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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14 thoughts on “Multiply Your Exhibition Audience with Collaborative Programs”

  1. We celebrated a friend’s acquisition of my piece “Courtlines 5” at the bar he owns with a couple of hours of me sitting at the bar discussing the piece with patrons and sipping a rum drink which he asked me to create for the celebration.
    I just placed fourteen pieces at a place across town now and the curator, Matt McKinley, says he’d support another event like that. It’ll be up for three months, so there’s time, although I should get started. Some kind of performance on a quiet night might be good — I want to be sure enough people respond.

  2. I am having a one-woman show of 35 floral paintings at the Atlanta Botanical Garden and I have collaborated with a local agency and florist to create floral dresses that will be worn at the show by the helpers. In addition, there will be floral food and decorations and I’m encouraging all guests to adorn themselves with flowers. I am hoping this will add to the festive atmosphere of the event and will in turn make my artwork even more memorable.
    Show dates Feb 9 – April 28th
    Reception: March 28th, 5-8pm
    Come One, Come All, With Blossoms on!

  3. Great post, so many creative ideas for Jill Powers’ show and from Bayberry and Arthur too(comments). Taking notes for future use!

  4. My works are very textured in the style of henna body art and in my next solo show, I want to invite the viewers to wear gloves and touch the paintings!

  5. Such creative ideas! A show featuring paintings of local landscapes could take off with presentations on local history, on plein aire painting, and on local culture especially in the summer with visiting tourists and snowbirds. Thank you!

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