This post was submitted by Kristen Costa, President of the Rhode Island EMP group and Assistant Curator at the Newport Restoration Foundation. She brings us an entry about exhibit planning, a process that she’s very familiar with right now.
It’s very appropriate to be writing a blog post about exhibit planning- the 2012 exhibit (Passport to the World: Doris Duke the International Traveler) opens this Thursday and after almost a year of developing, writing, choosing objects and debating images, graphics and more, I’m happy to see it finally open.
Here at Rough Point, we are a rare case in the museum world because we only have one seasonal exhibition per season (April- November). That means in the off-season when we are closed we have the luxury of taking time to un-install and reinstall galleries and prep objects. Also because we only have one exhibit a year, we only plan a year ahead for each exhibit. I’m always trying to think of new topics and ideas in advance of the annual planning meeting, but for the most part our exhibit decisions are made a year in advance.
Depending on the size and the scope of the museum, exhibit planning is a collaborative process between the administration, curators, collections staff, and educators. In some cases, marketing/public relations and development are involved too. The process is different at each spot, but planning for exhibitions comes from the desire to bring in new audiences, highlight an amazing piece of the collection, and to celebrate or commemorate an important idea, event, person, etc.
The exhibit planning process for me is the most exciting aspect of the entire exhibit because it involves taking a large idea like international travel and finding the most dynamic and engaging ways to deliver it to the public. I enjoy the development stage where every idea is fair game and even the craziest ones get their moment of deliberation. In the initial stages of planning, budget doesn’t seem to matter as much- well at least for that first meeting. I’ve worked on a few exhibits where the exhibit’s scope was vast and wide reaching, only to have it reduced to one or two cases and panels because of budget constraints.
The planning process always involves the big question though “Why does it matter?” Whether it’s showing visitors at the end of a house tour an interesting part of the collection not on display or examining the life and habits of bats, exhibits are some of the best ways to educate and enlighten our visitors.
Important people in the planning process are definitely the exhibit designers, graphic designers, mount makers, artists, etc. It is crucial to be thinking about the physical aspects of planning- will this stand fit here? Do we need any custom made mounts? Will that mannequin even fit in that corner? The logistics of planning are crucial as well- who will make output the exhibit panels? What will they be made of? Who is printing the labels? Having a clear guide to who is in charge of and responsible for what is crucial to any successful exhibit development and installation. A timeline is a must- every person involved in the process from the janitor to the director should know what they are responsible and when it is due by. This is especially important with outside vendors and contractors who may be juggling multiple projects of their own.