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Meet Michael Field, Lead Exhibit Designer

Meet one of the key members of the San Diego Natural History Museum’s exhibits team that is developing our upcoming core exhibition Coast to Cactus in Southern California, set to open in January 2015. Learn more about his contributions to the meticulous undertaking that is building an exhibition.

When did you begin working on Coast to Cactus?

My family moved to the San Diego area from Canada in 1964 when I was a boy. I think I’ve been working on Coast to Cactus indirectly since I was a kid.

In a nutshell, what is your role in Coast to Cactus?

I take all of the great ideas from our exhibits team and find creative ways to present them in a physical form for both fabrication and construction. Working closely with exhibit designers, architects, and contractors, I strive to create engaging and educational physical exhibits for the enjoyment of our visitors.

Can you give specifics of what you do in a typical day?

There is never a boring day in the exhibits department. Each individual day varies so much, but in general I’d say I spend about 30% of my time drafting architectural plans along with our building engineers and project managers. The next 30% of my time will be spent working with the exhibit department team, brainstorming content ideas, concepts, and choosing graphics and color palettes while attending numerous meetings in person and via conference call. Another 30% of my time will be spent working closely with architects and building contractors, ensuring all exhibit plans are up to date, on time, and on budget. The final ten percent of my time is spent on miscellaneous projects and activities as varied as taking photographs of art pieces to hiking remote areas of southern California scouting potential locations for filming and photographing.

What has been your biggest revelation in working on Coast to Cactus?  What are the highlights?

One of the biggest revelations I’ve had while working at theNAT and specifically on Coast to Cactus is the richness in the amount of natural wonders and the rarity of certain plants and animals in this region. The amount of interesting items and specimens in the region as well as our collections is SO vast, making it very difficult for our team to choose what to highlight. It’s a good problem to have!

Another major highlight has been the opportunity to uncover and restore the Museum building to its original plan from 1933. Covered and unfinished skylights from that era will be reborn with new windows and trim for the first time. A number of huge windows have been uncovered, allowing sunlight to hit the Museum floor for the first time in decades.

What surprises will be in store for the visitors to this exhibition?  What is a takeaway, what will people learn?

The exhibition will include several “secret” surprises to be discovered by visitors. Some will be triggered by visitors elsewhere in the Museum, like a scampering critter across the patio roof, or a rattlesnake “rattles” as one walks by.  One might even find an opossum family curled up in the corner of the exhibit, checking you out.

What is your favorite habitat and why?

I like extremes of nature, so I enjoy hiking and camping either on islands or in the desert. I especially like the desert in the summer.

What is your typical San Diego weekend? What do you in your off time?

A typical San Diego weekend will find me and my wife exploring the oceans, coast, mountains, and desert of our region, be it paddle boarding in San Diego Bay or exploring ancient Lake Cahuilla. There is so much natural beauty to be discovered right here in southern California that I tend to spend my weekends and free time out of doors taking photos of my explorations for business and pleasure.

  • Posted: April 17th, 2014

  • BY: theNAT