Behind the Scenes

Not only work for the curators: How do I plan an exhibition?

To design an exhibition in a museum is a highly complex process. Many different staff members are involved – the maintenance man, colleagues who are working at the cashier's desk, as well as the curators. The DDR Museum is currently working on a new part of its permanent exhibition – find out more about it here. In the following text I would like to give you a little insight into what it takes to plan a new exhibition!
by Maria Bartholomäus (1 Jun 2016)

To design an exhibition in a museum is a highly complex process. Many different staff members are involved – the maintenance man, colleagues who are working at the cashier's desk, as well as the curators. The DDR Museum is currently working on a new part of its permanent exhibition – find out more about it here. In the following text I would like to give you a little insight into what it takes to plan a new exhibition!

 

Different types of exhibitions

Generally there are two different types of exhibitions: Special exhibits, which are only on display for a couple of months, and permanent exhibitions, which are designed to be shown for up to ten years. At the moment, the DDR Museum is planning an exhibit of the permanent kind.

As a first step it is necessary to decide what topic is to be discussed. Many different approaches are possible here: monographic exhibitions with works by a specific artist, exhibits with photographs concerning a distinctive topic, enlargements of already existing parts of the permanent exhibition or an examination of new research results in science. The DDR Museum is a museum focusing on cultural history and is dealing with a specific episode of German history. According to our orientation on communicating everyday life in the GDR, our new exhibition will also shed light on different aspects on life in the GDR.

 

What is it about?

Once the general topic is decided, the different subtopics need to be phrased. In this connection it is important to bear a reasonable addition to the already existing exhibition in mind. It is also important to demarcate the own design against other museums in order to prevent sheathings in regards to content. Depending on the space which is at disposal for the exhibit it is possible to define as many subtopics as desired.

As soon as those different aspects are settled, the next step is the precision work. Each topic needs a number of messages which are to be communicated to the visitors. This communication can take on many different forms. One of them would be the text which visitors can read – for example texts concerning a specific subject, a certain display or a single object. Objects are either generated from the museum's own collection or are purposefully organized for the exhibition purpose. Since the DDR Museum is showing a "hands-on experience of history", interactive elements are also a central part of the planning. Most of the time, the work on the design of content, media installations as well as the exhibition's architecture is happening simultaneously.

Furthermore, the coordination of information among all staff members concerned is a particular challenge. The curators are working on content, the graphic designer is working on texts and illustrations, the site manager is supervising the construction work, colleagues at the collection department are preparing objects – and everyone needs to be up to date. Sharing of information is taking place both by word of mouth as well as in written form and digitally. Regular meetings with all staff members involved are also of vital importance – always with the schedule and opening date in mind, which needs to be met in any case once it has been communicated to the public.

Another part of the work on a new exhibition is the conception of educational programs. They are based on the content on display and are suitable for different target groups. The DDR Museum offers programs for school groups, international guests as well as individual adults. The new exhibition part will be integrated into already existing formats. Both the curators as well as the guides performing the programs are involved in the preparation.

 

Bearing in mind all sorts of aspects

Other elements of the planning process are for example the rights clearance of both audio and visual information, organizing the installation of technical equipment, the professional communication of the opening date to the public as well as planning an opening event.

 

New permanent exhibition part at the DDR Museum

The preparation of the new part of our permanent exhibition is going full speed – we are looking forward to be presenting even more everyday life in the GDR with interesting objects and innovative media installations soon. Stay curious!

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