Making a temporary museum look professional
April 26, 2016 9:22 AM   Subscribe

A group I'm involved with wants to create and host a temporary local museum. We're struggling though with the logistics of displaying information in the venue while making it look professional.

The space the museum will be displayed in is a screened-in pavilion. Everything is protected from the elements, however there are no walls to hang things on. This is becoming the main problem we're running into.

The vision for the exhibit itself was to create a hallway type exhibit with a large timeline on one side with specific events/profiles on the right. We have glass display cases with shelves, but 70% of the exhibit will be information as opposed to items. We also have an individual offering to loan us the vinyl interior walls to large party tents to use as fabric walls, but that doesn't solve the problem of being able to display information and pictures.

Any ideas for the most economical solution? Posters printed on foam core and sitting on easels? Hanging frames on wires from the ceiling? Constructing walls from lauan? We want it to look professional instead of just a collection of tri-fold posters sitting on folding tables. We've been trying to find examples of temporary museums, but most of what we find are either displaying collections of items or groups that print large trade-show style banners ($$$).

This will most likely be a one-time exhibit and be open for 6 weeks. The current budget is around $500 however that has the potential to increase. I know professional != cheap.. We already have acquired all the pictures and items for the exhibit so the budget is going primarily towards the display.
posted by Deflagro to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a folding partition wall about 16ft long, available for purchase ($1k) but perhaps similar things are available to rent? Donations of used cubicle walls from a local business?
posted by aimedwander at 9:29 AM on April 26, 2016

Have you used the search term pop up museum?

I think plywood is definitely having a moment as a modern, minimal wall material. Chip board and peg board as well. They are really easy to work with, very inexpensive, and you can do something with them afterwards. Also consider used fencing or pallets (around here used fencing is free if you ask for whatever's in the dump out back of a fencing store) from which you could make rustic wooden walls for practically nothing - you can leave them as is or paint them. You can also use the pallet wood for bracing other materials up (for example, a plywood panel wall with pallet wood braces/frame to hold it upright from behind).

Is it possible to project some of the information onto a wall digitally? Or drawn with markers onto a glass panel hanging from the ceiling? Like they do on Flash ;)
posted by the webmistress at 9:35 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

70% of the exhibit will be information as opposed to items

That's a lot of reading, so be aware of traffic moving through the exhibit, especially if your timeline is a one-way type of exhibit. People who read slowly will hold things up. Also, people don't go to museums to read, so I would suggest trying to make as much information as visual as possible with graphs, charts, etc.. Perhaps of that 70% of information, pare it down to the basics for the exhibit and then put the more detailed information in a hand out or brochure.

People will forgive the appearance if they know it is a temporary exhibit, just make sure your content is really good.
posted by NoraCharles at 9:50 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is there any wind blowing? The stiffness of foam core makes it blow around. If you have any wind, then you need to think about securing the pieces in multiple places rather than just mounting from the top.

It there any way to mount a rod from the ceiling that goes the length of the space? You could suspend the documents on fishing line/wire from the rod.
posted by 26.2 at 10:08 AM on April 26, 2016

For 500 bucks you can print a lot of pop-up stands. If the venue is sheltred from wind, I would print my information on the top half of a 3x6.

But regardless of how you do this, with "70% information" you need to understand that typography and layout are going to be the single most important element of making this not fail.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:17 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ah I hadn't found the term pop up museum!

The 70% information isn't all text but also a lot of pictures. I meant "information" as two-dimensional items that won't go in glass-display cases.
posted by Deflagro at 10:35 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hanging frames on wires from the ceiling?

