We often get asked by our clients, “What exhibits should we have in our space?” For many of them, this often boils down to “We have limited funds, so how should we best utilize them?” We feel the pressure that our clients are under, having such large and important stories to tell, but never quite having enough money to do all that they want.
We always evaluate their specific mission, goals, resources, and situations, and come back with answers tailored to their site. But we also take a different approach, looking not only at what they should include but also what they shouldn’t. What exhibits will not work? Which ones will waste precious funds without much “bang for the buck”? Which ones will bore visitors or keep them disengaged? So without further ado, here are five exhibits to consider carefully before spending your money on them.
- Exhibits using extravagant materials and building methods
Unless your organization is overflowing with cash, do not use extravagant materials and complex building methods just for the sake of doing so. What is the visitor gaining from these? What is your organization gaining from these, instead of directing that money towards an impactful interpretive exhibit that actually teaches something? The money would be better spent on an immersive experience or interactive that is content driven..
- Water exhibits
If you are going to have water exhibits, you need to completely understand what you are getting into. Exhibits with water require a lot of upkeep and are very costly from a maintenance standpoint. The money – and staff time wasted for upkeep – could perhaps be better spent.
- Graphics with a ton of text
We’ve mentioned this before on the blog, but it is so important that it is worth repeating. Do not waste your money producing graphics that have tons and tons of text. Less is always more! Visitors do not read long text, and graphic panels take more time – and money – to research, write, and produce for each additional block of text incorporated. Graphics are expensive, so get the best “bang for the buck” by keeping text minimal. Your visitors and your wallet will thank you! A single impactful image can evoke emotional responses and say a thousand words without the words.
- Static exhibits
Your exhibits should always pull the visitor in and encourage interaction. They should be participatory, hands-on, and multisensory. They should make the visitors active participants and even contributors. Do not waste your money on static, overly didactic exhibits that are mere “books on the wall” or artifacts behind glass. Tell a story with the artifact helping to make it the star of the show rather than just an object to look at. Help the visitor focus on what makes that artifact important and why. Less is more so don’t display all 20 of the same rifle when one can tell the story effectively and you can rotate the other 19. This could save you money in artifact mounting and display case size.
- Do not make your visitors do math!
Unless you are a math museum, of course! Visitors – especially to history and nature museums – want the math done for them. So say that Abraham Lincoln was 56 when he died – do not make visitors subtract his birth date from his death date!
We’re on a roll, so why not add a sixth exhibit to avoid? Shy away from exhibits with trendy technology. They are expensive, hard to maintain, and become obsolete quickly. They are almost always unproven, untested, and sure to be just a temporary fad. Nine out of ten times you will frustrate museum staff and visitors with error messages and complications.
So there you have it – six exhibits to not waste your money on. Of course, in the end, everything really depends on the client – on your specific site and its goals. These rules are by no means ironclad. But they do offer an excellent starting point, coming from our 26 years of experience. As they say, “Life is too short for bad exhibits!”