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  • Writer's picturePhillip Ratliff

Choosing a platform for a traveling exhibit

Updated: 4 days ago

Not everyone wants to walk into a museum. Traveling exhibits let you take your message to new audiences. It’s an opportunity Backstory is dealing with right now, in its work with the Alabama Holocaust Commission. Here are a few tidbits to help you design a traveling exhibit that reaches audiences with your message. 


An especially popular venue is public libraries. This category makes sense for several reasons. First, there’s space. And there’s staff to help with setup and ongoing operation and maintenance of the exhibit. 


And most importantly, libraries provide a steady audience of learners. In a library there are lots of opportunities for missional tie-ins. Besides displays of curated books on the topic of your exhibit, talks and film viewings are a regular part of a library’s life. 


College campuses are another. Well over a quarter of a million people are enrolled in one of Alabama’s institutions of higher education. That’s about five percent of the state’s population! And not just any five percent, but a motivated, eager-to-learn segment that might be attuned to your message. 


Platforms for traveling exhibits are numerous. Backstory found an excellent one in Alabama company Expo’s Multiquad system. The Multiquad is versatile. It packs and ships easily. Panel replacement is cheap and hassle free. (You’ll chip a few panels, no matter how careful you are.) It’s easy for laypeople to assemble, with proper supervision under just one experienced guide. (That guide has usually been me.)


And you don’t want to just slap book copy onto those panels. You need an interpretive plan. A layered strategy — one that recognizes the different levels of commitment to your content — is essential to your success. You’ll have multiple panels. How do you take a feast of a topic and chop it into three-minute bites that flow but still let people jump in wherever they decide to jump in? Laypeople err on this one all the time.


Finally, you need guidance. An exhibit costs tens of thousands of dollars, usually of money you must account for with granting agencies and foundations. The last thing you want is to be in the graphic design phase without having a script everybody, including your funders, believes in. (This isn’t just a traveling exhibit maxim.) A design-build process that lets you buy in at key points along the way keeps you in the driver’s seat and funders in the know. 


To discuss how Backstory can help you launch your interpretive space, contact Phil Ratliff at 205.234.0336, ratliffphillip@gmail.com. It's surprisingly easy and may cost less than you think.

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