Creating an exhibition at the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art
By Jenna Heilman
Last year, approximately 31,000 visitors came to the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University to see its exhibitions. However, most of these people probably didn't know the detail and work that goes into creating these exhibits.
The average exhibition can take three to five years of brainstorming, research and physical planning before the public will see the final project. The Beach Museum of Art features between six and eight exhibitions each year.
The first step of the exhibition process is to find an idea. According to the museum's senior curator, Bill North, the ideas tend to come from previous research and interests. The idea has to be approved by museum director Lorne Render and by the museum's Exhibition Committee before the process can begin.
After the director and committee approve the idea for the exhibition, the curator, usually North but occasionally a guest curator, and museum staff works on the preliminary phases. A checklist is created to organize what art the museum already has and what art needs to be loaned to the museum. Registrar Suzanne Hale handles the loans, which may be private or institutional loans. The registrar is also in charge of shipping the art. When the art comes in, Hale completes a condition report to identify any damages that occurred during shipping. She also completes a condition report at the end of the exhibition. While the exhibit is on view, attendants go through the exhibition twice a day to note any damages.
The next step is the research, which usually starts before the idea is approved. If the artist of the exhibition is deceased, the curator finds out whether the family has archival material or if a public archive has information on the artist.
"It is important to read all you can about the artist and his or her life in order to understand the art," North said. When the artist is still living, another way of researching is to work directly with him or her on the exhibition. Once, North moved for a few months to artist Shirley Smith's studio in New York City to become "completely immersed in her work and to gain her confidence."
With larger exhibitions, publications are written. It is important to decide who will be the editor of these publications, who will design them and who will receive them, North said. The curator also creates the labels that go with the artwork. There are specific standards that are used by the museum: the labels should not take away from the artwork but add to it; and it is important to convey the information in few words without too much jargon.
The next step is to design the exhibit. Exhibition designer Lindsay Smith and the curator work together to create a sketch. North said it is important to have a good relationship with the designers because the two work so closely together. Smith then puts all of the planning together by mounting the artwork for the exhibition.
After all of the work with the actual art is completed, the educational supervisor, Kathrine Schlageck, creates activities that consider the three main audiences: local schools, the university community and the local community. Programming usually includes tours, workshops and gallery guides to help get the community involved with the exhibitions. Schlageck is in charge of marketing the exhibitions as well, with the focus on the local community. She sends out press releases, flyers, brochures, newspaper ads and radio spot ads. Target audiences must sometimes be considered. For example, for the current exhibition, "Life Passages," the museum received money to advertise locally through a diversity grant from the K-State Student Governing Association. Schlageck and her staff created advertisements geared toward students at K-State.
The Beach Museum also serves as a learning laboratory for K-State students interested in museum work. Hale has students to help with the loans and Smith has a student to help mount the exhibition. There are currently two K-State developing scholars who assist in the development of educational programming, and the museum offers a public relations/marketing internship each semester.
"Providing learning opportunities for K-State students is an important part of the museum's role at K-State," said Schlageck, who works closely with many of the students. "It allows students to share in the ownership of the facility and helps students learn about museum work."
The exhibition process is one that takes a group of people to complete, Schlageck said, adding it's important to work well with the whole staff so the finished product can wow the community.
Photos: (Top) Lindsay Smith, exhibition designer, adjusts lights to enhance the displays in a recent exhibit.
(Bottom) Smith arranges one of the pieces, a marriage mantle.
Images courtesy Jenna Heilman.