Staging student exhibitions

Exhibitions are a great way to celebrate student achievements, create authentic tasks with work produced for a real audience, and connect with parents and the community. Kara Blond, Director of Exhibitions at the world-famous Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History shares her advice for staging a successful event.

Choosing an exhibition space

‘Ideally, you’d find a spot where inviting people to stop and spend some time won’t interrupt the flow of traffic. Where are the underutilised spaces in your school? Is the library an option? What about a computer lab? Can you use an outdoor courtyard? Could you transform the backs of the bathroom doors? What about the high spaces in the gym?

‘Hang things from the ceiling out of reach that can attract with gentle movement; use floor graphics to draw people through narrow spaces; try gobo light projections [where cut out images or patterns are slotted in front of a light projector or lamp] to transform ordinary walls into moving, colourful messages. …You could even reach out to a local public library, town hall or restaurant to borrow their wall space.’

Planning for the event

‘Start by identifying your most important audience and setting a clear goal for your exhibition. Who do you want to visit and what do you want them to walk away with? Is it a particular grade of students? Parents? Teachers, administrators or school board members? Neighbours? And then, ideally, design your exhibition with that audience and goal in mind.

‘In terms of design, think about how many elements can comfortably fit in your chosen space – you want to be able to highlight special objects without overwhelming your audience. Locate key information at the right height for your target visitors. And make sure to think about accessibility for audiences with learning or physical disabilities. Consider providing different points of entry (even at different heights) for different types of audiences.’

Making it an interactive experience

‘You could leave Post-It notes or index cards for visitors to post messages on a display board at the centre or exit to your show. Or, you might provide a table and materials for visitors to create their own artwork and a space to display it.
‘Post social media ‘hashtags’ associated with particular pieces where visitors can share their opinions and see others’ thoughts. … Games that invite visitors to interact with each other – even people they don’t know – can create a community in your exhibition that may lead to great conversations later for families.’

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian Council for Educational Research. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit