How We Select Traveling Exhibitions at HCSCC
September 10, 2020
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When you visit the Hjemkomst Center or other museums, you might not think about all of the things that happen behind the scenes to make the exhibitions happen. Here is a sneak peak of the process of acquiring traveling exhibitions.
As the Director of Museum Operations, one of my primary responsibilities is Traveling Exhibits Registrar. This means that I am responsible for selecting, scheduling, and shipping all of the traveling exhibits that come through the Hjemkomst Center. I am always on the search for new traveling exhibitions. There are many companies around the world who specialize in producing traveling exhibitions for museums big and small. I am subscribed to e-newsletters from a multitude of exhibit development companies and museums who travel their exhibits, so I am notified as soon as a new exhibit goes on tour and I see many that are in development.
When looking at traveling exhibits there are a few different things that I think about:
HCSCC’s Mission and Values
Our mission is to collect, preserve, interpret, and share the history and culture of Clay County. There are very few traveling exhibits that exclusively examine or mention the history of Clay County, Minnesota. The only exceptions being traveling exhibits from the Minnesota Historical Society and other Minnesota museums. Because the options are limited, I look at different aspects of Clay County history that a potential traveling exhibit can connect to. These aspects include agriculture, the Midwest, railroad history, Native American history, Scandinavian-American history, black history, the histories of immigration, and so many more.
Apart from our mission, we also have a set of values that we use to guide our decisions. Here we value diversity and inclusion, accessibility, and community partnerships.
Diversity & Inclusion
Clay County is very fortunate to have such a diverse community. People from all over the globe call Clay County home, as well as people from all religions, abilities, gender identities, and sexual orientations. It is very important that when selecting traveling exhibits that this diversity shows through and everyone has a chance to be represented. In the future, I look forward to booking more exhibits that examine African American history, Latinx history, the history of people with disabilities, and the history of the LGBTQIA+ community.
HCSCC has been working with Sherry Shirek, an accessibility consultant and co-founder of Arts Access for All, for many years. Sherry has taught us to be more aware of how accessible our museum is for our guests with all physical and mental abilities. If an exhibit is not as accessible as it could be, I look at how easily we can add accessible features like large font text booklets, audio description, or braille.
We love collaborating with other arts organizations, nonprofits, and local businesses. In the past our collaborations included sponsorships, cross-promotion of events, hiring local businesses to serve food or drinks at exhibit receptions, hosting history events at local restaurants and breweries, and volunteering. Last year, we started a partnership with the League of Women Voters of the Red River Valley to plan events for the centennial of the 19th Amendment and to include their chapter’s history in a women’s suffrage exhibit this fall.
The cost of the exhibit is a big part of the decision making process. Traveling exhibitions range in cost from a few hundred dollars for small exhibits to over $50,000 for large exhibits. Some of the exhibits are worth the price and some are not, so it is important to weigh the options. HCSCC is fortunate to have a nice sized exhibit budget, thanks to community sponsors and grants.
Exhibit size is the most limiting aspect when selecting traveling exhibits. HCSCC has 5 exhibit galleries in the museum that vary in square footage and ceiling height. We can’t accommodate exhibits that require much more than 2,000 square feet in our main traveling exhibit galleries. When matching exhibits to galleries, I think about the exhibit layout and design, For example, the lower ceiling height of the 4th floor gallery creates a more intimate environment which makes it ideal for art exhibits and exhibits which might invoke deep thought and contemplation. The 4th floor gallery also offers the most security, as it can be closed off and monitored easily. The hall cases on the third floor are most often used to showcase artifacts from the HCSCC collection, poster exhibitions, and student work.
Traveling exhibits are always in high demand so it is important to book them early. I like to book exhibits as far as 4 years into the future. This gives us ample time to come up with supplemental programs and think of community partnerships.
One of my favorite parts of hosting traveling exhibits is the potential variety of programs that we can offer to our community. A new exhibit comes into the museum at least once every quarter, and that means we always have new content to base programs off of. The three major universities in the metro area provide us with an abundance of scholars who can speak on a variety of topics. Recent programs included the epidemiology of the 1918 Spanish Flu and the role of local women’s clubs in the women’s suffrage movement.
Lastly, and most importantly is interest. Pleasing our guests, members, and donors is one of our top priorities. If people aren’t interested in the topic, they won’t visit the museum. To gauge community interest, I pay close attention to current events, museum trends, and visitor survey feedback.
With that, I would love to hear from you! Please leave me some feedback in the comments section below. What exhibits have you loved in the past and why? What do you hope to see from us in the future? Do you want more “behind the scenes” content? I look forward to reading your responses.