I recently attended a New England Museum Association (NEMA) workshop titled Getting Your Show on the Road, which addressed the complexities of creating and managing a traveling exhibition. The timing of the workshop couldn’t have been more perfect as we’ve just begun digging into our own traveling show here at ATHM! In conjunction with ATHM, two guest curators, Madelyn Shaw and Lynne Bassett, are organizing an exhibit called Homefront and Battlefield: The Fabric of Life in the Civil War to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. The show is slated to open at ATHM in the spring of 2012 and then travel on to three other venues through 2014.
Although this is an exciting and challenging prospect for me, it is a daunting task! We have been the recipient of a few small traveling exhibits in my short time as registrar, but being the organizing institution responsible for sending 100-200 borrowed objects all over the east coast is a whole new ball game! The first part of the workshop was broken into two speakers. One was an independent curator who has helped many museums plan and implement their own traveling exhibitions. She had great advice on weighing the pros and cons of embarking on such a task and addressed the realities of whether (or not) traveling shows can be financially profitable for a museum. She also talked a lot about the importance of doing your audience research ahead of time and determining whether or not a show is marketable (both to the public and to other museums) before you go ahead with it. In her experience, these were almost always overlooked in the excitement and anticipation of putting together what a museum might think is going to be a blockbuster show! The second speaker, the exhibitions manager from the Norman Rockwell Museum, interested me the most because he talked about the nitty gritty details of how to actually get the objects organized, crated, and shipped, along with all of the accompanying materials that travel with an exhibit. Being very visual, I found his PowerPoint presentation of the lists, spreadsheets, and notebooks that he had compiled extremely helpful. Granted, all of the objects that were traveling around in the show he was speaking of were owned by his museum. He admitted that his logistical load was not nearly as heavy as it would have been if he had to deal with loans. Of course, the Civil War show we are doing is 100% loans, both from other museums and from private collectors!
For the second half of the workshop we went to Artex, a local fine arts crating and shipping company. They had put together a wonderful presentation, complete with handouts, examples of all different types and qualities of crating options, and demonstrations of how art is physically secured in special crates. It was so helpful to have someone describe the materials used in building crates and boxes and differentiate between the various options you can choose from in terms of structural support, hardware, and protective barriers. The highlight for many of us was when they were describing a “strong box” for art that had a plastic “puncture proof” top to it. We were debating on whether it was “puncture proof” or “puncture resistant” when the staff member pulled out a screw driver and slammed it through the lid, easily puncturing the plastic barrier! Apparently, he said, it was meant more for resisting the damage done by a larger, flat object, like a forklift. At any rate, I got to ask my questions that were specific to our project and feel like I have a little better grasp on the whole crating and shipping aspect of the exhibition, a major component of my responsibilities.
I have attended a few different NEMA workshops over the years and have always been pleased with the presenters and the resources/ideas that I come away with. This one was no different and I am looking forward with more confidence and much less trepidation to the challenges that lay ahead!