Touring exhibitions should be able to offer an experience visitors can’t get anywhere else,” says Paul Lee, design director at Mather & Co. “Whether that be a unique object or collection, a behind the scenes visit, or an exhibition which captures a personal story or important moment in time, it should stand out by being engaging, relevant and appealing to a wide range of people.
“A good exhibition should immerse visitors. It should be a form of escapism.”
According to Vastari’s Exhibition Finance Report, touring exhibitions are a buoyant growth sector and can be a powerful way to engage with new audiences. The study, which focussed on 20,000 members of the International Council of Museums, found that on average museums hold seven exhibitions a year.
The main motivation is to display new material and attract a wider audience, with “building public profile and reputation” coming a close second. Surveys from Imagine Exhibitions found that an average of 40 per cent of visitors to its exhibitions are first time visitors to the host venue, proving that travelling exhibitions are an excellent way to engage new audiences and deliver mission-based programming to different communities.
Content is king
President and CEO of Imagine Exhibitions, Tom Zaller, says to stage a successful exhibition it’s crucial at the outset to find out the client’s goals – for example, to boost ticket sales, or provide robust educational content – and then tailor the experience accordingly. 90 per cent of Imagine’s visitors rate experiences 4/5 or 5/5, which Zaller reckons ups the likelihood of them returning to the institution in the future.
Compelling experiences with a strong narrative are what people are looking for: “People want immersive, shareable, interactive experiences, with a story at the core,” says Zaller. “They’re no longer interested in a separation between themselves and the experience – they want to be inside the experience, to be a part of it.
Venues are looking for the same. According to Imagine’s recent industry survey, more than 50 per cent of venues who book travelling exhibitions are seeking tactile, hands-on interactives as a part of the experience.
Visitors, says Lee, should be drawn into the narrative through engaging design, creating an emotional journey. “Good exhibitions typically have a change of pace throughout the visit to keep it fresh, which can be delivered through visual stimuli, standout “wow” moments and clear communication from the exhibition to the visitor,” he says.
Staying on trend
As well as reaching new audiences, travelling exhibitions allow venues to stay relevant at a much lower cost than a permanent exhibition. In a recent industry survey, Imagine found that climate change, dinosaurs, artificial intelligence, immigration and space were the subjects which venues are most interested in discussing. To stage new permanent exhibitions could be prohibitively expensive, but touring exhibitions make delivering these experiences much more feasible.
Lee also points out that touring exhibitions can be good revenue generators in themselves: “The temporary exhibition programme is a vital part of revenue generation, whether firsthand through ticket sales and merchandise, or passively through secondary spend, which can be incorporated through promotional add-ons, such as photo opportunities.”
Going forward, Zaller predicts there will be an ongoing use of IPs to create strong storylines which people are familiar with, making for an easier sell: “We licensed and developed a successful Jurassic World exhibition a few years ago,” he says, “and have worked on producing Hunger Games: The Exhibition, as well as many other popular IPs. If the right IP is well executed, there’s a lot of opportunity.”
Mather & Co spent three months meeting the producers and creators of Downton Abbey before committing to a final design of the exhibition. “As it uses real objects and props from the show, as well as its characters, it needed to feel authentic,” says Lee. “We had the creators, producers, directors and writers of the show working alongside us the whole time to ensure it was spot on.”
Lee says that within the museum sector there’s a small shift towards venues being created which focus on delivering a temporary or changing rotation of stories and collections through exhibition programmes and the downsizing of permanent displays. “There’s a definite requirement in all the projects we work on for the capacity to update, refresh, generate new content and ensure repeat visitors are as much of the target audience as new visitors,” he says.
Another burgeoning trend is allow digital access to exhibitions. “I don’t believe that virtual or digital exhibitions will ever replace the tangible, sensory nature of visiting the real thing, but it’s allowing access to be granted to a wider audience, extending the brand and providing a dialogue with new generations of visitors, which can only be a good thing,” adds Lee.
In terms of content, Zaller says the world of video games and apps are opening up a whole new realm of fandom: “Angry Birds is a great example – what started as a gaming app has now grown into a film franchise, with a second film released this year alongside the existing live entertainment brand extensions like Angry Birds Universe.”
Consumer trends suggest touring exhibitions and pop-ups are here to stay. Millennials prefer to spend their money on an experience rather than material items. Also, as online retailers are leading to a weakening of the physical retail landscape, Zaller points out that this leaves developers re-imagining and repurposing existing assets in new ways
“The “pop-up” trend has started to grow, especially in the US,” he says. “There’s also a hunger for live experiences. People will always crave opportunities to make memories together and share them with each other. Travelling exhibitions, immersive experiences and entertainment are the perfect platform for consumers to come together and share in a meaningful experience.”
Does size matter?
In terms of the perfect host venue, a good sized space which is easily accessible and with high footfall is ideal. However, not ticking all of these boxes doesn’t mean a venue won’t be a success. A popular exhibition can draw visitors to out of the way locations and flexible design can allow unlikely venues to accommodate touring exhibitions.
Lee says that small, intimate spaces often lend themselves well to this use. Zaller says if the host is keen they can usually come up with a creative solution – in the past this has involved using climate controlled tents in the grounds of a venue.
Another concern which is sometimes voiced by venues is the maintenance of high tech interactives. Imagine has overcome this barrier by working with Scitech which designs robust interactives, many of which can be maintained remotely.