Exhibition Policy What is an Exhibition Policy?

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Exhibition Policy
What is an Exhibition Policy?
Exhibitions and displays are the ways in which museums communicate with the public and are the most visible expression of a museum’s ambitions. A well planned exhibit is one that not only ensures a safe secure environment for both the objects and the visitors but also excites and informs its audience. An exhibition policy as with the interpretation policy, must be firmly based on the type of collection a museum holds and must complement the goals set out in its mission statement. Small museums may not have a specific exhibition policy. These issues may be covered in their interpretation policy.
Consider the following:
1. Goals

Q: Bearing in mind the Goals/Aims of the museum, what is the most important thing that you want the museum displays to convey to its visitors?

It is essential that this is agreed before any priorities can be set.

2. Major themes for exhibitions

Q: How to develop interpretation themes?

Consider what is special or different about the museum and decide on the most important aspects which should be developed. Listing them in order of priority makes it easier to decide such things as exhibition locations and development.

Often there is a gap between the stories a museum would like to tell and the objects available in the collection. Sometimes the most important objects in the collection are not always directly relevant to the most important themes. Should this be the case, each museum needs to decide how to deal with it. One extreme might be to deaccession and dispose of the object to a more appropriate organisation. Another extreme might be to modify the priority of the themes to accommodate the object and to take full responsibility for its care and interpretation. The middle ground might be to give high priority to its care, but to give it a less prime location.

3. Display appearance/style

Q: What design specifications would you like to be constant in the place?

This will assist designers and ensure an orderly and compatible appearance.

(Materials, finishes, colours, heights, scale, guidelines for labels etc.)

4. Audience

Q: Who are the target audiences?

By identifying the museum’s main audience it is easier to decide how to interpret the exhibits and to determine what types of interpretation media to use (tour guides, interactive exhibits, publications, educations programs, audio etc).

5. Conservation

State that no object from the collection shall be exposed to risk of damage or gradual deterioration while part of an exhibit:

  • no labels to be fixed to objects

  • all objects to be fully supported according to their needs

  • all objects to be off the floor

  • people working with objects to be provided with handling guidelines and a copy of both the exhibition and the conservation policies

  • objects not to be altered or forced to fit inappropriate showcases or supports

  • duty statements for collection workers, attendants and cleaners to specify responsibilities to objects and displays

6. Use of space

Two site/building plans are recommended as working documents which can be used to facilitate discussion and decision making - the existing and the ideal (wish list). The two should be used together to reduce the chance of quick decisions spoiling long term visions.

Site plan:

  • the land, its boundaries, indicating which way is north

  • important ‘no go’ areas with culturally significant features, social, historic, technological or aesthetic features and view corridors to them; other issues identified by conservation plan of the place

  • vehicle access for deliveries etc

  • parking space

  • good locations for signage for passing traffic

  • visitor route through the site, including point of entry/exit

  • best spaces for additional buildings or extensions

  • most attractive vistas of the site and its buildings

  • other matters as appropriate for each museum

Building plan:

  • best locations for displays, in terms of prominence and visitor impact

  • environmental problem areas, such as heat build up, damp, dust, high light levels etc

  • the use of space - work, store, display, public activity etc;

  • best heritage features and view corridors to them; other issues identified by Conservation Plan of the place

  • surveillance corridors - lines of sight for the attendants

  • visitor route

  • locations for visitor seating/rest spots and spots to linger

  • group assembly areas

  • space for temporary displays

References and further reading:
Museums Australia Inc (NSW), Museum Methods: A Practical Manual for Managing Small Museums, Section 5.1 Developing an exhibition

http://www.collectionsaustralia.net/sector_info_item/11 Collections Australia Network, Museum Methods: a practical manual for managing small museums, Developing a Collection
Australian Museums on Line, Working with collections, a sample from Museum Methods, 5.1 Developing an exhibition

Author, VH, edited by: LLW Dec 2006, reviewed JH April 2010

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