration honoring 20 years of the Museum of Pop Culture, we'll take time to touch base with members of our museum stafft with the intent of asking them questions from you, MoPOP's visitors and fans.

On our blog throughout the celebratory year, the staff that curates the content inside our nonprofit museum, plans public and educational programming, runs events, marketing, partnerships, and more will be available to answer questions we receive from you either via the comment section of our blog, or on social media (find us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram).

Is there something you've always wanted to know about how MoPOP operates, or maybe you have a burning question about your favorite MoPOP artifact? Let us know and we'll put your question in front of MoPOP staff to answer in this space.

So, without further ado, let's get on to our first MoPOP Mailbag of 2020: 

sierranighttide on Instagram asks: How do you pick ideas for future exhibits? What's involved in creating a new exhibit?

Brooks Peck, MoPOP Senior Curator: Selecting future exhibits involves a bunch of factors. Sometimes we draw from our collection, as with our exhibits on Jimi Hendrix. Other shows come from very cool private collections that we learn about, such as the Spaced Out album cover show. We like to look for areas of pop culture that have had a long-term impact but are still very relevant today (Hello Kitty, Star Trek). We are always working to broaden the areas we work in, such as by adding fashion in the past few years (World of Wearable Art, A Queen Within). And we take ideas from anyone! Send ’em in.

mattde82 on Instagram asks: What's the most unique way the museum came to get a piece?

Brooks Peck: In late 2009 a production company reached out to us to say that they were considering throwing away three life-size spaceships from the 2004 Battlestar Galactica TV series. Would we perhaps like to display them, they asked? Our answer was an unhesitating Frak yes! Soon two Colonial Vipers and a Cylon Raider were on their way from Los Angeles to Seattle. Our job was to then create an exhibition around those key objects, telling the story of the show and why the show was so groundbreaking and relevant. As an aside, the ships broke down into several pieces for transport, but one piece was too big for our freight elevator. We had to hoist it up through the center of the museum next to the guitar sculpture—a crazy, harrowing job.

@Jenniferlayne53 on Twitter asks: When stars show up to visit their old instruments (say, Clapton) do they ever get to play them again? Would you consider an event where those who are still around play their old instruments?

Jacob McMurray, MoPOP Director of Curatorial, Collections & Exhibits: If a musician happens to visit the museum and we have an object of theirs on display, we unfortunately aren’t able to take it off display for them to play right then. First off, the object might not be from our permanent collection. If it were a loan, we’d have to get permission from the lender for this particular use. Second, it would take a considerable amount of time to open the casework, remove the mount, and get access to the guitar. But it is an interesting question, because when is the point where an instrument is no longer an instrument to be played, but an artifact to be preserved? That being said, there are occasions where we pull certain instruments from the vault so that certain musicians can play them. We save these for special occasions, like certain concerts, fundraisers, or events, and it’s worked well. It’s clear the artist is excited to play the rare instrument that we’ve pulled from the vault, and it’s equally clear that the audience sees the special nature of the occasion. But in the end, it all depends on the artist in question, the nature of the event, and the condition and playability of the instrument.

blueeyedcole on Instagram asks: Have you ever had a fan-curated exhibit? For those of us that aren't private collectors, etc.

Brooks Peck: Well, I like to think we’re all fans here, but I know that’s not what you mean. During the curation process, we always try to include members of whatever community surrounds a topic we’re looking at. That could mean conducting interviews with fans ahead of time to get a deeper understanding of the subject. We often involve related communities in brainstorming, and we later present early ideas to fans and other community groups for feedback. We work hard to avoid creating exhibitions where the museum dictates what is important about a topic. Rather, we want to reflect what the fans and the community say is important.

L.E. Hertel on Facebook asks: If you could make one exhibition free to the public, which would it be? Would it be one that has already been, or one that would be a dream come true?

Brooks Peck: I’d love to make an exhibition about the life and work of author Philip K. Dick. He may not be a household name, but he’s one of the most frequently-adapted science fiction authors from the 20th century. Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall, The Man in the High Castle, and many more—all come from Philip K. Dick. He was a prolific writer who was fascinated by the nature of reality and forms of consciousness. He achieved critical but not much financial success during his quite chaotic life. I’d love to tell his story. 

@nonniekenzo on Instagram asks: Do you think you'd ever do a Daniel Johnston exhibit? He was a huge influence for Kurt Cobain and many other artists alive today but no one really knows who he is or how much he really impacted the world. There's definitely a lot to work with exhibit wise, he was a truly interesting and amazing person.

Jacob McMurray: I think it’d be cool to do a Johnston exhibition. He’s a niche figure, but certainly has an outsized influence on certain musicians, such as Cobain, like you say. We do 3-4 exhibitions a year and usually 1-2 of those are created in-house. We’re always thinking of new exhibition topics that expand on the areas of nerdy, passionate pop culture that we cover. I could certainly see a small exhibition on Johnston at some point in the future.

anyonecanwhistle on Instagram asks: Is there a way to trace an item that was in one of your past collection to try and find current whereabouts?

Brooks Peck: We actually rarely, rarely remove objects from our collection. If we decide to add an item to the collection, we’re making a promise to be the stewards of that object for the foreseeable future, and we take that responsibility seriously. Which means we need to be pretty picky about what we collect. Sometimes we have the opportunity to acquire something that is really, really cool, but if we don’t think there’s a reasonable chance we will display it someday, we won’t take it on.

As for loaned objects, once those things are returned to the owners or lending institutions, our recordkeeping ends there. 

averybryson17 on Instagram asks: Why did you choose to change the name from emp museum to MoPOP?

Brooks Peck: Changing our name was all about catching up with our identity. By the time the name change came about in 2016 we’d been looking at science fiction for 12 years, we had created or hosted exhibitions on toys, video games, sports, fashion, Chuck Jones, Hello Kitty, Jim Henson…. We were absolutely and firmly a pop culture museum, and we needed our name to reflect that.

Learn more about MoPOP's current exhibitions + find tickets to plan your next visit!

20 Years of MoPOP, Mailbag

About the author

Tony Drovetto is MoPOP's Content Marketing Manager.