February 6, 2013 | Alyson Stanfield

Multiply Your Exhibition Audience with Collaborative Programs

We were pitched exhibition ideas daily when I worked in art museums. When trying to decide on an exhibition schedule, we considered things such as funding sources, gallery space, scholarship, budget needs, and audience interest.

But one of our biggest concerns was always: Can we program this?

Meaning . . . What supporting programs might help interpret exhibition content, bring more people through the doors, and amplify dialogue around the art?

These almost always involved collaboration with people and organizations outside of the museum.

Jill Powers, Color in a Changing Forest, in a Live Motion performance
Member of the Contemplative Dance Collective interacts with Jill Powers’ piece, Color in a Changing Forest, in a Live Motion performance. Photo by David Silver.

I was reminded of the value of programming and collaboration when I visited Jill Powers’ exhibition recently. “Plants and Insects in a Time of Change” explores delicate ecosystems affected by climate change.

Jill added programs and events to the exhibition schedule, which brought more people in and increased the level of buzz around the work. Here’s a look at what she included.

Collaborative Programming

1. At the opening, the small gallery space was enlivened with a performance by three dancers who interacted with the artist’s pieces. The dancers wore masks constructed of the same fiber used in Jill's art. Jill says:

The masks were made by the dancers in collaboration with me. It was another step in the process to involve them directly in using the materials the art is made of. Thus more connection with the art in their movement.

Jill Powers booklet about pine beetles
Jill Powers' booklet about pine beetles from her exhibition.

2. The following week featured a public artist talk followed by six short films on the pine beetle epidemic, Colorado ecology, and other artists who work with insects.

3. Jill gave a private talk to a group interested in the work, which featured a slide show about what went into the making of the show. She has made herself available for other private presentations and gallery talks.

4. Jill wrote, illustrated, and constructed a booklet about pine beetles as a gift to visitors.

5. Jill threw a party for all of her collaborators, including dancers, video artist, gallery staff, and construction crew. At the party, she gave a slide show presentation of behind-the-scenes images with credits to all of the contributors. People shared their personal stories about being involved in the process.

How will you program your next exhibition?

Update May 9, 2019: Listen to the Art Biz Podcast where Jill discusses her collaborative programs (Episode 29).

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