By Published On: January 3, 20143.3 min readTotal Views: 51Daily Views: 1Categories: Historic Sites + MuseumsTags: ,

Case study: A statewide traveling exhibit program

The fifth in an occasional series of case studies on the way in which history organizations are attracting and engaging visitors and members.

A traveling exhibit from the Indiana State Historical Society

A traveling exhibit from the Indiana State Historical Society

Traveling exhibits from the Indiana Historical Society

Description: For more than 15 years, the Indiana Historical Society (IHS), a non-profit organization, has offered traveling exhibits to local organizations, including local historical societies, libraries, schools, colleges, and businesses, through its Local History Services office.

The Indiana Historical Society’s site and their page on The History List.

Objectives: Support local history statewide by offering temporary exhibits that can be used by local organizations as a focused attraction and/or to enhance their programs, events and exhibits. Raise public awareness of Indiana history and make connections to local history topics.

Implementation: More than 20 traveling exhibits are available, including Auto Indiana (pictured top); Endangered Heritage; Faces of the Civil War (pictured bottom); The Faces of Lincoln; Hoosiers and their Hooch: Perspectives on Prohibition; Indiana Cartoons and Cartoonists; Indiana Through the Mapmaker’s Eye; Steamboat a Comin’; The Golden Age of Indiana Literature; and, Who Do You Think You Are?: Indiana’s Ethnic Heritage, and many others.

Borrowing organizations also receive an editable sample press release, which they are encouraged to submit to local media and as the basis for creating other promotional materials.

A traveling exhibit from the Indiana State Historical Society

A traveling exhibit from the Indiana State Historical Society

Each exhibit consists of panels with text and reproductions of images; no original documents or objects travel with the exhibits.  Organizations are encouraged to supplement the exhibits with materials from their own collections.

We don’t require security at the local organizations borrowing the exhibits, but we do require that the exhibits are inside a building with walls and doors (no barns, tents, etc.).

Organizations can borrow up to three exhibits per year for four to five weeks each.  Local History Services staff delivers and set up the exhibits, and pick them up at the end of each show.

We continue to develop new exhibits each year, including some based on IHS’s “You Are There” experiences.  Most are developed in-house by IHS exhibition staff.

Funding: Each exhibit costs roughly $10,000 to $20,000 to research, develop design, and build. Most were funded by IHS. Some recent traveling exhibits have had sponsoring partners, who are acknowledged in the opening panels.

The exhibits are free to historical societies and historical museums in Indiana. There is a fee of $100 for all other Indiana organizations. (The exhibits don’t travel outside the state.)

Results:  Each year between 100,000 and 200,000 people see the traveling exhibits.  (We ask for a visitor count and send an evaluation for each organization to fill out at the end of the lending period.)  Many organizations have reported increased attendance during the display period. In addition, the delivery and set up of exhibits by Local History Services staff gives us an opportunity to forge relationships with local history groups and opens the door for communication and consultation.

Civil War traveling exhibit from the Indiana State Historical Society

Civil War traveling exhibit from the Indiana State Historical Society

Lessons learned:

  • Topics should be relevant to a wide audience and broad enough to be useful to many different organizations.
  • Have one person handle all of the booking and scheduling arrangements.
  • Exhibits should be easy to move and set up, and most of all, durable.
  • Exhibits should offer multiple options for configuration in the space; a grouping of individual one-sided panels offers the most flexibility.

Institution: Indiana Historical Society Local History Services Department

For more information: Contact Jeannette RooneyAssistant Director, Local History Services, or see the page dedicated to the traveling exhibits.

Case study date: January 9, 2014



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