Treasures of the Walt Disney Archive at MSI Chicago

The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) has opened the latest in a series of exhibitions focusing on entertainment greats. Jeff Buonomo explains how they worked with D23, the official Disney Fan Club to access the Disney archives for the exhibition.

MSI was in serious discussions with the Disney Archives about 15 months ago, after learning of their exhibition at the Reagan Presidential Library.

We knew that there was a great story of innovation that we wanted to tell in regards to Walt Disney and the company he created. For the past several years at MSI, we have hosted exhibits that feature major creative thinkers and innovators in entertainment – including Jim Henson, Theodor Geisel and Charles Schulz. We knew Walt Disney was another wonderful story to tell; he was an amazing innovator who changed entertainment and animation forever. Everyone has had a magic, memorable “Disney moment” in their life, and we knew this exhibit would really strike a chord with people.

Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse
Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse

We worked closely with the Archives team to curate the show for MSI. While we did use a lot of the artifacts from the Reagan, mainly because they were some of the best artifacts to tell the story, we also chose to exclude some of them and add additional artifacts from the Archives instead. There was also a Chicago connection and a strong Midwestern connection when it comes to Disney — and also a few connections to MSI. Walt himself visited MSI.

A partial recreation of Walt Disney's office from Disney Studios. Calif.
A partial recreation of Walt Disney’s office from Disney Studios. Calif.

Both MSI and Disney thought this partnership would be a great fit and after careful planning and development, the timing was really right to move forward for an exhibit opening of October 2013. It was also important to both organizations to open it on the actual 90th anniversary of the company, October 16, 2013.

We worked in partnership with D23, as they work very closely with the Walt Disney Archives and are within the same division of Walt Disney corporate communications. D23 respected the fact that we wanted to focus a lot of the story on Walt Disney himself and his wonderful contributions to the company he started. We also worked with D23 to produce exhibit-specific merchandise that includes the MSI mark. These include the popular trading pins, notepads, pens, etc.

In the early stages of conceiving the exhibition, we realized we had imagined an exhibition that would have required twice the square footage as we had available. In the early weeks we had to work on focusing on the story that was important to MSI, which ultimately was a story that is very Walt-centric with nods to his legacy as it pertains to the Disney we know today. The Walt Disney Archives team was very supportive of our viewpoint and really supported all of our requests.

Prop storybooks used in the opening scenes of animated Disney classics Cinderalla and Sleeping Beauty
Prop storybooks used in the opening scenes of animated Disney classics Cinderalla and Sleeping Beauty

We use iPads for an in-depth animation experience, as well as the Disney Animated app. This was not created specifically for the exhibition, but is very popular with guests who experience it. We were aware of the app before it was publicly launched and knew that it was more robust than anything we could have developed with our timeframe and budget. It was very clear that we wanted to include it in the exhibition.

Our exhibit team experienced the Animation Academy while at Disneyland’s California Adventure Park, and we immediately knew that it had to be the finale to the exhibition. We learned that anyone could draw a simple Disney character, and learning how to do that is so rewarding for all of our guests. It’s also a great take-away for them. We had a Disney Artist train our Museum facilitators on how to teach the public to draw some of the classic characters, and that’s what guests experience at the end of the exhibition.


Exhibit Writer – Tim O’Day | Exhibit Media Producer – Les Perkins | Graphics, film editing, content editing, created by MSI