Our friends and colleagues applying for the Community Museums Operating Grant (CMOG) in Ontario will find that a three year exhibit plan is a new requirement for 2016. Yet having an exhibit plan is important regardless of whether it is required of your institution or not. How might travelling exhibitions fit into that overall plan?
Taming the Paper Tiger
Where to start? Review those key documents used to guide decision-making about exhibitions. Any temporary exhibits being considered as part of a three year plan need to align with the museum’s mandate, policies and educational programming.
One pitfall can be a mandate that is too specific, in that it may limit the type of travelling exhibitions a museum can justify hosting. I can recall a specific example where I was contacted by a living history site regarding an exhibit about Vaudeville entertainment I was coordinating. They had repurposed a building to accommodate travelling exhibits, and were keen to rent the show.
After completing the paperwork and paying a deposit, they also applied for some funding to offset the costs of transportation. Everything seemed to be going along swimmingly…until their funding application was turned down.
As it happens, the living history site had a mandate stating that their purpose was to present and educate about life in the early to mid 1800s. This definitive timeframe did not match up with the exhibition they were planning to rent, since the Vaudeville era spanned the late 1800s and turn of the century. Unfortunately, without the funding piece, they had to abandon the idea and cancel their booking.
Reflect and Revise
As you seek out exhibitions to compliment your museum’s mission, it may become apparent that adjusting the guiding documentation is necessary to allow greater freedom in choosing exhibits appropriate to the museum and its objectives. At this point, involvement from staff, the board, volunteers and the community will be key.
On the other hand, travelling exhibitions may not be a good fit, regardless of how you word your mission statement! Conducting a survey to find out more about your audience’s needs will help decide if time and resources spent on other kinds of exhibitions would be more appropriate.
Finally, a good search through our exhibit listings here on the Culture Trove website can also help! The exhibitions database has been established to help museums get a clear sense of what is available to them. Many travelling exhibitions are designed to reach a wide audience with subjects that will have mass appeal (e.g. dinosaurs, sports, cutting-edge science etc.) or otherwise tie into the provincial education curricula.
There may be lots of choices suitable to your site that will help flesh out your exhibition plan; or you may quickly realize that the choices are more limited than you anticipated. Forewarned is forearmed: with these resources, you’ll be better equipped to develop a three year exhibit plan that reflects what is achievable. MW
Check back soon for the second instalment in the series on developing your three year exhibit plan.