Producing An Exhibition

Authored by: Nicole Fletcher on November 18, 2013

WAG staff helping to install a painting by Carl Beam in 2011.

At the Winnipeg Art Gallery we try to present a variety of exhibitions that are thought provoking and will appeal to various groups of people. To do this, we either create exhibitions in-house, meaning that our curators organize the exhibition themselves, or out-of-house, meaning that the exhibition was put together by another institution or a freelance curator. Regardless of if an exhibition is in- or out-of-house there is a lot of work for WAG staff to get the show ready for the public.

After the curator plans the exhibition the work begins to actually display the show. Most galleries have their exhibition schedule planned several years in advance because installing an exhibition is such a lengthy and costly process. In a 2002 report the Smithsonian Institute discovered that the average cost for one of their art exhibitions was $90,000USD. Below is a brief description of some of the major aspects to getting an exhibition ready:

If any works are being borrowed from other galleries, loans must be arranged. Loans can be quite a complicated process since works must be shipped via fine arts shippers and packed in specialized crates. Sometimes organizations will even send one of their employees with the borrowed works to ensure their safe travel and to help with proper installation. Logistics become even more complicated if works must cross the border.

Exhibition Installation:
Sometimes drastic changes must also be made to the galleries. Visitors will often notice a new arrangement of walls when visiting the WAG. For The Clock we even had to create an entire theatre for proper showing of the exhibition! The walls must also be repainted each time a new exhibition is installed. On top of that, labels need to be created for each work plus any banners or vinyl signage that will be needed for the exhibition. Works also need to be framed and pedestals created. All of this adds up to many hours of work for our Preparation team.

Copyright & Reproduction:
Another aspect of exhibition costs that often go unnoticed is copyright fees. Generally, under Canadian copyright law works of art are only in the public domain if the artist passed away more than fifty years ago. Therefore there are many works which are not in public domain so we must contact the artist and/or lending institution to receive permission to use images of their artwork (this includes photography in the exhibition space) for the exhibition.

Of course we need to let the public know about the exhibition as well. This involves advertising in various methods, mail outs, emails, promotional posters, banners, billboards, bus signs, and newspapers. All of the fees associated with posting ads plus the cost and time for designing and production really adds up!

Certainly there are other aspects to getting an exhibition ready such as educational materials, security, merchandizing, tour guide training, etc. As you can tell is it a complex process involving many people and steps. You can even donate specifically to helping us with exhibition costs.

Do you have any questions, comments, or experiences about installing or creating an exhibition? Please leave them below in the comments section.

Nicole Fletcher works in the Education and Communications departments at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and is in the Joint Masters History Program at the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg.

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