On the Road Again: 6 Things to Remember When Building a Traveling Exhibit

Posted by Ravenswood Studio on May 14, 2020 in

With the world slowly “reopening,” visitors are eager to get back into attractions, including museums. With safe and precautious reopenings happening in different stages across the world, so too are the shipment and installation of traveling exhibits.

People who express interest in visiting a museum sometimes skip the trip because they feel there is nothing new to see or do there. A great traveling exhibit provides a novel experience that draws in new and repeat visitors. In fact, eighty-one percent of North American museums invest in traveling exhibitions to create short term spikes in attendance. For institutions that build a traveling exhibits, these exhibits can increase their museum’s prestige as well as bring in much-needed revenue.

However, there are unique challenges associated with fabricating a traveling exhibit because it needs to fit many different venues with different sizes, configurations, and regulations. Here are six tips for building a successful traveling exhibit:

Plan for Multiple Configurations

Not all temporary exhibit spaces are the same size. Therefore, it is best to have a range of square footages into which your exhibit can fit. One great way to accommodate multiple sizes of spaces is to design the exhibit so that an institution can omit entire exhibit elements without sacrificing the exhibit’s story. The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago‘s traveling exhibit Numbers in Nature, designed by Luci Creative and fabricated by Ravenswood Studio, split content into three self-contained exhibit units, each of which communicated the exhibit’s thesis and main themes. Therefore, every host institution could tell the whole story, even if they could not place all three units into their space.

Make the Exhibit Fit

Traveling exhibits shouldn’t look temporary. Rather, they should aesthetically meld with the host institution’s space. One way to make an exhibit look like a part of its surroundings is to hide the seams. However, an easier and equally effective method is to emphasize the seams as an architectural element.

Another aspect of fitting an exhibit into a host institution is literally fitting your exhibit elements through the door. Not all museums have loading docks or large freight elevators. Therefore, the pieces should fit into a standard size elevator and through standard double doors. A quick shorthand for figuring out if your exhibit element will fit into any institution is to make sure it can be carried easily by two people. Antarctic Dinosaurs, from The Field Museum of Chicago included a huge 5×10 foot platform for a T. rex and Triceratops. The platform was fabricated in multiple pieces so it could easily slip through any museum entryway, lift, or hall. Also, the rectangular shape of each individual platform is hidden by using a separate lid layer that are shaped like techtonic plates.

Keep the Same Job Leader

If you want your traveling exhibit installation in each location to go smoothly, pick a job leader from your fabrication firm to lead every installation. Should an issue come up, the job leader is completely familiar with the project, and can quickly identify and solve the issue. That way, the issue has little to no impact on the install of the project, and someone is able to delegate to local crews as they work on a solution. For Numbers in Nature, MSI contracted Ravenswood Studio to send out the same job leader to direct skilled laborers at each new venue. The job leader’s expertise in production and familiarity with Numbers in Nature ensures that installation always goes well.

Request Comprehensive Instructions & Tool Kits

Make sure to require an Owner’s Manual for your exhibit in your Request for Proposal (RFP), even going as far as asking for it as a separate line item in the cost. An Owner’s Manual is a comprehensive set of instructions for assembly, installation, and proper packaging procedures. It includes details like which exhibit elements go into which crates for transport, instructions for how different elements fit together for assembly, and detailed schematic drawings of all the elements for reference.

The Dolores Kohl Education Foundation required an Owner’s Manual from Ravenswood Studio for their Van Gogh for All exhibit, and it has proven invaluable at each venue. Like most traveling projects fabricated by Ravenswood, custom crates were built to ensure safe, and easy travel.

Additionally, including tool kits provide an added layer of certainty that the installation crew will have what they need to put the exhibit together. Exhibit assembly often requires unique tools, such as security head screwdrivers and hex keys (aka Allen wrenches). Just like IKEA includes Allen wrenches in their furniture packages, they should be packed with the traveling exhibit elements.

Take Extra Care with Interactives & Artifacts

Interactives and artifacts are particularly difficult to package, ship, and assemble for traveling exhibits. With interactives, you not only need to make sure the assembled components look flawless, but you also need to ensure that the mechanics work correctly. With artifacts, you need to plan for the frequent mounting and de-mounting of sensitive collections, and for the proper packing, shipping, and sometimes added security. Therefore, it is important to prototype assembly, isolate potential problem areas, and consider which pieces need to be shipped as complete units.

Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition, designed by XL Scenic, included a 30 x 40-foot rain chamber that had to be shipped across the nation. The rain chamber included complex water, plumbing, filtration, and containment systems. In order to make sure that all of the systems connected properly at every host site, Ravenswood Studio prototyped every type of connector, putting them together and taking them apart repeatedly to ensure the assembly process was foolproof. Additionally, Ravenswood Studio built the filtration system as a single tray that shipped in one piece. Therefore, all the fine-detailed plumbing and wiring stayed intact during shipping.

The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes, designed by XL Scenic and managed by EDG, includes a number of complicated interactives, from chemical testing simulators with multiple buttons to laser pointers that traced the path of a bullet. Ravenswood Studio isolated each part of each interactives so that if one unit went down, the interactive would still function. For example, for the chemical testing simulator, Ravenswood fabricated each button to function independently.

Considerations for Personal Safety & Health

The reality is the world we knew a few months ago is not the same world we live in now. Instead of being fearful and nervous, we should do what expert creatives do best: be flexible, and adapt to changes. Ravenswood Studio is working hard to make sure that our team and our processes are up-to-date on the latest CDC guidelines, preparing for safe working conditions when stay-at-home orders are lifted, and researching and using antimicrobial or easy to clean materials. Installation crews may be smaller, work odd hours, and take additional days, but these measures must be taken to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the project development. Strong communication is more important than ever to make sure that everyone understands the steps for keeping your team, our team, and your visitors safe.

Building a traveling exhibit may seem complicated, but by following these suggestions your exhibit is sure to travel smoothly and function as designed.