The Heritage Management Organization’s mission supports the interests of professional development cultural institutions in Athens and abroad. The HMO hosted the Temporary Exhibitions workshop as part of its Executive Leadership series of workshops and seminars in November 2015 at the Benaki Museum in central Athens. Two of the MA students attended the workshop; here are some reflections.
Rosie Wanek, Senior Exhibitions Manager of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, who has considerable experience in thematic traveling exhibitions, led this workshop on Temporary Exhibition Making, which took place at the Benaki Museum over the course of three days. Ms. Wanek began with the simple questions of: Why have an exhibition? A temporary exhibits serves the apparent reasons of attracting new visitors and making old ones return—however, a traveling exhibition serves a host of other reasons: making long-term partnerships with other institutions, creating extra income, promoting the collection to the general public, and hopefully procuring new, long-term donors and supporters.
Storytelling is in everything, from the creation of a work of art to the discovery of a unique artifact. How we convey each object’s value is grounded heavily in the historical and contemporary details that allow an object to take on a life of its own. The challenge becomes making this value universally appealing so that a broad audience can be exposed to and subsequently attach their own personal values on an object. This is where the importance of an interesting narrative comes in.
So, what is an exhibition? Well, it begins with a story.
Rosie Wanek from the V&A was the master storyteller. The workshop explored every detail involved in the creation of a temporary touring exhibition, from start to finish, but the one overarching theme that prevailed was the significance of a strong narrative and how to keep it engaging. Each participant came with an exhibition concept that needed some strategic and critical thought to take it to the next level. Ms. Wanek provided an engrossing yet practical introduction to the chronological steps in planning a touring exhibition and used real-life experiences from previous Victoria & Albert exhibitions as examples in illustrating the concepts.
As a Heritage Management student, it was interesting to see all the theory and management framework that we’ve been learning about in classes click into place through their active applications. Some ‘a-ha’ moments were definitely had over the course of the three-day workshop.
When entering an exhibition, what’s the first thing you notice? The exhibition logo? The wall text? The most eye-catching object on display? The color of the walls? The sounds of an exhibition score? The lighting? Or do all these elements blend together into one pleasantly all-encompassing experience? It would seem that in the planning of a touring exhibition, a holistic approach is best. The most successful way of achieving this is through setting clear objectives with the Museum’s vision and mission in mind. “Why?” becomes the ultimate question. Why put on the exhibit and what does an institution accomplish through producing a touring show?
Though financial motivation can be a factor the answer to “why?” should always involve the fact that there is a great story waiting to be told. The first part of the workshop addressed the “why do we make temporary travelling exhibitions?” in two parts: because it supports our mission statement and because we value our audience and appreciate the role of museums in society. In addition, it helps strengthen partnerships with other institutions and increases our audience and potential donors, essential to a museum’s survival and success.
So you have a story and objectives. Now what? The next step is where the logistical and financial details of an exhibition, risk assessment, and strategic partnerships come into play. Ms. Wanek titled this section “Making it Manageable” where we addressed such questions as: What is the budget for the exhibition? What institutions should we approach to host this exhibition in order to achieve some financial gain while establishing a symbiotic relationship? How do the curated objects get from Qatar to London and back again, all in one piece? What safeguards should a hosting institution have in place in order to feel secure in the lending? Who do we get to design the cool coffee cups and other merchandise that will be found in the gift shop, and how do we get it made? The particulars go on and on. We had fun exploring solutions to some potential problems the good old fashioned way: jotting them down on poster-sized sheets of paper taped to various walls. It was great to observe other groups’ ideas and gain keen insight into possible issues we may not have thought of. Ultimately, this exchange of both ideas and institutional practices fostered a better understanding of how you can make a good exhibition great for the benefit of both audiences and organizations alike.
Andriana Gilroy is a candidate for the MA in Heritage Management. After spending several years working in New York as a freelance marketing and brand consultant in the music and art industries, she decided to move to Athens to explore her family roots and test the waters of the Greek art and design world. She currently works for a cultural institution offering an experiential approach to Greek heritage.