My first year as Vastari's travelling exhibitions manager

A year ago I joined Vastari as the Travelling exhibitions manager. In 12 months that I’ve been with the company the number of exhibitions on Vastari rose by 120%, the number of clients quadrupled, I’ve attended 5 international conferences, the size of my team tripled, and an in-house matchmaking team was developed. These are fantastic numbers that any company would be happy to brag about yet behind each number is a lesson learnt and here are the 5 lessons I learnt over the last 365 days:

1 - Travelling Exhibitions are a Wild West
There is no other way of putting it the travelling exhibitions industry is a wild wild west. There are no regulations, there are no standards, and there is no guidance on pricing.

The most successful attempt at standardisation that I have come across in the industry is actually Vastari Exhibitions. Which is a bit crazy when you think about it but at the same time it makes sense. We did not set up to do this, standardisation became a by-product of us working internationally and listening to the museums we worked with.

I heard the same comments about our platform, and suggestions for exhibition profiles from people all over the world, I passed on that feedback to our product team, who in turn conducted a user research, the results of the research were fed into the creation of the new exhibition profiles. One of the more controversial decisions was that we made it compulsory to post prices of the exhibitions which contributed to the growing transparency of the industry.


2 - Museums love to talk about what they do

One of the most exciting changes that Vastari Exhibitions went through was that from ‘tell nothing’ we did a 180 degree turn to 'tell all’. A year ago the working assumption was that we should keep the exhibitions we have on the platform under wraps and that information about them should be only available to Vastari members. After a few months, it became obvious that when it came to their travelling exhibitions museums were happy for us to brag to everyone and anyone.


3 - There is room for innovation
Museums often get a bad reputation when it comes to being innovative. Some of it, to a degree, is deserved: small budgets, planning 18 to 36 months in advance, and slow decision-making processes does mean that in some instances museums are not early adopters of technology. This said museums are becoming more and more enthusiastic about technology as a tool. All conferences I attended in the last year dedicated a lot of time to talking about new technologies as well as showcasing them. This change is coming not just from companies selling services to museums but also from within as more and more staff members introduce new social media strategies, as well as spear head ideas about apps, beacons, new websites, and new platforms.  There is definitely a lot out there and there is room for more.


4 - Museums are businesses
You can accuse me of spending too much time with museum development managers, travelling exhibition managers, fundraisers, and communication people but more and more museums I meet are becoming more and more strategic in their thinking. Unlike for-profit businesses it is not always the money that drives museums rather its audience engagement, or attendance. Yet museums like businesses do have quotas to fill, usually, with each year these quotas are bigger and the budgets are tighter, which means that many museums go beyond the gift shop and the coffee shop and come up with some innovative ways to monetise and share the expertise of their staff.


5 - The work life balance
A few months ago a friend invited me to her wedding at the Natural History Museum. Halfway through the evening I realised that I was in work mode I was examining how the party was arranged how it compared with events at other museums, how the exhibits were safeguarded from guests, how the catering was done etc I went beyond grading the party compared to other museum events I’ve been to (Science Gallery Dublin no one has yet surpassed your parties), I ended up networking as if at a conference and at one point had a small panic attack when I could not find my business cards.

It was then that I finally realised that for most people culture is a hobby, not a job. I do consider myself extremely lucky that I enjoy my job so much I am happy to do it in my free time, however, I have to also recognise that that is unhealthy, I had to find a hobby.

Now I am not just a travelling exhibitions manager I am also a gardening enthusiast with a soft spot for indoor herb gardens and hydroponics.