This post originally appeared on the LAIP in May 2016.

Exhibit_Signby Sharon Wolff

It seems to me that one of the most frustrating things about working in an institution like a museum or a library is having to coax people into your institution. It can be like pulling teeth, but the best ways to do it involve things like programming and exhibits.

But how best to go about arranging an exhibit? Believe it or not there are good ways and bad ways to do it; here are a few things to keep in consideration.

The first concern should always be the safety of the materials that are being put on display. Depending on what they are, there are preservation and security issues that need to be taken into account. Preservation concerns are dependent on the objects being displayed: what material they are, how old they are, their size and structure, as well as the length of the planned exhibit. Harsh lighting can and will cause damage and deterioration to paper materials, along with fading of ink and paint. Precautions such as cases and rotation of materials for long exhibits should be taken; even something like turning pages in books can help minimize the damage caused to them. Proper support should be given to objects and books to put the least amount of strain on them as possible. If you are unsure about the preservation needs of any of the items you plan to put on display you should consult a professional.

Book_Support

Security concerns are related to the value of the object and the location of the exhibit. If at all possible, avoid putting a valuable object on display. Instead put a less valuable reproduction of it; such as a reprint of a rare book or professional-grade photographs of objects. If your institution has security cameras the exhibit should be placed in a way that it can be easily monitored, and staff should be able to have at least one eye on the exhibit at all times when it is open to the public. This is especially relevant if the exhibit has a tactile element; in this case objects should be closely watched and/or somehow attached to their display podium.

Security concerns are related to the value of the object and the location of the exhibit.

Now on to the fun part: designing the exhibit. Color needs to be considered, of both the objects and the background of the cases and/or walls that the items are being displayed against. Background colors should be as neutral as possible, or subtly contrasting to make items ‘pop’. I must emphasize subtle; too much contrast and the focus will be on the background and not the objects. The arrangement of the items should also be taken into account; it is important that each display area is balanced or something will seem ‘off’.

Brooklyn_Bridge

The most easily recognizable form of balance is symmetrical balance, demonstrated in the picture above. This is fairly self-explanatory, the image or display can be divided down the middle with a straight line and be identical on either side. This can be easily done with objects, for example two smaller items on either side of a large item in the middle. Simple and satisfying. Slightly more difficult but most likely more necessary is asymmetrical or occult balance, demonstrated in the image below. This is a more naturally occurring form of balance, and can really only be described as “you know it when you see it.” If you are having trouble with arranging objects or are unsure about the layout you have chosen, ask someone with a fresh pair of eyes to come in and look at your progress so far.

The exhibit should be featured both online and ‘in person’ at your institution, and flyers posted in appropriate places around town can’t go amiss either.

Starry_Night

Other concerns to take into account are the layout of the display cases, leave enough room for browsers to walk easily among them, and the advertisement of the event. The exhibit should be featured both online and ‘in person’ at your institution, and flyers posted in appropriate places around town can’t go amiss either. With these elements in mind, you are on your way to a successful exhibit!

 

scarf2Sharon Wolff is an Archives and Records Administration grad student at University at Albany, SUNY, soon to be entering the work force. She has interned at the Smithsonian Institute American Art/Portrait Gallery Library and has been a Technical Assistant in the University at Albany Theatre Department. She currently works part time at the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives on campus.

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