¡Pleibol! Latino Baseball Exhibit at the Smithsonian

Big Idea design concept
¡Pleibol! In the Barrios and the Big Leagues / En los barrios y las grandes ligas is an exhibit on Latinx baseball at the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution. Museum Environments (ME) designed the 1200 sq. ft. gallery exhibit, a traveling show for SITES (Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Services), a twelve page brochure, and the logo for the exhibit. All elements were designed contiguously in order to achieve visual cohesion, a consistent message and ease of production.

Client: National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Curator: Margaret Salazar-Porzio
Co-Curator: Robin Morey
Project Manager: Amanda Bowen
Fabrication Coordinator: Stevan Fisher

¡Pleibol! is the Spanish spelling of “Playball!” The title illustrates the commonality between cultures and languages in the U.S. In this manner, the title is an invitation to learn more about Latino/a culture and history through the shared experience of baseball. In the words of the curator Margaret Salazar-Porzio, “For nearly a century, baseball has been a crucial social and cultural force in Latino communities across the United States. And, for just as long, Latino/a players have had a huge impact on the game. ¡Pleibol! examines how generations of Latinos/as have helped make the game what it is today. From youth and community teams to the Major League, the exhibition reveals how baseball brings people together regardless of race, class, or gender. These inspirational baseball stories reflect larger themes in American history that connect us all, on and off the diamond.”

The exhibit is organized around three themes:
Field of Dreams/Campo de sueños: For over a century in the United States and Latin America, baseball provided a way for Latinos to reach for better futures by making and seizing opportunities.

Game Changers from Barrios to Big Leagues/Cambiando el juego desdo los barrios hasta las Grandes Ligas: Throughout the last century, whether in urban barrios, rural areas, or the big leagues, baseball and identity went hand in hand as the game became a place for men and women to express cultural traditions.

Pastime of the Américas/Pasatiempo de las Americas: Throughout the 1900s, immigrants and migrants from the Caribbean—Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico—as well as from Mexico, Venezuela, the northern coast of Colombia, and Brazil, knew the sights and sounds of baseball before coming to the United States.

The Big Idea

The exhibit design is organized around the placement of bigger-than-life graphic silhouettes of baseball players. These silhouettes dominate the gallery space calling attention to the section title and introductory text. Surrounding these silhouettes are groupings of artifacts and text panels which together make individual stories. The stories orbit around the larger silhouette and are also united in color. In the way, content sections are created as a collection of stories around hubs. The visitor may freely roam the gallery and understands the basic outline of the content. The goal is for the visitor to easily be able identify the curator’s take-away content points.

Graphic Treatment

The design treatment of the silhouettes is inspired by the exhibit’s subtitle “In the Barrios and the Big Leagues.”   The graphic treatment draws from both worlds: the barrio and MLB. The silhouettes are outlines from well-known images of Latinx Major League Baseball stars. The interior surface of the silhouette displays a vintage image of people playing in the fields and empty lots of the barrios. With this graphic device, we merge both arenas of the Latinx baseball story. The goal of combing these two visuals was to produce a dialectical and aspirational image of Latinx zeal, resourcefulness, and ambition.

Visual Research

ME staff invested time to research baseball's visual culture. We visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum at Cooperstown and “Baseball Americana” at the Library of Congress, as well as surveyed other ubiquitous imagery such as baseball cards and sports magazines. In all cases and in every medium, the figure of the baseball player is dominant. The image cropped on a single player, whether they are batting, pitching, or catching is iconic of the baseball visual culture. That observation drove the design decision to anchor the design on large and repeating figures of baseball players because it offered familiarity to the visitor. The element of surprise comes from the scale of the figures, over 10 ft. tall and the layered graphic treatment explained above. The graphic device provides a common ground to all visitors while taking them on a journey to other cultural spaces and histories.

Traveling Exhibition

Beginning in 2021, a touring version of ¡Pleibol! will travel to numerous locations across the country. We re-designed the entire exhibit to fit retractable banners, that would be easy to transport and place in rooms of all shapes and sizes. The typography, color palette, and logo were consistent with the gallery exhibit as well as the brochure. In this manner we leverage design work to produce numerous elements while minding the budget.

Future venues include Dodge City, KS; Irving, TX; Temple, TX; Eau Claire, WI; Hartford, CT; and Greeley, CO. Visit the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service website for schedules and more information.