Strength in Numbers – Distributing Touring Exhibitions For Museums, By Museums

If you’ve had anything to do with touring exhibitions over the past decade, you know that there are plenty of options for programming your special exhibitions gallery. Once an exercise in curated objects exchanged between institutions, now we see a host of touring exhibitions in the marketplace derived from private companies, corporations, Hollywood franchises, and just about anyone who has come to know this market. It’s time for museums to get back to their roots, and work within the industry. By staying within the industry, you can ensure that your touring exhibition program will incorporate valuable curriculum connections, professionally curated objects, a high level of production quality, and will lead to the formation of valuable partnerships. Read on to learn about these very valid reasons for licensing from your sister or brother institutions.

We all know this acronym by now (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). However, we still see a number of exhibitions which don’t deliver curriculum connections and STEAM effectively. Licensing exhibitions without these connections woven into the fabric of your touring exhibition program may disconnect your institution from school groups and other visitors focused on education.

Licensing from an established museum or science center can all but assure these curriculum connections will not only be a core part of the visitor’s journey through the exhibition, but perhaps more importantly, will drive learning outcomes from your special exhibitions programming. Most museums or science centers will have at least a few experts in the STEAM areas, and all will know better than to build an exhibition without engaging experts to deliver on this initiative.

Exhibitions from sources driven by profit motives (not to say a museum or science center doesn’t have a profit motive to some degree), tend to skip over these vital learning elements in favour of new technologies or brands in order to engage consumers.

We admire curators. They are people so passionate about a topic that they devote their lives and their careers to learning as much about their chosen subject matter as possible. Museums and science centers make it a priority to employ these experts. I doubt many curators are devoting their lives to the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

This isn’t to say that private companies won’t or don’t engage qualified curators for the design of their exhibitions. It is to say, that you can be assured an exhibition that has come out of a museum or science center outbound program will have great curation, as the reputation of the institution is at stake in releasing their knowledge and expertise to the broader, global community.

We’ve all seen those exhibitions out there where corners were cut. It could be bad proofing of interpretive materials, no prototyping of an interactive, or poor fabrication material choice. You know that your museum or science center has a vast amount of experience in producing exhibitions; it’s what you do. You know which materials stand up to energetic attempts by children to test the impact resistance of an exhibit. You use universal design concepts to determine which font type and size works best for interpretive information, and quadruple check graphical information prior to sending it to print.

Additionally, a museum or science center wants its product that is traveling to colleagues, friends and peers, to properly portray their brand. There is built in incentive for a museum or science center to ensure the quality of the product they are sending to market. Furthermore, museums and science centers operate with visitor outcomes in mind, not profit outcomes, so you as the licensee get a product in which corners haven’t been cut to save dollars.

Perhaps the most valuable reason to license from your friends is industry partnerships. Industry partnerships prove invaluable to an organization playing the long game. Whether it’s exhibition exchange, knowledge and expertise sharing, or a joint exhibition project, the bonds formed through partnerships are mutually beneficial and necessary for successful touring exhibition programs. Working with partners will allow your institution to have a reliable source for programming options to fill your special exhibitions gallery and reach your audience with varied topics and collections.

Having seen first-hand the quality and care that museums and science centers put into producing their exhibitions, I highly recommend licensing touring exhibitions from institutional partners. Staying within the industry will allow you to trust the educational and production value of your programmed exhibitions and will help you to build a network of partners of whom you can rely on for future projects.

If you are looking for a partner to assist you in executing a touring exhibition program, get in touch with us at Flying Fish. Touring exhibitions is our primary expertise and it’s our mission to support museums and science centers. We’ll work with you to determine a partnership that works best considering expertise and resources between us.

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