Exhibits are the way that museums share their collections with the public, and mounting exhibits is one of the key roles of museums. Exhibits can be permanent or temporary, but either way curators should plan and execute exhibits carefully and thoughtfully. This page contains information about developing exhibits, writing interpretive text, creating displays, writing furnishing plans, installing exhibits, and evaluating the effects of exhibits.
When developing a new exhibit it is important to have a plan. This presentation discusses the museum design process. The timeline on the first page is an illustration of the the steps to take when planning an exhibition. The slides that follow break down each aspect of the timeline into detail. Another useful resource is this handout called “How to Create an Exhibition” for the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Service and the Museum on Main Street.
There are also several guides to creating traveling exhibitions such as this one from the Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago, this one by Michelle Torres-Carmona, and this one by Rebecca J. Fell.
The Philadelphia History Museum at Atwater Kent has a community history gallery that local nonprofits can use to mount their own exhibition. Their planning toolkit and application form can help your organization implement a similar project.
Developing a small exhibit can come with its own set of challenges. This video gives you some ideas about how to address them.
Writing Interpretive Text
This comprehensive guide by University of Delaware professor Dr. Katherine C. Grier offers practical advice on the nuts and bolts of writing exhibition scripts.
It is important that your exhibit text is engaging and accessible to your audience. The Victoria & Albert Museum offers a guide on how to write gallery text that does just that.
Museum-Ed created a resource for writing interpretive labels called “If You Can’t See It Don’t Say It: A New Approach to Interpretive Writing.” This list from the Minnesota Historical Society also offers advice about creating exhibit labels.
Writing engaging, informative exhibit labels can be especially tricky. This narrated presentation discusses everything you need to consider to create good exhibit labels. This bibliography also contains many other resources and examples of good – and bad – label writing.
Creating Exhibit Displays
Before translating exhibit ideas into physical displays it is important to think about the physical design. This list of design principles by Jay Williams gives advice on the best way to render your exhibit in three-dimensional space.
Creating exhibit displays can be a very expensive endeavor, but it doesn’t need to be. This video, featuring Dan Citron from the Auburn Heights Preserve in Yorklyn, Delaware, shows you how to make quality, low-priced exhibition displays.
Metroframe is a manufacturer and distributor of framing supplies for museums and galleries. This section of the company website contains videos and short articles with illustrations demonstrating framing techniques and offering advice on how to frame museum objects.
If you work in a historic house or your museum has a period room you will need to develop a furnishing plan. The American Association for State and Local History has shared this sample furnishing plan for Colvin Run Mill Historic Site in Great Falls, Virginia. This plan can serve as a model for other sites.
Once your exhibit is planned you need to install it and dismantle it without causing harm to your artifacts. The Smithsonian Institution published this guide about how to install and dismantle an exhibit.
How to Evaluate Your Exhibits
Once you’ve created an exhibit it is important to know how visitors perceive it and what they are getting out of it. This guide, generated at the 2006 American Alliance of Museums annual meeting provides a good summary of what museums should think about when considering an evaluation project as well as a bibliography of additional resources. The Family Learning Project at the USS Constitution Museum in Boston also features articles about exhibition evaluation.
An important aspect to evaluating the effectiveness of your exhibit is to know why visitors are choosing to visit your museum. This webinar from the American Association of State and Local History provides insight into why visitors choose what museums to visit.