Make your own exhibition

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Create your own communication project

Want to get others involved in changing the world? There’s nobody better than you to influence the decisions that your friends and acquaintances make. People trust people they know, more than they trust strangers. Go on. Speak up. Help create the kind of world you want to live in. Make videos or games, create posters, construct a website, write a song or make a display. The possibilities are endless. It doesn’t matter how large or small your project, or how you choose to get the message across, use the skills you have and gather new ones as you go.

One potential project is to create an exhibition. A class might put together a small exhibition for the rest of the school, or a school might present a display in a local shopfront or at a community centre.

This guide is designed primarily to assist you with developing an exhibition of your own. However, the same steps can be applied to other projects, such as making a website or video. There are many tasks involved, including structuring ideas, locating useful information, gathering resources and communicating effectively. The steps are useful for both very simple projects and complex ones.


How to design your exhibition: a guide

Download the How to Design Your Exhibition guide (PDF, 106KB)


Make friends and start a conversation

Here are some handy hints to effective communication:

Create a conversation with your audience
Find out what people want to know and provide answers to questions that might already be in their minds. For example, ‘How can I have a garden when there are water restrictions?’ or ‘How can I reduce the amount of petrol I have to buy?’

Raising awareness alone does not lead to behaviour change
Whenever you can, give people an opportunity to get involved in a shared activity where they can influence, and learn from, each other.

Appeal to people’s values
Think about who you’re talking to. What is it that will make them feel good? What are they keen to protect?

Try praise rather than criticism
Pointing the finger of blame just turns people off – nobody likes to be told they’re wicked.

Be inclusive
Instead of phrases like ‘you should’, try ‘we can’.

Be positive
Doom-and-gloom scenarios make people feel helpless.

Provide difficult facts, by all means, but suggest solutions to problems as well
In your exhibition, physically place the solutions as close as possible to the problems.

Involve individuals or institutions that your community trusts
Get them to endorse or actively participate in your project. Honesty, demonstrated commitment to the community’s wellbeing, expertise and lack of bias are all good attributes to look for in a champion.


Plan your project

Who’s involved? Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each team member from the outset. These roles might change but make sure that everybody knows who’s responsible for what, and how they will work within the team. There are also a whole lot of specialists you might call on for assistance. They include professionals from local businesses and organisations, radio stations, newspapers, your library and your local museum or gallery. Make a list of people or groups you might call on for help.

Every project is different but these are the sorts of roles people might have in your core project team:

co-ordinator, researcher, writer, artist, video-maker, webmaster, designer, builder, publicist to promote the project to the community.

Download the Plan Your Project template (PDF, 74KB)


Aim and main message

What’s your aim?
Think about who you are trying to reach and what you are trying to achieve.

A clear aim will give you focus, save enormous amounts of energy, and allow you to evaluate whether or not your project has been successful.

It’s important that your aim is both realistic and measurable. For example, you might aim to increase the number of households with rainwater tanks from 5% of the community to 60% of the community over a two-year period.

Establishing your aim will require you to research what’s already going on in your community.

What’s your main message?
Once you’ve decided on your aim, state your main message clearly so that every part of the project can be developed to support the message.
Write it down – in less than 25 words. Being brief will ensure that it is focussed.

For example: If you’re trying to get people to install rainwater tanks the message might be: “A rainwater tank can ensure water for your family and garden during drought.”

Download the Your Project’s Aim and Main Message template (PDF, 74KB)

Brainstorm your topic

Once you’ve selected your topic, discuss ideas with your project team to identify the important factors around an issue.


Create your storyline

Once you’ve brainstormed, organise your thoughts.

For an environmental topic, you could sort your ideas under four headings:

What’s the problem?
What does that mean for us?
What’s causing the problem?
How can we solve the problem?
By doing this you’ll be able to separate the ideas that came up in your brainstorming session into clear groups. It will help you to identify issues that need further research and create a story that leads people logically through your information.

Download the Create Your Storyline template (PDF, 70KB)


Organise your information

The ideas gathered during your brainstorming session could be organised something like this:

The topic

  • Burning fossil fuels for energy is causing the climate to change.

What’s the problem?

  • Fossil fuels give off greenhouse gases when they burn. The gases are forming a ‘blanket’ that’s warming the Earth.
  • Is the climate really changing? How?
  • What’s this greenhouse effect? Is it real?
  • What’s a fossil fuel?
  • But we need electricity!
  • What about the rest of the world? We sell lots of coal to other countries. Can Australians really make a difference?

What does that mean for us?

  • If the climate gets hotter and drier, crops will fail and water will become scarce.
  • Droughts, storms and bushfires will get worse. Sea levels will rise.

What’s causing the problem?

  • Greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere when we burn coal, oil and gas to power cars, trucks, businesses and homes.
  • Ninety per cent of Australia’s electricity is produced by burning coal.
  • It takes energy to make everything. The energy used to make something is called embedded energy.
  • Transporting people, food and other products long distances burns a lot of fuel.

