Every exhibit should have at least one exhibit-based program, and preferably a series of programs. At my museum, we usually plan a combination of classes for children and adult programming that compliment the exhibition.
Sometimes the programs can be conducted in-house. Or you can go outside your museum to find an appropriate program. Our state humanities council has a Speaker’s Bureau with lectures available on a wide variety of topics. We have also gone into local colleges and businesses for speakers.
For my exhibit “Hearth & Home,” we planned a series of open hearth cooking experiences, ranging from a holiday dinner for 50 to a class called “Kids in the Kitchen.” Our Director of Education is proficient in open hearth cooking and conducts many cooking programs throughout the year. For this exhibit, we decided to cluster his cooking programs into a series of exhibit-based programs. Other programs included a hearth cooked pancake breakfast, an adult bread baking class, and several special events where visitors could have free samples of a Pioneer meal.
For “The Graceful Envelope,” we partnered with the United States Post Office for a stamp unveiling. We also planned a calligraphy class for adults and another one for children. For “It’s Music to My Ears,” we scheduled musical performances. For “Accessorize!” we had a local jeweler come to give a talk on vintage jewelry. Visitors were asked to bring one or two pieces with them for the speaker to “circa date” for them.
For “Stories in Stone” and “Going Out in Style,” two cemetery-themed exhibits, we ran a series of cemetery walking tours, plus programs on Funerals of the Rich and Famous, Unlocking the Secrets of the Cemetery (about cemetery symbolism), and Presidential Funerals.
For “Footloose & Fancy Free” (an exhibit about the Roaring Twenties), almost the entire staff got involved in presenting programs! Our Director of Education, who is also an accomplished pianist, did a performance of 1920s songs. Our Science Director did a program on The Scopes Monkey Trial, and 1920s Inventions. I did a program on aviation, based on my book Canton’s Pioneers in Flight, and one called “Little Chicago,” which talked about the 1926 murder of local newspaper editor Don Mellett. Even our Facilities Manager got involved – he did a program on Homebrewing in honor of Prohibition!
It is fun to come up with ideas for exhibit programming! We brainstorm many ideas, and then narrow down the most practical (and affordable) ones. Sometimes we develop programs in-house, which have zero expense for the museum.
This article is excerpted from my ebook "How To Create an Exhibition on a Shoestring Budget." Click on the link below for more information!