Behind the Scenes: Developing NMC’s Exhibitions

February 05, 2016

Ever wonder what is going on behind the scenes to create Studio Bell’s immersive and interactive exhibition stages? Some of the key people involved talk about the work of creating the magic:

  • Stage 18: Idols and Icons

    Artist's rendering of Stage 18: Idols and Icons.

  • Stage 3: Trailblazers

    Artist's rendering of Stage 3: Trailblazers.

  • Stage 10: Unplugged

    Artist's rendering of Stage 10: Unplugged.

  • Stage 16: Halls of Fame

    Artist's rendering of Stage 16: Halls of Fame.

  • Stage 6: Sound Affects

    Artist's rendering of Stage 6: Sound Affects.

  • Stage 5: Voice

    Artist's rendering of Stage 5: Voice.

  • Stage 4: Where Music Lives

    Artist's rendering of Stage 4: Where Music Lives.

  • Stage 2: BMO Soundscapes

    Artist's rendering of Stage 2: BMO Soundscapes.

  • Stage 1: Made in Canada

    Artist's rendering of Stage 1: Made in Canada presented by Power Corporation.

  • Stage 8: Speak Up

    Stage 8: Speak Up presented by the Sam & Betty Switzer Foundation.

  • Stage 12: Plugged In

    Artist's rendering of Stage 12: Plugged In.

  • Stage 9: Listen

    Artist's rendering of Stage 9: Listen.


Exhibition Content Development

Pat Lynch, Managing Editor, St. Joseph Media

Barbara Bruederlin: How is St. Joseph Media (SJM) involved in developing new exhibitions for NMC and what is your role in this process?

Pat Lynch: We’ve commissioned the stories and artwork, and we’ve designed the visuals that’ll bring the walls of NMC’s exhibition spaces to life. It’s something we started working on in early 2014, taking a range of themes and ideas that had been developed for each space and turning them into lively, visitor-friendly stories and graphic design told on a large canvas. (We’re talking about walls that are, in some cases, 12 feet high and 40 feet wide.) We hired many of Canada’s best arts writers, and an international cohort of photographers and illustrators to deliver on this promise.

BB: Please describe the unique “magazine style” approach used in developing content for the exhibitions.

PL: Our team has a long, varied background working in magazines, so when NMC decided that they wanted the visual aesthetic of their new exhibition spaces to mirror the vibe of a music magazine, it was basically “game on.” We took all the magazine tricks we knew and loved—annotations, timelines, flowcharts, custom photography, etc.—and applied them to the stories that were important to NMC. I think that style of storytelling will resonate with visitors because it’s a format that they’re both familiar with and constantly surprised by. The best magazines always feel playful, yet informative and full of surprises. The storytelling at NMC is all of that.

BB: How has SJM’s use of content creators (writers, photographers, etc.) from around the country contributed to this type of storytelling?

PL: On the editorial side, we commissioned close to 30 professional arts writers from all over the country to develop stories for NMC, from the hundreds of artist and venue profiles contained in an interactive database to a lot of the actual writing on the walls. It brought a depth of experience and understanding to a really wide range of subjects, but probably most importantly, it brought great writing to sometimes tricky subject matter. Our design team took a similar tack, hiring some of the country’s best-respected artists and photographers to create custom illustrations and images that can’t be found anywhere else but at NMC. Everything there will be original—from the words to the pictures to the stunning design—and it’s all been crafted by people at the top of their game.

BB: What kind of experience can visitors to Studio Bell expect?

PL: I think they’re going to love it. The energy in the building will be amazing—all kinds of music mixing with great design and surprising stories. There’s something cool to be explored in every corner of the place, so for anyone who’s ever felt passionate about music, this is a place where you’ll be able to indulge, big time. We can’t wait to see it ourselves.


Audio/Visual Technology and Interactives

Greg Sprick, Project Manager, Richard Lewis Media Group

Barbara Bruederlin: How is Richard Lewis Media Group (RLMG) involved in developing new exhibitions for NMC and what is your role in this process?

Greg Sprick: RLMG is working on three main elements at National Music Centre.

  1. We are producing large-scale media for the lobby, Soundscapes gallery, and Hall of Fame gallery.
  2. We are creating five interactive stations, three of which are focused on visitors making music: singing, playing real instruments and mixing a song.
  3. Finally, we are assembling songs and other sounds to create the gallery-wide audioscapes and music playlists for most of the galleries.

As the project manager/senior producer on this project, it’s my job to keep a team of over a dozen people moving ahead, creating something really great, and hitting our deadlines.

BB: What are some of the challenges involved in putting together all the digital for a project of this scope?

