Project Management

Creating a Traveling Exhibition

4 Comments 17 October 2011

October 1st the “Alcatraz: Life on the Rock” traveling exhibition opened at Ellis Island.
“Alcatraz: Life on the Rock” is a 3000 square foot traveling exhibition created through a partnership of Alcatraz Cruises, LLC (operator of the Alcatraz Island cruise ships) and the National Park Service.  I have been working with Alcatraz Cruises as the project manager, to get the exhibition launched.  It has been a great experience getting the exhibition “on the road”.  There are many similarities between a permanent exhibition and an traveling exhibition, although traveling exhibitions are much more complex than a permanent exhibition.
Over the last year , I have learned many lessons and would like to share some of my experiences:
  1. Evaluation and Market Research – Prior to opening the exhibition at Ellis Island we held two events in the Bay Area to evaluate the exhibition and gather public reaction.  The first event was a smaller event, we invited 100 museum professionals and “friends of museums” to an invitation event and used a  20 question survey about the exhibition to better understand the needs and impressions of the exhibition of potential museum clients.  Museums rent traveling exhibitions on a three month basis and we wanted to understand needs and suggestions of institutions.   Using the information gathered from the first event we made changes to the exhibition, changing the layout, installing artifacts and making changes to signage.  Then we held a second “event” at the San Mateo County Fair.  Over the course of 10 days at the San Mateo County Fair 120,000 people visited the exhibition.  It is great to ask people what they think?,  but seeing how 10,000 people a day use the exhibition was invaluable.
  2. Same – Same but different – In many ways a traveling exhibition is the same as any other exhibition, but…The exhibition needs to be able to ship and the exhibition needs to drive attendance  and most importantly people in many different a cites need to be interested in renting the exhibition.   For more about how to design an exhibition see; “Museum Exhibition Design”
  3. Make Changes –  Now we understood the need’s of museum clients, the general public and had a good understanding of how the exhibition will be used.  We made several changes to the exhibition; added exhibition cases, changed graphics, added props, added audio visual effects and added models.  I would recommend that people do not spend their entire fabrication budget prior to testing with the public, we are so glad that we had the funds to make changes prior to the premier at Ellis Island.
  4. Public Relations – Mr. Robert Luke, a former inmate of Alcatraz Penitentiary graciously offered to be part of the opening at Ellis Island.  Mr. Luke now 84 years old, was arrested for bank robbery and was an inmate at Alcatraz.  He was at the event October 1st to cut the ribbon and was available for press events.  Over the course of the last two weeks more than 20 press organizations have picked up his story and included news of the opening of the exhibition.   I have never seen 17-22 year olds so engaged as they were speaking with Mr. Luke, they asked questions, he joked with them and kept them fully engaged for 45 minutes.  Make sure that you have a “news worthy story” to accompany your traveling exhibition.
  5. Artifacts – People come to see traveling exhibitions to see artifacts.  The loan of artifacts is all about relationship building, people are loaning you priceless objects.  Build trust with the community of your exhibition topic.  Then work to the NPS standards (security hardware, Formaldehyde free wood, silica gel and monitor of case climate, etc.), transportation of art, loan agreements, insurance and insurance certificates.
  6. Layout – Although our exhibition is 3000 square feet, different museums have different sized traveling exhibition spaces.  Make sure your exhibition has several configurations with a range of exhibition sizes (i.e. 2500 square ft to 3200 square feet).
  7. Truck layout – Design the exhibition to fit into the truck trailer.  A typical trailer is 53′ long (52’6″ interior dimension), 101″ wide interior dimension and 110″ tall inside the doors.   Trailers vary from company to company, but you will want to request a lift-gate, air ride, climate controlled with side doors.  Confirm if the company uses trailers with a drop floor?  Many trailers do not have life gates requiring a fork life for off loading.
  8. Measurements – Walk the path from the truck to the loading dock to the freight elevator to the traveling exhibit space and note all of the dimensions.  Make sure to do your walk through prior to the move in and load the trailer to accommodate the load in of the exhibition.
  9. Crating –  Crates are built to protect their contents, they need to withstand the abuse of travel, loading and unloading and be built to take up as little room as possible.  Create a numbering system for the exhibition and identify each crate by the exhibition designation.  You will be able to stage the crates as you are loading in the exhibition by their number.  Often the best protection is an open cradle that can be easily rolled into the traveling exhibition area and unloaded.  Create slots to be able to life crates by both the width and length with a pallet jack.
  10. Electrical – Once you have established the exhibition layout for the hosting venue, create an exhibition electrical plan. Work with the hosting venue to confirm the amperage, number of circuits and location of electrical.  Often you will need to  run electrical from a wall or ceiling to the exhibit location.
  11. ADA – Traveling exhibition need to meet the ADA guidelines.  The Smithsonian has an excellent website on guidelines, Smithsonian ADA Guidelines
  12. Load In / Load Out – Include in your exhibition budget, dollies (10 or more), pallet jack and a J bar.  Be sure to understand how much assistance you will receive from the hosting venue with loading in the the crates.
  13. Exhibit Cleaning – Create a place for cleaning supplies within the exhibition, if it is easy to get to cleaning supplies people will be more likely to clean the exhibition.
  14. Tools – A well organized tool cart makes all of the difference.  Standardize the exhibition hardware using a few different types of fasteners as possible (1/4-20, 3/8″, 1/2″).  Set up your tool cart to the different types of hardware.  Whenever possible the crate hardware is the same as the casework hardware, helping to simplify the installation.  Organize the tool cart with touch up paint and supplies on one side and tools on the other side.  Include in the tool cart, extra roto-locks, the exhibition installation manual and spare parts.
  15. Photos – Once you have the signed contract for the rental of the exhibition you will want to visit the venue and walk the exhibition “load in”, taking pictures from where the truck will unload to the traveling exhibition gallery.   A great help is to photograph the contents of each crate and put a copy of the photo inside of the crate lid.  The photo will be very helpful in reloading the crates three months latter.  After the artifacts are installed photograph each artifact case and send copies of the photos to the insurance company.  If there was ever to be a loss, the insurance copy will already have a copy of all of the installed artifacts.
  16. Installation crew- The people that install traveling exhibitions tend to fall into three categories, movers (the people that will load and unload the trucks) Installers (the people that will set up and deinstall the exhibition) and art handlers (the people the will install the artifacts).  Depending on the number of artifacts you may also have a registrar to write the condition reports for each artifact.
  17. Roto-Locks - Roto-locks are a concealed hardware system for connecting wall panels.  They allow walls to ship in cradles (6-10 walls per cradle) with wheels to allow quick set up of walls.
  18. Insurance – Unlike a permanently installed exhibition, a traveling exhibition requires an insurance policy for each new venue to cover the exhibition and the artifacts that travel with the exhibition.  Each new venue will require an Certificate of Insurance.  At each venue the contracted Art Handlers and installers will need to show proof of insurance and sign an agreement that they are not employees of the venue or the sponsors of the exhibition.