In your situation I'd definitely consider hanging, but do think about the wind factor. Given your small budget, I think the way to achieve "professional" is to go with a design solution that makes a positive out of using cheap materials, but creative ones. At the same time, you want to avoid the visual language of "science fair." So I like the pegboard suggestion - think along those lines, and take a stroll through Home Depot checking out options like wallboard, faux tileboard, etc. I have used currogated plastic sheets in really high-end exhibitions to great effect. Think design-y; think about the aesthetic of pop-up stores, food trucks, etc. - industrial, temporary, simple, repurpose-y. If you lean toward an industrial or construction-y feel, your material choices will be both cheap and cool. Cinderblocks. Slate roof tile. Who knows what you may find! Also, think about what the content of the exhibit is. If there's any way to identify materials, textiles, structures, etc., that harmonize with the content, that will give it a lot of extra oomph. Like, if it were the history of a summer camp, you could last birch poles from a craft store together to make easels. That sort of thing. Use the design to support the content.

Things that make exhibits look "professional":
Thoughtful design: colors, graphics. You could create strong design motifs by using stencils, borders, or icons in a bold color to give them flair. Pay attention to the fonts and heading sizes you use. Come up with a "text hierarchy" That specifies what font, size, and style each level of heading will be. You can lay this out on a sheet of A4, where you list, for instance, the title of the exhibit (H1), the main section headings (H2), subsections (H3), and body text. Try not to have more than four levels, it's confusing. Make sure all fonts you use harmonize with other, and don't use too many. Make sure all the label text and all the headers match one another in style, giving everything a pulled-together, consistent look overall.

Avoid using too much text. Revise, revise, revise until you're super succinct.

Vary the sentence structure and object descriptions. Avoid starting everything with "this is." Consider incorporating quotations, poetry, excerpts and other kinds of voice.

Keep the length of any printed line to between 45 and 55 characters.

Don't use all caps anywhere. Pick a really legible font.

Print your font in very large size for easy reading from a couple feet away.

Hang everything people are supposed to read between 30" and 80."

Get labels professionally printed. Avoid using a computer printout on office paper as your text substrate. Your print shop would be happy to show you some options.

Be really careful with the glass cases. Small objects go in front of big ones. Take a look at the lighting on the cases at different times of day. Try to avoid glare on the tops of the cases. Make sure you can read any text in the cases easily, without having to contort yourself or crane over the case. Try to sit objects on a dark background - it makes them easier to see.

For photos, maps, and stuff, consider alternative formats for presenting them. You can certainly hang them in a collage, in the expected "stamp album" style, but you could also have them in a flip-book that's just a scrapbook from a craft store, cycling as a slide show on an old computer, on multiple sides of a spinner, up and down a column, etc.

In general, I think pop-up exhibits are the most successful when they acknowledge their temporary, low-cost nature and use it playfully to support the theme, rather than trying to emulate a permanent indoor museum too slavishly. The professionalism isn't so much in the cost of materials but in the creativity and imagination behind it, and the thoughtful organization of the material.

It sounds like a cool project. Please update us when you're done! I'd love to know what you do.
posted by Miko at 11:09 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

"Pop-Up Museum" and "pop-up gallery" are great search terms, too, especially for image searches. Love this clothesline: a great way to display small photos and stories. Look at this cool thing: echoing the "temple" style museum with architectural structure, and I think those clear walls are pocket shower curtains with images tucked inside.

Final thought - keep an eye on Craigslist for free or cheap stuff like old retail display fixtures.
posted by Miko at 11:15 AM on April 26, 2016

Fonts: Sans-serif for short title/headlines that will be read at a distance, serif for body text. Look for ones that work together.

And if you end up using foam-core, take the time to bevel the edges so that the back of the foam-core is slightly smaller than the front. (You can do it by hand using a cutting blade and a straight edge, but make sure your cutting blade is SHARP!) It's one of those tiny touches that instantly makes it look more professional, and I wonder why people didn't do it when I see it.
posted by telophase at 11:48 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

On second look at that link for "this cool thing," I no longer think it's clear shower curtain (though that's a fun idea), but instead, "craft show" wire grid panels - another option.
posted by Miko at 11:57 AM on April 26, 2016

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