Chapter 8. Communication about exhibitions

Table of Contents

8.1 Communication about an exhibition within the walls of the museum
Posters on the inside and outside of the walls
Flyers inside the museum building
Exhibition souvenirs
8.2. Communication outside the walls of the museum (Andrea Kárpáti, Tamás Vásárhelyi)
Posters in public environments
Museum flyers
Dynamics of advertisement
Printed and digital press
Task 1
8.3. Educational communication of exhibitions: from guided tours to interactive workshops (Andrea Kárpáti)
Task 2:
Task 3:
Further reading

Public relations activities of museums are among the most important communication forms of a museum. Communicating about exhibitions is in the centre of this activity. This chapter gives a brief introduction about the channels of communication about exhibitions inside and outside the museum. We describe how posters and flyers should be designed; show some examples of souvenirs that contribute to the message of the museums and other that are less successful; we discuss propaganda issues in the press and in traditional and digital audiovisual media. Finally, we indicate how museum education may contribute to the successful communication of an exhibition.

8.1 Communication about an exhibition within the walls of the museum

(Tamás Vásárhelyi)

The message of an exhibition should be transmitted both to the staff of the museum and to visitors. In this part of the chapter, we deal with both of these tasks. In a larger museum where only some of the staff members are involved in the design of an exhibition, it is highly important to clearly explain the conception and development of a new show to all staff members. Their attitudes towards the new project may influence the work process, and they are also important „PR agents” of the exhibition as they spread the news among fellow professionals from other museums as well as friends and family, and thus contribute to pre-opening communication.

Information for visitors should use all available channels – also inside the museum. Many tourists pay a visit because they have heard about the institution and intend to see the permanent exhibitions only. If the news about the temporary ones is spread all over the place, they may be interested in completing their visit through seeing one of them.

Posters on the inside and outside of the walls

It is not enough to list the temporary show in the ticketing options around the cash desk. Nowadays more and more museums use large posters hung on their walls, huge canvases above their entrance and even signs on the pavement nearby to indicate that something new and peculiar is there to see. In the reception area, posters should briefly explain why it is worth the extra ticket to see the temporary show. Information kiosks and folding screens as well as so-called „stopping boards” (large notice boards in the way to the exhibitions) may act as teasers.

A projection screen hanging from the ceiling at a museum.

8.1. picture: Advertisement inside the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (Photo: Tamás Vásárhelyi)

Inside a museum, large yellow sheets of textile with text are hanging from the ceiling.

8.2. picture: Banners advertising a part of an exhibition. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (Photo: Tamás Vásárhelyi)

Flyers inside the museum building

For many exhibitions, short information materials (flyers) are prepared with a brief description and visitor information about the show and some images of the works exhibited. These should be placed near the entrance, the ticket booth but also near the exit, to take home by those who have not noticed them before. Some of these flyers contain a floor plan and are meant to be used during the visit. Museum educators can make good use of this feely available document through the inclusion of an easy task that can be done during the exhibition and submitted at the exit for a competition prize or taken home as a reminder. Such a quiz or brief quest may involve visitors deeper into the viewing experience than a normal stroll through the halls could. (Other information materials like the catalogue, brief guides for different age groups and other materials produced in connection to the show also serve similar purposes but will not be discussed in this book.)

Exhibition souvenirs

If you can find a sponsor who will finance some exhibition related products in exchange for some PR services or a partner who produces and sells souvenirs that are related to the exhibition, you can develop a range of products that transmits the message of the museum successfully and offers visitors a lasting memory of their visit. Products sold in the museum shop or at desks near the exit of a contemporary exhibition should be in harmony with the style of the museum. Items that are meant to be humorous may be inconveniently grotesque when presented at a museum (for example, the one-eared mug with the portrait of Van Gogh[37]). The most frequent souvenirs with images of major works at the exhibition are key holders, magnetic stickers, calendars, puzzle games, colouring books, shawls, ties, bags and T-shirts.[38] These products have a significant PR value because most visitors will show them to friends and family members that may be motivated to see the show themselves. Exhibition guides, task sheets, quiz booklets and other educationally relevant printed materials may also act as a souvenir.

Little clay toys in the compartments of a wooden box.

8.3. picture: Useful museum souvenir: an archaeologist’s kit. In the box, there is a leaflet describing the work of an archaeologist team, from defining the location of the excavation to the restoration of the finds. Athén, Parthenon Museum, 2010. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Plush toys seated on a shelf: a duckling and a man in black frock.

8.4. picture: In the birth house of Has Christian Andersen, figures of the Ugly Duckling and other protagonists of his tales are offered as a souvenir, along with the toy figure of the famous Danish author of tales and his books in many languages that visitors may browse. Lyngby, Andersen Museum, 2012. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Blonde and brown-haired male textile puppets.

8.5. picture: At the exhibition of the last, religious works of Andy Warhol, puppet figures of the painter and Jesus Christ were offered for sale in the museum shop… 2009. Milwaukee Museum of Art, Wisconsin, USA. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Mask decorated with glittering stones as a page in a pop-up book.

8.6. picture: „Pop-up Magritte”: at the Magritte exhibition in Vienna, we could purchase some of the most famous paintings of the artist in three-dimensional form, as a pop-up book. Albertina, Vienna, Austria. 2011. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

[37] Van Gogh cut one of his ears off during a rage caused by his mental illness.

[38] Blog entry about museum souvenirs in Hungarian, with images anyone can understand: