What do you do after the show opens?

So, a bit of shameless self-promotion…

We just finished our latest exhibition, , and it got me to thinking about the rhythms of this work. We’ve been busting our butts to this show completed, and this morning was the staff walkthrough. And even though it’s quite small by our standards – 1,000 sq ft. – it had all of what I think of as the hallmarks of a good museum exhibition project, There were:

  • the long, long days in the gallery,
  • the shared vocabulary of in-jokes that developed as a result of the above,
  • the period when it looked like we might open on time,
  • the period when it was obvious we’d never open on time,
  • the thing that should’ve been simple, but seemed like it’d never get done,
  • somebody bleeding,
  • the “Uh-oh…” moment,
  • the terrible agony of making decisions based entirely on getting it done on time, and
  • the little details that nobody but the team would notice that took extra precious time to include, but showed that commitment to quality that makes me glad to come to work every morning.

Pictures follow, courtesy of Emily Roose, graphic designer extraordinaire.

The entrance. Automatic glass doors. Best money we ever spent on that gallery. Like a vacuum cleaner on undecided visitors.




The entrance visually represents what we've collected over the past 180 years. The TV shows old commercials from the 70s.
The entrance - oil paintings and the big Van de Graaff in the background.
The exhibition traces the Museum's history back to 1814 and the Linnaean Society of New England.
The founding document of the institution, recording the meeting of nine gentlemen in Boston in 1830.
A representative collection of the Museum's holdings in the 1860-1940 era. "Our Insect Friends" anyone?
Behold the 1960s!

So, we stood around and told our colleagues about what we were trying to do, what we liked, what we wished we could’ve changed given more time/money/sleep/bodies, and it was lovely. There is nothing like an opening, even an unofficial one.

Mike Horvath, Exhibit Designer, Emily Roose, Graphic Designer, Yours Truly, Exhibit Developer. We thought dressing up as different eras would be fun. And it was.
Welcoming staff to a sneak preview of the exhibition. It's wonderful to watch people learn about the place they work.

And it’s done. It belongs to the visitors, not us.

I went up to the gallery later in the day, and as I always do, I watched the first visitors to the exhibition, trying to see what they liked, what they gravitated to, what they avoided. And mostly said my goodbyes to this thing as-yet-unmade, and my hellos to our latest exhibition, and the punch list of things needing to be fixed or corrected.

Over the years, I’ve had many different responses to shows I’ve worked on. There have been ones I avoided, ones I couldn’t stay away from for love or money, ones that have made me happy, ones that have left me wishing I could’ve _______. And almost always a sort of post-partum depression, the spectre of long hours at my desk, catching up on emails and paperwork, and meetings I can’t duck “because I’m in the gallery.”

What do you do after the show opens? And why?


  1. We are nine weeks from (and here is my shameless plug) opening Australia’s newest museum – Yarra Ranges Regional Museum – So, can I get back to you in … 65 (gulp 47 business) days regarding this?? Oh, and congratulations on your opening!


    1. Hang in there, Padraic! And of course do let us know what you learned from the process. One of the downsides for working for a very large, very old institution is that there isn’t that same feeling of uncertainty about the outcome once you’re done, the “if we build it, they will come, won’t they?” feeling. Must be exhilarating and a bit scary.


  2. So glad you asked! Even those of us who don’t develop exhibitions but simply contribute to them – as in developing exhibition computer interactives and video installations have to answer that question. For us it means the end, at least temporarily, of the close relationships we have with our museum counterparts: no more daily, or hourly emails or calls, which is always a little sad. It also means letting out a huge sigh of relief for completing a project successfully, and feeling a big wave of gratitude to all involved in that success. And the wonderful feeling of a few days without the pressure of that project deadline: a chance to clean off the desk, file the docs, throw away some stuff, sleep a little later, go home a little earlier, call back a few friends, get back to Twitter!


    1. Thanks for that perspective, Robin! It’s good to get a contractor’s take on it. When I’ve completed consulting gigs, I’ve had the same feelings, mostly relief, but not the same blues. I guess it’s the ego investment that goes into planning a whole experience and all it’s bits. Or maybe it’s the sheer bulk of stuff on my desk that I’ve neglected…


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