“How does a multi-venue exhibition really work and what are the partnership benefits?”
This training day at Segedunum Museum focused around the three previous successful ‘dispersed exhibitions’ ran by TWAM in partnership with other smaller institutions and the National Portrait Gallery to bring national collections to the region.
Dispersed exhibitions place one image or exhibit from a set in each venue, encouraging the visitor to seek out further items at the other partnering venues with unified panels and publicity and central management of the exhibition as a whole. Each venue could then choose whether simply to display the one panel or whether to add further materials around the topic.
The most recent example was WallFace, in Autumn 2014. Despite a £10k marketing budget, I have to say that I did not personally see any publicity for WallFace although I may not have been in their target audience. I have never had a great enthusiasm for Roman history; I prefer the more recent past.
I was surprised how easily they had overcome some large hurdles which I would have assumed were insurmountable for small institutions relating to national loans. Many environmental problems had been solved by the TWAM conservation team creating individual Perspex cases to contain the images which also removed the necessity for constant invigilation. They did admit that the paperwork is still hefty but they had offered smaller institutions help to deal with the documentation. The process was also simplified by TWAM receiving and condition checking the entire group of loans which also substantially reduced the courier costs.
The goals of the exhibition were also interesting; WallFace did not aim to particularly increase visitor numbers but to add value to the existing visitor experience and to encourage some people to visit one or two extra venues. The understanding from the beginning was that very very few people would visit all ten portraits in the exhibition; I found this odd as I would feel I hadn’t really succeeded in seeing the exhibition without seeing all ten. This may be the completist collector in me…. The real goal behind the exhibition was to trial partnership working and improve relationships and connections between the different Hadrian’s Wall sites. They are then using the experience of WallFace to do a much larger project in 2017 which will aim to increase and develop the audience attending the sites.
WallFace also allowed them to develop events and education around the exhibition. The learning and participation work was done by Conchie & Co who asked schools what they needed most. The answer was Key Stage 3 resources so Conchie then linked the exhibition into the KS3 Art curriculum and was lucky enough to find a school who had decided to base their year around Hadrian’s Wall! Part of the end result has been a single unified website for educational resources around the wall including not only such practicalities as where to park your coach, but also a “homework help” section specifically designed to help the pupils with the independent research required in KS3. Conchie summed up by saying it was crucial to find a way to meet the needs of the school, then grow their needs to also meet your objectives.
Bill Griffiths (Head of Programmes, TWAM) ended on the key messages that dispersed exhibitions are a real, reproducible model for the future for the museums sector but the key to successful working in this way was understanding that it was about co-ordination not control, and equality of all partners. He believes WallFace shows what can be achieved with the true spirit of collaboration!
The day was well worth attending, even if simply to give myself some time to think about exhibitions and how the Institute can tackle this in the future. I felt the event was sadly under-attended with only about 20 people in the room, at least 9 of whom were speakers. I will be interested to see how the concept of dispersible exhibitions is developed in the future; and should one relevant to the Institute come up, I would certainly investigate the possibilities. The only remaining difficulty for a small institution I believe would be security and insurance which was touched upon but not fully developed. I would be interested to know the actual cost (in both money and time) to one of the small institutions involved in a previous dispersed exhibition before I would be willing to sign up!