For Teachers: How to Stage your own Exhibition

Two school children look into a glass case containing a toy at the V&A Museum of Childhood.

Kids view the exhibition at the Museum of Childhood

© Culture Street

    • An exhibition is really just a collection of things that have been brought together – to tell a story, explain or illustrate an idea, or simply because they look good. They might include objects, artworks, letters, photos or films. They can be on a grand, blockbuster, scale, like Hollywood Costume at the V&A or the World War I galleries at the Imperial War Museum or small and specialized like this history of Jewish people in Britain in just 50 objects.

      Exhibitions are one of the many ways that museums and galleries help people access their collections. And they are finding more and more creative ways to showcase them and connect them with different audiences. Staging a school exhibition is a great way of focusing a project, promoting creative and collaborative work and providing a real world context for developing skills across the curriculum. It is also a good excuse for a launch party – and to invite the local press to run a feature on your school. Involve the pupils in as much of the planning, development and decision making as possible.

      Follow these steps to staging your own exhibition:

      1.    What will the exhibition be about and who will it be for? These are the two key questions – which can’t really be separated. Whatever you decide to put on show, and no matter how interesting you might think it is, it must attract and intrigue other people – your audience. Most parents will be delighted to come and view the results of their children’s work, for example, but how could you make it more interesting for their older brothers and sisters, or for other schools or people in the community?

      Your exhibition could be:
      -    A celebration of a topic or project
      -    An illustration of the history of your school or the local area
      -    A display of contemporary artworks by pupils (and staff)
      -    A retrospective of artworks by ex pupils (and staff)
      -    A display of artworks by a guest artist or artists from the community
      -    Results of a competition

      2.    Key messages – Is there anything you would like your visitors to have learned? What do you want them to ‘take away’ from their visit?

      3.    How will you group and display your exhibits? Will they be themed? Chronological? Will they work together to tell a story?

      4.    Interpretation  - How will you tell the stories in your exhibition? How will your audience know what it is about? How will they find out about the things you have included? Will you use labels, films, live ‘explainers’ (people in the exhibition to talk to the visitors), actor interpreters, digital tablets? Will you invite your visitors to leave their own thoughts, comments, ideas or information about the exhibition? It’s a good idea to visit other exhibitions and look at how the museum or gallery has done this.

      5.    Where will you stage it? Will your exhibition have it’s own space or be distributed and integrated through the school? Will it be inside or outside in the school grounds? You could even make your own Museum or Art Gallery.

      6.    Marketing - How will your audience find out about your exhibition? Pupils can make and distribute posters and flyers, send e-flyers, and spread the word through local clubs. And all good exhibitions should have an ‘opening’ - which is a good excuse for a party. You could invite parents and families, and special guests from the community. Ask a local ‘VIP’ like the Mayor or a member of staff from you local art gallery or museum to officially open your exhibition. Invite the press to cover the event and review the exhibition. The school band can provide the music, pupils can make drinks and nibbles and be on hand to welcome their guests and show them around.

      7.    What do you think? Invite visitors to leave a comment or contribution. This could be via a simple comment book, or be more creative. Visitors could:
      -    Leave a comment, sketch or drawing inspired by the exhibition to create a ‘feedback’ wall.
      -    Leave an answer to a ‘big question’ on a digital tablet or large whiteboard like the Qrator project at the Grant Museum.
      -    Create their own label for a mystery object or photo like this lovely interpretation of a shoe from the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

      Virtual exhibition: Why not create an online exhibition. You could use the school website or a social media or blogging site like Pinterest, Tumblr or Instagram. It’s never been easier to take and upload digital photographs of your collection; films and sound can easily be recorded and transferred using a smart phone or tablet. Many museums and galleries have great online exhibitions or collections which can inspire like Tate Modern’s ‘highlights’ or these themed collections from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. You could highlight a particular object or artwork like these from the Design Museum

      Curriculum links

      Staging your own exhibition can support and enrich learning across the curriculum.

      Historical enquiry
      -    Identifying and using useful primary sources
      -    Gathering, selecting, assessing and presenting evidence
      -    Questioning
      -    Assessing reliability and bias
      -    Looking at multiple perspectives – was everyone’s experience the same..?
      -    Thinking about what/which voices might be missing?
      -    Developing and substantiating an answer, argument or narrative

      Creative and critical thinking
      -    Generating ideas
      -    Questioning assumptions and exploring possibilities
      -    Innovating, testing and adapting
      -    Creating

      -    Developing language and vocabulary
      -    Persuading and arguing
      -    Qualifying and justifying
      -    Discussing and debating
      -    Communicating in different forms for different purposes


      -    Effective searching
      -    Analysing
      -    Selecting
      -    Evaluating
      -    Presenting
      -    Repurposing
      -    Combining multiple applications

      Personal development
      -    Working collaboratively
      -    Taking responsibility
      -    Planning

      Artsmark and Arts award

      Artsmark is a nationally recognised sign of commitment to high quality arts and cultural education. It enables education settings to evaluate, celebrate and strengthen a quality arts offer and contributes to the cultural aspect of Ofsted’s requirement that a school promotes students’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Using museums and galleries to support classroom work, or developing you own museum, gallery, archive or exhibition is a great way for your school to gain Artsmark.  Find out more about Artsmark and its impact here.

      Arts Award is a range of unique qualifications inspiring young people to connect with and take part in the wider world of arts, heritage and culture through different challenges at different levels. Through Arts Award young people gain a nationally recognised qualification enabling them to progress into further education and employment. Find out more here and how museums and galleries can support young people in gaining Arts Award.
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