Travelling Exhibitions Are Bringing Diversity to Museums

Vastari’s research into museum curatorial processes have shown that the majority of museums select shows with the visitor’s experience in mind. The idea of visitor experience driving their process is not a new one but how museums approach their audiences can be. Travelling exhibitions are a market many museums have yet to take advantage of but they can really excite, challenge, and expand a museum’s audience. At Vastari we want to highlight how travelling exhibitions can bring diversity to museums by bringing new perspectives, new audiences, and new works that might otherwise never be seen in the museum.

The exhibitions museums choose to show within their own collection, in addition to highlighting the works within the collection, often highlight overarching themes that thread through the thinking behind the museum. Over time, these themes or narrative threads would hopefully evolve with the changing of curators or the collection itself however, it is common practice for curators and museums to use what Jessica Morgan in The Fundamental Questions of Curating refers to as “exhibition lite” in which they use “tired thematic groupings” to rework the same works in the collection over and over. When museums become complacent with what is on display there is a lapse in innovation, excitement, and drive that audiences need. This is not to say every exhibition must be made up of one hundred percent new content or a radical rethinking of the past but adding travelling exhibitions to a museum’s calendar can efficiently and immediately give a museum engagement to entice repeat or new visits.

An example of a travelling exhibition that can do just that would be a modernist museum hosting an exhibition about contemporary artists influenced by modernist movements. This kind of exhibition allows their audiences to connect with new work based on the connection the exhibition has to the museum’s collection while at the same time engaging possibly a younger, new audience whose initial connection is with contemporary art or particular artists who they relate to, either because they work on themes that are recognisable or popular on social media. Or, one could admit that many museums’ permanent collections are full of art by white male artists, and bringing in a travelling exhibition from another country could raise the diversity of the art on display. Contemporary art especially has been working to increase the diversity of what is shown by giving more of a limelight to art by women, foreigners or minorities.

The travelling exhibitions like many on Vastari’s platform are often turnkey models which do all the work of attracting the new audience. Getting these visitors through the door is the main focus: once the diversified audiences are in the museum they are able to explore the museum’s permanent collection. The museum can build on the exhibition by highlighting works that make connections to the permanent content allowing visitors to explore the connections that resonate with them.

Travelling exhibitions can also be an opportunity to diversify the quality of the content shown at museums. Museums across the globe are not always able to amass collections that have the quality of works in the Met, MOMA, Centre Pompidou or the Guggenheim. Travelling exhibitions allow smaller museums or larger museums with holes in their collection to exhibit works which would otherwise be unattainable. These works could be unattainable because of market values or the lack of availability within the market, only so many Da Vinci’s, Titians, Boccionis, or Seurats exist in this world; and most of those are already in other collections. The benefit of diversifying with high quality objects can also bring in larger audiences who are drawn in to those recognisable names. These visitors again come for the travelling exhibition and the museum is given the opportunity to make connections to their permanent collection that will keep the audience's coming back.

Finally, travelling exhibitions give museums the opportunity to diversify their partnerships and global presence. The press and buzz that follows a new exhibition can foster relationships with companies within the museum’s community who might have overlooked them in the past, in the form of sponsor relationships or income from events. Additionally, companies coming into the museum’s markets can see the museum is open to looking outward and open to new possibilities. Choosing an international travelling exhibition allows museums to broaden their global presence, connects them with the exhibition producer and opens a dialog with other museums which hosted the same exhibition or are interested in the exhibition.

The number of benefits diversifying museum calendars with travelling exhibitions brings make it an option all museums, large or small, international or local, private or public, should take advantage of.

At Vastari we make these exhibitions more accessible to any museum and our members can easily connect with others and experience these benefits firsthand.