GS: The biggest challenge on a project of this scale—especially for a relatively new institution—is to make sure we have the time early in the process to really understand the colour and feel of the project—not just the goals, deadlines, and requirements. It sounds simple to say it now, but one of the things we discovered in this project is how important it was to the NMC team that visitors experience the music with the fewest impediments and filters as possible. We are not teaching how to mix a song, we are creating software that is so intuitive that visitors can hear how their interaction changes the quality of a song. The content is there to support the activity, but the direct experience is the key. There are a number of examples of how this affected our early work on this project.

The most unusual challenge for us on this project was—and still is—creating the media experience for the Soundscapes gallery. We are projecting imagery onto printed graphics designed by St. Joseph Media. This would be a difficult artistic challenge if we did all the work ourselves. The close collaboration with SJM required a great deal of back and forth and good discipline to make sure we were communicating effectively. I’m really proud of how this is turning out.

BB: What is one exhibition stage that NMC visitors simply must not miss?

GS: I hope it is Soundscapes! It is a gallery-sized media experience with an incredible music mashup. But I would also say that the Acoustic and Electronic music galleries will have some exciting interactive stations that are sure to be crowd pleasers.


Exhibition Design

Jan Faulkner, Designer/Director, Haley Sharpe Design

Barbara Bruederlin: How is Haley Sharpe Design (hsd) involved in developing new exhibitions for NMC and what is your role in this process?

Jan Faulkner: Originally bought in as holistic designers of the visitor experience we are now very much design managers, co-ordinating the efforts of the various specialists employed to build/create media and deliver graphics. I’ve been designing exhibitions and visitor centres across the globe for over 25 years now. Part of my responsibility is to ensure that the various creatives and consultants on the project work together to provide a seamless experience and that there are no gaps in the deliverables, both technically and from a scenographic perspective. Working with the fabricators D&P has been great; their team is very well versed in delivering world class visitor experiences and as such has been invaluable to the process.

BB: How does Studio Bell’s music festival approach influence the way you design the exhibitions?

JF: The festival is really a metaphor for each gallery or stage presenting its own character. Like at a festival, you may watch one performer, but can hear another. We want the gallery spaces or “stages” to encompass a single message or theme, but the audio components can and should mingle and mix throughout the building.

BB: What are some of the biggest challenges in creating meaningful experiences for visitors in a setting where sound and light spill out from other stages/exhibitions and intermingle?

JF: Interesting question, as we saw this as an opportunity—not a challenge— to attain the festival feel. We embraced the fact that the galleries/stages don’t have doors. When you’re in one of the spaces you should be engaged and immersed in that theme. To then move out into a gentle cacophony of sound is what we want. Canada is often described by the NMC as a mosaic of music styles and tradition. That’s what we wanted to present.

BB: Is there one particular exhibition stage whose design stands out as especially groundbreaking?

JF: Soundscapes is a gallery that breaks typical rules, in so much as it is an immersive media installation that aims to capture a sense of what makes Canadian music sound the way it does. Working with Richard Lewis Media Group to develop this has been a pleasure and they have interpreted the brief in a really wonderful and engaging way.


Exhibition Fabrication

Sue Lepp, Senior Vice President, Design and Production Inc.

Barbara Breuderlin: How is Design and Production Inc. (D&P) involved in developing new exhibitions for NMC and what is your role in this process?

Sue Lepp: D&P was chosen to complete design development as well as fabricate exhibits and integrate audio/video/computer systems. This includes software development for the exhibit experiences.

A major component of the design development—in collaboration with NMC and the exhibit designer, Haley Sharpe—was to value engineer the design concepts to meet budget allocations. It is quite common for the desired design plans to exceed available funds for a project. Thus, a design/development phase to align goals and dollars becomes beneficial.

I serve as Project Executive, with direct oversight of technology equipment, software production by our subcontractors Richard Lewis Media Group, St. Joseph Media for the database programs, and Make Amazing (creative strategists) for a unique “expression” interactive.

BB: How long will the fabrication and the installation processes take?

SL: Fabrication has been ongoing since June 2015. Site installation should begin in March of 2016.

BB: Is there one particular exhibition stage that you are excited to see go live?

SL: It’s very difficult to pick one stage over all others, as they all have their own personality. Soundscapes will be very powerful. Power of Music: Voice should also be a huge hit with visitors, as they get to try different voice styles in the sound booths using an interactive program.

Having a love for instruments, I would personally enjoy the Plugged and Unplugged stages to appreciate the beautiful collection and to pick up some real instruments. The computer interactives that work in conjunction with the instruments teach you the basic skills to actually learn to play.

About the Author

Barbara Bruederlin

An ink-stained scribe who gets lost in shapes, shadows and fancy words, Barbara is a freelance writer and NMC regular who left behind the world of neuroscience (but not entirely) to hang out in the arts community. She thinks a childhood spent daydreaming and roaming the wilds of Winnipeg might have been good training for life after all.

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