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The Dayton Peace Accords Exhibit

The challenge

The residents of Dayton, Ohio, are the storykeepers of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, the treaty which ended the violence in Bosnia-Hercegovina. In 2019, the Peace Museum wanted to prepare a world-class exhibit in time for the 25th anniversary.

The only challenges? The Dayton International Peace Museum had never before dedicated space for a permanent exhibit, having always cycled through and produced traveling exhibits. Also, with a history of budgetary limitations, this would be the first time the museum could entertain the use of interactives. They sought out our studio based on the sensitivity we had applied to Monroe Work Today, our digital exhibit on the lynching era.

Likewise in 2019, our studio had just developed a new open-source solution to powering touchscreen monitors “on the cheap.” Our organizations therefore partnered to produce something amazing. Even though this would be an exhibit about peace, it could not shy away from the wartime issues of genocide, rape, war crimes, and restitution.

Design strategy

We immediately joined the Peace Museum in a creating a thoughtful interpretive plan

The center of the story might be the peace talks that led to a treaty, but we knew we would need to walk backwards to provide visitors with the historical context to understand how the war came about, and why this war in particular became so unbelievably violent.

Our studio conceptualized the exhibit in four modules:  Context (‘Your briefing on the region’), a Genocidal War, the Dayton Peace Process, and the Aftermath.

Each module would need its own interactive kiosk in order to cover the amount of information necessary to do justice to its theme. Of course, some information was designed for physical wall panels as well. We consciously designed each kiosk with an information architecture of 3 to 4 self-contained “chapters”. Visitors could feel comfortable skipping any chapters (if pressed for time) or digging deeper (if intrigued).

on left: a photo of the exhibit title lettering, 'DAYTON PEACE ACCORDS'; on the right is a photo of one wall of the exhibit room, with wall panels, a TV screen, and a kiosk

Left: a photo of a wall panel and kiosk in the museum exhibit; on the right are 4 simulated screens showing different interfaces of the kiosk

Our touchscreen software also gave each kiosk a menu button “For Kids”, which allowed the Peace Museum to tailor the content in a shorter manner, with age-appropriate language about some of the violence.

Our software was further designed for flexibility in the case of large  classroom groups: when distributing kids between the four different screens, each screen can be overridden to show the same kiosk, keeping the entire group discussion together.

The final module, Aftermath, was crafted to pose skeptical questions about the stability of the peace, when so much resentment still remains two decades later. This section also tied the exhibit’s themes of xenophobia and nationalism to contemporary politics, and related the wartime thirst for justice back to local activism in the Dayton community.

two photographs of the tables, wall panels and kiosk in the Dayton Peace Exhibit

Services

The studio managed the project full-cycle. Exhibit design and development was accelerated to 4½ months.

  • project management
  • collaboration on an Interpretive Plan
  • joint responsibility for historical research
  • hardware procurement and IT setup
  • software development
  • original cartography
  • photograph research and licensing
  • audio production
  • photo editing
  • video production
  • copywriting for panels
  • graphic design & layout of panels
  • on-site installation

Results

The exhibit opened in October 2019, in time for the 24th anniversary of the Accords, and became a centerpiece of the museum’s offerings

A reflective exit activity had evolved over the course of the project: now it invites visitors to leave a note to Dayton’s sister city of Sarajevo, and/or all people affected by violence. The collection of those notes on a pinboard create a mosaic of the mountainous beauty of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

After the exhibit opened, student leaders from the city of Sarajevo (from all different ethnicities) came to visit the museum in a cultural exchange. Many of them expressed surprise that the facts about war crimes had never been taught to them. This is perhaps much like American students, whose official curricula is oftentimes too afraid to address the difficult parts of history, especially when it might implicate people who are still living.

three photographs: each is a group of young people gathered around the entryway of the Exhibit room