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batwin + robin delivers innovative visual stories for First Americans Museum

Company designed, produced & installed four immersive experiences at newly-opened museum

Origins Theater FAM

batwin + robin, the multimedia storytelling firm, has worked on the media concept and design, production, and installation of four large-scale immersive experiences at the new First Americans Museum (FAM) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

This unique new museum, which opened to the public in September 2021, shares the cultural diversity, history, and contributions of the 39 First American Nations in Oklahoma. The four media pieces that the company worked on are the Origins Theater, Value Circle 2, Exit Experience and The Xchange, in collaboration with a team of curators, artists, musicians, producers, and the exhibit firm Ralph Appelbaum Associates.

First Americans Museum outside
FAM, credit Ryan Linton

Creating a cohesive experience

The Origins Theater, which is the first immersive media experience in the museum, presents the origin stories of the 39 tribes. The goal of this installation is to spark a paradigm shift at the start of the visit, allowing them to see the rest of the exhibition through the lens of shared tribal values.

It features 10 minutes of media content, divided into four Introductory Statements and four Origin Stories for the tribes: Pawnee, Yuchi, Caddo, and Otoe-Missouria. The stories selected represent the cultures and traditions of many tribes featured in the museum and express their own concepts of their origins as people that come from the stars/sky, sun, and earth, and who learned their knowledge from animals.

First Americans Museum origins theater
The Origins Theater. Credit JPM.

“In a small theater, a 15-minute video loop illustrates the origin stories of the Pawnee, Euchee, Caddo and Otoe-Missouria tribes…Told with engaging stylized drawings, the videos come enchantingly alive,” said Judith H. Dobrzynski in her review of the museum in the Wall Street Journal.

Each community has a unique narrative, however, those selected were chosen to show the diversity of cultural philosophies across the 39 nations, which is one of the museum’s key messages.

“This was a tremendous team effort between the museum and the tribes represented, including Indigenous curators, writers, narrators, musicians, and visual artists,” says Megan Gargagliano, a principal and creative director at batwin + robin

“b+r was tasked with uniting all of these voices to create one singular, cohesive experience. We took this collaboration seriously, encouraging input, listening to and responding to feedback with respect and intention. Alongside the FAM curatorial team, we also sought the advice, knowledge, and approval of tribal members and the communities being represented, ensuring that the media reinforced and amplified their voices while unifying the exhibition.”

Voices of First Americans take centre stage

Value Circle FAM
Value Circle. Credit JPM.

Elsewhere, in the Value Circle 2 theatre, interviewees detail the impact that forced assimilation and removal had on Indigenous people. This content is accompanied by large-scale graphics, and the filmed interviewees are seated within a larger projection canvas, emulating the intimate environment of a conversation.

The Xchange allows visitors to gather together, in order to see, hear, experience, and reflect on a sculpture of media, light, and sound. It explores many of the themes of the museum and the tribes of Oklahoma, creating a living playlist that museum staff can adapt with customised templates for different demonstrations, conversations, and events.

First Americans Museum_Xchange_Tribal Motif_
The Xchange. Credit JPM

Finally, The Exit Experience is a poetic animation of Seminole patchwork with ambient sound design. It features a voiceover montage of community members offering parting words to visitors. Many of these narrators noted their language has no word for “good-bye” but rather, “see you again.”

The Exit Experience. Credit JPM

Heather Atone, PhD, director of curatorial affairs at FAM, says: “batwin + robin supported not just the completion of the project but the intent of honoring the sanctity of our most sacred stories. Their work fundamentally sets the tone for our visitors in the galleries.”

The b+r team who worked on this project with FAM includes Linda Batwin O’Donovan, executive producer; Megan Gargagliano, creative director; Mark Paul, art director; Nol Honig, art director; Russell Steward, editor and Tim Kovolenko, production coordinator.

All images kind courtesy of FAM, header image credit JPM.

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charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is blooloop's editor. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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