Many of the exhibits at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History will soon be telling their own stories. From a 150-million year Brachiosaurus through a Cedar Waxwing to Presolar Grain (stardust), the exhibits will talk thanks to the voice talents of local people.
The initiative comes from local museum advertising specialist Leo Burnett. The agency wrote over 100 short scripts. Each script, just one or two paragraphs long, captures the “voice” of animals, plants and even minerals in the museum’s permanent collection. The write-ups aren’t merely stark historical or scientific fact. They also show personality and humour such as the Brachiosaurus which moans about how its size prevented it joining in games at school.
The first-person monologues are being recorded in a special pop-up audio booth. The booth is travelling around Chicago over the summer. Eventually the most successful voiceovers will be accessible via smartphone for visitors to the museum to enjoy.
“With the booth, the Field Museum could meet people in their own neighbourhoods and keep a rapport going,” says agency creative director Carlos Murad.
The agency and museum have been surprised at the talent out there on the streets of Chicago. Murad recalls one man who came into the booth. He looked shy and demure with glasses and hair hiding his face.
“He then read the most amazing version of an arachnid in amber you could possibly imagine,” says Murad. “Sounding devious, he was menacing and malicious, like a movie villain. It was totally surprising, and just a little bit scary.”
Another memorable performance came from an 11-year-old boy, channelling an Army Ant drill sergeant. “It was incredible,” says Murad. “His voice and attitude grew fivefold. He was barking orders and laying into the troops like he’d been a drill sergeant all his life.”
The Field Museum of Natural History is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. It is also famed for the size and quality of its scientific and educational programmes. The museum tallied 19 percent growth in 2016, with 1.65 million visitors, its second straight year of double-digit attendance. However the museum is not complacent, as this new venture shows.
“Attendance is up, but the Chicago cultural market has gotten increasingly competitive,” says Murad. “Like any business, the Field Museum has to grow its base, stand out among competitors and keep up with evolving tastes and expectations.” Giving voices to dinosaurs, ants and stardust is certainly something quite literally out of this world.