Mobilizing your Permanent Collection

Many people reading this may think, “it’s easy; we’ll pack it up, send it on a container or semi-trailer, and then set it up on the other end”. It is easy, after all, to think that something that’s successfully been on display for years is ready to be put on the road. It’s an easy mistake to make. The reality is, touring exhibitions have to be built with more flexibility, more consciousness, and perhaps more consideration given the lack of consistency across venue configurations, durability required for continuous handling and large visitor numbers to name a few factors. When it comes to a major financial decision such as this, you first need to ask yourself some critical questions about planning and resources before proceeding.

CONSIDERATIONS

  • Will my impressive display piece or artifact fit in a shipping container or semi-trailer? Further, will there be issues in actually getting this piece inside the majority of venues?
  • Are my display cases safe for travel? Are they too big, awkward to handle, or otherwise delicate?
  • Is the theming in my current gallery transportable? or for that matter, modular?
  • What about my interpretive panels, which languages are they written in? U.S. English, UK English or another language, and do they still deliver on national or regional curriculum initiatives in the exhibition’s destination?
  • Which crate design will best suit my needs, providing not only value for money, but also achieve freight optimization?
  • Are duplicates of our artifacts, technology, or graphics required?
  • Do we have the in-house expertise to properly pack and store our fragile, maybe one-of-a-kind items? Are they going to make the journey across thousands of miles of road and sea?

These are but a few of the many considerations necessary to take an exhibition that’s been stationary in your controlled environment to another venue. It will most likely being packed, shipped, unpacked, and handled repeatedly every 3 months! It can be a daunting task to most museum and science center professionals, and even most traveling exhibition managers will only be used to receiving an incoming exhibition.

HOW TO MOBILIZE YOUR COLLECTION

With all this said and some readers heads spinning at the enormity of the task, let us suggest a loose framework of suggestions from ideation to delivery. The planning and execution of your new touring exhibition is a much more involved process than we have space in this article to cover, in the detail it requires and deserves.

  1. Develop an actionable strategic plan in order to road map the entire process. Engage an outside consultant to help your team flag potential issues and hurdles early on, because there are bound to be a few, will save headaches and ultimately dollars once you’re committed to the project.
  2. Go through the process of redesigning the exhibition with particular focus on which items will join the touring exhibition and which won’t make the cut for any number of reasons. You may choose to do this in-house or to engage an outside firm with an outsider’s perspective, free of bias.
  3. Once you’ve completed the above, engage said firm to finalize the item list and design, and ensure all will transport easily and efficiently. When I say design, I am not speaking of the exhibition’s look and feel. Rather, how do all of these pieces come apart on bump-out to ensure efficient freight packing, and to reduce freight costs for your potential hosts? Because of this, the process should include a freight optimization and rationalization process.
  4. Consider redesigning your graphics and theming. They probably need a refresh after sitting on your gallery floor for an extended period of time. You want things to be fresh prior to roll out.
  5. Evaluate your in-house capacity to manage a traveling exhibition from sales to installation and beyond. Which internal managers have the knowledge and experience to manage this venture and liaise with clients full-time? Which managers can travel with the exhibition to manage bump-in & out processes at host venues? Not to worry if you don’t have the in-house experience, knowledge, or capacity; these are all things that can be dealt with through a specialized firm or consultant, without having to hire additional staff.
  6. Produce all of the necessary documentation for everything from set-up and daily operations procedures to customs documents, license contracts and site inspections. Much more is necessary than you may think, and well-developed procedures and documentation will provide the structure necessary to ensure all i’s are dotted and t’s crossed.
  7. Determine how to market and sell your exhibition. If it is an addition to an already established program, chances are you’ll have that figured out. If it’s your first, consider licensing the rights of representation to an outside firm. It will be less expensive than hiring a salesperson for one traveling exhibition and more effective by utilizing a pre-established network.
  8. Display your new traveling exhibition in-house first. Going back to earlier points, your touring exhibition will be repackaged, fresh and interesting to your visitors, even if they’ve seen some of the artifacts before. You need time to work out kinks and negotiate bumps in the road from a place of comfort, and with the in-house resources you have at hand. Ensuring everything works as planned, your interactives are stable, and your interpretive information is clean, interesting and error free is paramount to a positive experience for your first host and will facilitate ongoing placements into the future. Displaying in-house will also allow you to beta-test concepts with your visitorship, allowing your organization to refine and optimize the exhibition prior to hard rollout.

 

After learning more about the process involved with mobilizing your permanent collection, are you looking for help or additional resources? Reach out to Flying Fish for a consultation. Time and money spent in the initial stages of planning your new traveling exhibition will reduce headaches, save valuable dollars and ease managerial pressures on your staff. Engaging an outside firm will bring fresh ideas, focused project management and the labor capacity to execute the project, which is in short supply for most institutions.

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