CASTEX Guidelines for touring exhibitions in Europe:

Project Management

“Alcatraz: Life on the Rock” at Ellis Island

No Comments 11 October 2011

Brass Knuckles c. 1958 from Mr. Ira Bowden General Foreman on Alcatraz Penitentiary 1958 – 1960.

The “Alcatraz: Life on the Rock” traveling exhibition opened at Ellis Island October 1st and was featured in the  New York Times, Arts section (see article below).  The exhibition is available for rental starting January 17th, 2011.  I will be at the Association of Science Technology Centers conference October 15th-18th to announce the premiere of the exhibition.  Please contact me regarding rental pricing and schedule availability.  I will create a follow up blog post of “traveling exhibitions best practices” as my next post.

From the New York Times, October 6, 2011:
Alcatraz Exhibition at Ellis Island Museum
Published: October 6, 2011

Richard Weideman has spent about 30 years on Alcatraz, though he hasn’t done anything illegal. He is a National Park Ranger who was assigned to supervise operations there in the early 1980s and has been devoted to the island and its many incarnations ever since.

Alcatraz, of course, is best known as America’s first maximum-security, minimum-privilege federal penitentiary, and that, along with the eerie stories about it, is what drew the Miser to the island on a trip to San Francisco several years ago. But as it turns out, Alcatraz was also a Civil War fort, built to protect Western land from attacks by Southern sympathizers; home to the West Coast’s first lighthouse, which guided ships along the rocky shoreline during the Gold Rush; a place of protest for American Indians, who seized the island shortly before Thanksgiving 1969 and occupied it for 19 months; a residence for the families of prison guards; and perhaps most surprising, a garden and bird sanctuary.

This rich history (and the fact that it was free with the purchase of a $13 ferry ride) is what drew the Miser to “Alcatraz: Life on the Rock,” a traveling exhibition sponsored by the National Park Service and Alcatraz Cruises, which opened at the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration last Saturday.