How can we solve the problem?

  • Recycling materials like metals and plastic is more energy efficient than making them from raw materials each time.
  • Some products are designed to use very little energy.
  • There are alternative sources of energy, such as wave, wind, solar, hydro, hot dry rock.
  • We can all buy less manufactured stuff. That way manufacturers use less energy because they don’t sell so much stuff.


Make your selection

It’s now time to choose which information to use in your exhibition.

The biggest, and most important, job is to choose what to leave out. Keep it simple. Most audiences want information that’s easy to absorb, so leave out things that confuse and distract.

Be guided by your main message and don’t try to cover too many topics at once.


Structure your exhibition

Exhibitions tell stories but they are not exactly like books or films.

People don’t sit passively and view them from start to finish. Most people will look first at some of the pictures and three-dimensional objects, then read labels about something that has captured their attention.

That’s why it’s important to present your exhibition as ‘packets of information’ which can be sampled individually or as a whole.

Most exhibitions are divided into themes.

Each theme is a packet of information about one issue. If necessary, each theme can also be broken into smaller packets, called subthemes.

Limit each theme to fewer than five subthemes or you might confuse your viewers.

Download the Exhibition Structure template (PDF, 250KB)


Choose and organise your content

Once you have your structure, fill it with content. What will you actually put on display to explain your themes and subthemes? You can use 3-dimensional objects, photos, illustrations, videos, and hands-on activities along with labels to accompany them. You could display an actual photograph as an object or you could reproduce it as a graphic.

Remember that an exhibition is a three-dimensional presentation. Its purpose is to put things on show. If you find your project is more about words than objects then your ideas might be better suited to another style of project such as a website or book.

When choosing your exhibition content, here are some tips:

  • Clear, strong images convey clear strong messages.
  • Think laterally about how you can represent ideas.
  • Surprise and delight people, if you can, by choosing unexpected items to display. Pique their curiosity. For example,
  • instead of using a steel can to illustrate the recycling of metal, select a kitchen sink, saucepan or metal car part instead.
  • Appeal to people’s senses, with sounds and things to touch if possible.
  • Get people emotionally involved. Make them feel something: excitement, wonder, fear, happiness, compassion, sadness, relief. Make it personal. People relate to other people so include their stories.
  • Make it believable. Include facts from authoritative sources, and acknowledge those sources.
    Focus on solutions to problems.
  • Speak to the right people. If you’re approaching a business to supply content for your exhibition, make sure you talk to the marketing manager rather than the general manager. The marketing manager will understand why it’s important for their company to be involved. If you’re approaching a research group like CSIRO, ask to speak to the communication manager.

An object is a three-dimensional thing. Museums tend to define objects as precious things that are part of their historic collections. In your exhibition, the objects might or might not be valuable but you’ll need to think about how you’ll stop or discourage people from handling them or taking them. It could be as simple as putting a small barrier on the floor so people can’t get too close and making some ‘do not touch’ signs.

If you’re creating a large exhibition, trying to keep track of all the images and three-dimensional objects can be chaotic. The best way to manage them is to set up a ring-binder full of plastic sleeves for each one of your themes. Divide the binder into the appropriate number of subthemes. Then, for each object, fill out an Object Documentation form and put it into one of the sleeves in the binder along with a photograph of the object. Similarly, complete and file a Graphic Documentation form for each image that you plan to use. Be sure to include a print of that image. It’s helpful to file the image’s completed Copyright Clearance form in the same sleeve.

Write an exhibition brief

One of the best ways to organise content is in an exhibition brief. Writing the brief makes you think about your storyline, communication methods and the type of experience viewers will have. It helps organise three-dimensional objects, images and labels to support your storyline, and it lets you see at a glance what your exhibition consists of.

The brief is intended for everyone working on the exhibition. It enables them to become familiar with, and agree on, the exhibition’s aims, audiences, key concepts, communication strategies and content. It is a working document that will be updated during the exhibition’s development.

This exhibition brief template will be useful for your own project.

Download the Exhibition Brief template (PDF, 66KB)

Here’s a sample brief for an exhibition about products designed to reduce the burning of of fossil fuels:

Exhibition title: Designing for our future

Aim: Within six months, increase by 50% the number of people in our community who buy products designed to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

Main message: Every one of us has the power to slow climate change by making smart consumer choices.

Audience: Shoppers of all ages.

Download the Exhibition Brief example (PDF, 102KB)


More tips and resources

You can find more information here about writing labels and designing the physical layout of your exhibition. Don’t forget to obtain copyright clearance if you use other people’s images or words!

Download the model release form (PDF, 74KB) 
Download the Object Documentation form (PDF, 70KB)
Download the Graphic Documentation form (PDF, 66KB)
Download the Copyright Clearance form (PDF, 74KB)
Download the How to Design Your Exhibition guide (PDF, 106KB) 
Download the How to Take an Oral History Guide (PDF, 82KB)
Download the How to Produce Your Labels guide (PDF, 139KB)

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