Hosting a Traveling Exhibition

Hosting a Traveling Exhibition
Traveling exhibitions are wonderful because they not only attract attention as something “special,” they also give the museum staff a break from creating and producing exhibitions in-house.

For a smaller museum, traveling exhibits often cover topics that go beyond what can be accomplished using your own permanent collection. They have a neat, clean, professional look that can be difficult to achieve for an in-house temporary exhibition on a limited budget.

Here are some things to think about before you book a traveling exhibition:


Be realistic about how much you will “recoup” from your initial outlay of expenses. Traveling exhibition rental fees run the gamut from $1000-$2000 to well over $100,000. If you are hoping to increase attendance enough to pay for the rental fee of the exhibit, figure out how many admissions you will need to achieve that goal. If you fall short, start thinking about sponsors! (See “Sponsorship Opportunities” below for more on that)

Keep in mind that there are some “hidden” costs involved in hosting a traveling exhibition.

The rental fee is not the only expense you will have. Be aware that you will have to pay shipping one-way too. Usually the host institution pays for shipping to the next venue, which means there is no cost to have it shipped to you.

Some traveling exhibition companies have specific guidelines for how an exhibition can travel. For example, you maybe required to have the exhibit shipped “door-to-door,” which means that the tractor trailer cannot stop and pick up any other cargo along the way. This type of shipping will cost more.

You also might have to choose from an approved list of shipping companies who specialize in fine art transport.

Sometimes there are additional educational programming options that are facilitated by the exhibition’s creators. You may have access to guest speakers, but there will be an additional fee for these. Ask about possible program opportunities and costs early on in the process so you can build those fees into your budget. Program costs can include the speaker’s fee itself, plus travel and accommodation expenses.

Installation Challenges

Preparing your gallery for an exhibition you have never seen can be a challenge!

Request photos of the exhibition from previous venues, so you can see what it looks like. That will help you decide on paint colors and perhaps even a general layout of the space.

The quality of the installation instructions will vary. I have installed traveling exhibits that came with explicit directions about where things should be placed. I have also hosted some with no guidance at all. Allow yourself enough time between the arrival date and the opening so you can figure out how to install the exhibit.

Some traveling exhibitions require detailed condition reports to fill out upon arrival, so don’t underestimate the time you will need to fill out all the paperwork. You might also have to fill out an outgoing condition report after the exhibition closes as well.

Sponsorship Opportunities

Of course, the exhibitions you do on a regular basis are fantastic, but sometimes potential sponsors are smitten with the idea of hosting an exhibition from a more famous museum, such as the Smithsonian or the George Eastman House.

Use this to your advantage! Request extra brochures from the traveling exhibition service to use in your sponsorship packets. Review the traveling schedule and exploit facts such as the “first time in our region,” or “limited touring schedule” to get potential sponsors excited.

Review Everything Carefully

Be sure you know what you’re getting when you sign the contract and make a deposit on your traveling exhibition. Here are some things to keep in mind:

· Will you have to print anything, or will the exhibit include things like pre-manufactured object labels? (You will have to allow extra prep time if you have to create labels yourself – I have been unpleasantly surprised at the last minute that I had to do this, so I always find out in advance now.)

· Will you need to use your own movable walls and cases? Or will the exhibition come with everything you need? (You might have to make plans to store extra cases in a “creative” way, if you are limited on space – and who isn’t?!)

· How are the exhibit’s components hung? Will you have to drill large holes in your walls to accommodate cleats of some kind? Or will you be able to use a hanging system or other means of installing framed pieces?

· When is the guaranteed arrival date? (To reduce stress on you and your staff, allow for enough time before scheduling and promoting an exhibition opening!)

· Will you need approval for promotional materials, such as postcards, flyers, and posters? For example, the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Services (SITES) requires that host venues submit all materials prior to distribution for approval. There are specific logos you must use on all materials, and certain phrasing requirements as well.

You Should Also Read:
How to Choose an Exhibition Designer
Marketing Ideas for Small Museums
Museum Career Skills -- Developing an Exhibition

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