Creating an Exhibition – Part 1

I have just started a new term within my Master degree of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester and that means a new module… Exhibitions! This is an area that I am so excited to learn about because this is the public face of the museum. Exhibitions are how we as museum professionals communicate with the public through objects and interpretations.

Our task within the module was to create an exhibition on the theme of migration, home and belonging around an assigned object. In the case of my group, we were assigned a Spanish olive jar from c. 1750 – 1850. We would have to work in our groups to bring together an exhibition that was creative, informative and exciting.

While seeing what we would have to do over the term, I started to think about my blog and what a fantastic opportunity this would be for me to write about my first experience in creating an exhibition: detailing good points and bad; problems and solutions. So this is part one of this journey.

Our first task was to assign roles within the group and I was very pleased to be made project manager. I love being organised and organising things and I like leading discussions and group work. So I thought that this role would be the perfect fit for me. We decided the roles really quickly and developed a manifesto which we all would work to. As a project manager, the images that flashed into my head were very much those of The Apprentice show. So I began to think about what makes a good project manager, what my role in the group is etc. The first thing I wanted to do is to understand my group. I wanted to know what they wanted to get out of the experience, what they were fearful of and what were their strengths and weaknesses. By doing this, I felt I would be able to be more considerate towards the needs of my group and, if they are not present at a meeting or in delegating tasks, better represent them and assign them actions. Some members spoke English as a second language and so there would some language issues that needed to be addressed i.e. ensuring that they fully understood group meetings and giving them opportunities to ask questions. Others wanted certain things out of the project and thus I would have to try and give them opportunities to achieve this.

Secondly as a project manager, I had to begin thinking about how we would plan our time. With one week before the module began, I was anxious not to lose time when it would be perfectly spent researching our object a bit more and to start thinking about a story for our exhibition. This is so that when the modules officially began, we could focus on fine tuning a story idea and making it the best we could (thinking about audience, experience, space etc.).

In addition to this, we had a session on using Gantt charts and I had done a preliminary one for my group, but in our first meeting, all the group will input into saying what tasks are needed to be done and when. I found, at first, these charts scary as I have my own system of planning (my diary etc.) but once we did the workshop on them, I actually grew to really like them and find them a useful tool. I would be interested in seeing some examples from bigger projects within the museum sector.

Having done these actions, as well as posting on our Facebook group the tasks that our group and individuals had to do, I started to think of a story idea for our exhibition. I asked the researchers, creative liaison and education manager to do some study into our object and some different audience groups. I used this work as a leap pad for my story idea. What I found difficult in developing my rough, basic story was ensuring that it was adequate for the audience. I had some interesting ideas in tailoring the story towards children but issues arose when I was thinking about the dimensions of the case, how much information we should/ should not put in, or whether there were any topics in relation to the theme which may be inappropriate to this audience. Because of this, I thought it best to create a balance between the facts presented and to keep a child’s attention. Moreover, this would require a lot more information and facts as set up that children simply would not be interested in. Thus a broader theme, I believe would be a perfect way to introduce to children the period and Spanish colonialism in the Americas. But the story will be developed more in the coming week so I shall go into more detail next week.

Thinking back on understanding my group’s needs, I also had to understand mine. I had never really been in charge of a large group in such an important task. Small groups for presentations but never 10 people. This lack of experience continues to worry me as I want to do a good job, keep my group happy and produce a brilliant exhibition. I know what my strengths are, but it was in this week that I really thought about my weaknesses. I would definitely need to learn how to delegate. Usually I like to be in control in to to ensure that the work I am involved in is the best it can be and so I like to be involved and help do everything; but this cannot be. Upon speaking to one of my tutors, I was advised to see my role as organising people to do the jobs, ensuring that the work is completed on time, to budget and to a good standard. I believe this is the mind set I must have moving forwards and one that will be useful in the future. One person cannot do everything, hence why there are roles. So I know that I am going to have to work hard at delegating and letting group members get on with their tasks. I also found that I got worried about how I was perceived and how I communicated with people. I really do not want to come across bossy, just organised and keeping to the mantra that my tutor advised. This is problematic as if I need to ask someone for some research or remind them about something, I really do not want them to think I am harassing them. So I am trying to develop my communication skills as a leader; how to talk to my group, how to phrase things etc. I try and be cheery giving a fact of the week and I try to keep in mind people’s fears, strengths etc. But I really feel that this experience will help me diminish this fear.

Thank you for reading this post and I hope to upload weekly, a report on our progress and my thoughts during the week. Please comment below if you have any tips about managing people, organising, creating an exhibition or event etc. as I would love to hear some tips on how I could improve as a project manager and some interesting points to think about while we develop our exhibition.

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