Skip to Main Content

Museum Studies in the Twenty-First Century: Theory and Praxis (September): Exhibitions

By Juilee Decker


Careful, thoughtful work is part of the exhibition process, and this is the subject of Beth Hansen’s Great Exhibits!: An Exhibit Planning and Construction Handbook for Small Museums; Tom Klobe’s Exhibitions: Concept, Planning, and Design; and The Manual of Museum Exhibitions (second edition), edited by Barry Lord and Gail Dexter Lord. Hansen’s succinct guide features some hundred illustrations and photographs, easy-to-use worksheets, and a companion website; Klobe examines the ways in which good exhibit design “makes viewers aware of the objects and the exhibit concept, not the way they are exhibited.” The Manual of Museum Exhibitions addresses the exhibition process in terms of four questions: why? where? what? and how? Polly McKenna-Cress and Janet Kamien’s Creating Exhibitions: Collaboration in the Planning, Development, and Design of Innovative Experiences foregrounds the importance of collaboration, likening it to movie-making or mounting a stage play rather than delivering a monologue. The authors approach the subject through the lens of advocation—advocating for the institution, for the subject matter, for visitor experiences, for design, and for project and team. Although in Dinosaurs and Dioramas: Creating Natural History Exhibitions, Sarah Chicone and Richard Kissel take up exhibit strategy of natural history museum collections, the insights and step-by-step processes they offer apply to all exhibition design. In The Art of Museum Exhibitions: How Story and Imagination Create Aesthetic Experiences, Leslie Bedford argues that exhibition development is an art form that relies on imagination and calls for attention to narrative and aesthetic education.

In addition to display, interpretation is at the root of exhibition practice. Freeman Tilden provides guidance on this subject in Interpreting Our Heritage (first published in 1957, now in its fourth edition, ed. by R. Bruce Craig and Russell E. Dickenson). Tilden introduced six principles of interpretation, including finding personal meaning and inspiration in resources—in this case the National Park Service.

Seeking to guide museum professionals and those in training in becoming more inclusive of visitor perspectives when planning for visitor experiences, Marcella Wells, Barbara Butler, and Judith Koke’s Interpretive Planning for Museums: Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Decision Making elaborates a process for planning and decision making—highlighting outcomes and impacts related to visitor experiences and describing and encouraging visitor perspectives in planning and decision making.