The restored gardens of Alcatraz, all 50,000 square feet of them, are “a treasure trove of documentary history” and a great place for garden archaeology, Mr. Weideman said in a telephone interview. Civil War-era ruins and roses native to Scotland that were thought to be extinct have turned up there. “The juxtaposition is phenomenal,” he said.

Thrill-seeking visitors will still get plenty of gory Alcatraz-as-prison action. The exhibition features audio documentary from convicts and guards who lived there; a reproduction of tunnels through which prisoners like Frank Morris tried to escape; an original letter written by Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz; and other artifacts, like a baseball initialed in blood, found in the prison’s exercise yard.

(Through Jan. 12; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily; free with the purchase of a ferry ticket to Ellis Island: $5 to $13; 201-604-2800,

Link to the New York Times article:

Museum Planning, Project Management

Museum Planning Template

No Comments 10 August 2011

The United States National Park Service creates interpretation for 394 National Park sites including; national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lake shores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House.   The total number of visitors to the National Parks in 2010 was 281,303,769 visitors.  To support the development, design and project management of the interpretation of the sites, NPS created The Harper’s Ferry Center in 1970.  Services of the Harper’s Ferry Center:

  • Historic Photos
  • National Park Service Maps
  • Publications
  • Media Development

Many of the resources are free.  My favorite resource is the Museum Exhibit Planner template.  The freely distributable template runs on Filemaker for Mac or PC and “helps exhibit teams manage content elements and keep track of project goals, quality factors, and project requirements related to content.”  Museum planning teams can use the template “as is” or users can modify the template to meet their needs.

We have been using the template for several years for our database of exhibits and find it to be a fantastic tool.  If you decide to use the Museum Exhibit Planner template please forward feedback to Harper’s Ferry Center to help with correcting errors and enhancing the usefulness.


National Park Service, Frequently Asked Questions:

Harper’s Ferry “Museum Exhibit Planner”

About the Harper’s Ferry Center:

Project Management

Working Big to Small

No Comments 15 August 2010

When I am working on a project I am always thinking “Big to Small”.  What are the big things that need to be finished before I can move onto the smaller and then smaller tasks.  It is all to easy to get tied up in the smaller tasks at the start of a project, so I think “Big to Small” or “Can the project open without X”, if the project can open without X, look for bigger tasks first.

An exhibition needs electricity, that’s big, the exhibition needs a complete design, that’s big, the exhibition needs a fabrication firm, that’s big.  You can open an exhibition without a photo caption, an exhibition can open without an interactive in place (yes it can open without one of the interactives in place!), an exhibition can open with a typo, an exhibition can open without all of the graphic panels, but you can’t open without the electricity!  “Big to small”

Art, Inspiration

Tobias Wong

No Comments 27 June 2010

“Killer Ring” By Tobias Wong, Photo Courtesy the New York Times

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Tobias Wong. Tobias was a young artist / designer living in New York City. Tobias blurred the lines between Art and Design and made us more aware of the american consumer culture.

Art, Kinetic Sculpture

Magic Wave by Artist Reuben Margolin

No Comments 17 March 2010

“The “Magic Wave” at the Swiss Science Center Technorama is one of the most complex kinetic sculptures in the world and the masterpiece of the artist Reuben Margolin from California. A net of 450 aluminium bars is transformed into a dynamic wave landscape powered by a marvellous mechanical mechanism that turns 4 circular movements into 4 sine waves of different wavelenghts, amplitudes and frequencies.” from YouTube

Art, Kinetic Sculpture

Artists, Science and Museums on LinkedIn

No Comments 17 March 2010

I have started a group on LinkedIn called “Artists, Science and Museums”.

Click to join

LinkedIn Link:

A networking group for artists, designers and museum professionals working in the field of Science Centers and Children’s Museums to share ideas about incorporating sculpture into science exhibitions.

Museum Planning, LLC, Project Management

Museum Planning Software

No Comments 23 February 2010

Below is a list of the software I use. I use a MacBook Pro, travel often so like having the laptop.  In the studio have two Mac design workstations and an office computer.


Sketchup – Free, 3D drawing software

Tux Paint – Free, Great for doing a quick sketches

VectorWorks – Drafting

Photoshop – Image Editing

Illustrator – Drawing software

Project Management

Gantt Project – Free, Wonderful for creating quick schedules

Microsoft Project – Use to create more detailed schedules


Open Office – Free and Open Source office suite, use when can’t open a document in Microsoft Word or Excel

Pages – Better for writing documents than Microsoft Word

Keynote – The best for making presentations

iMovie – Creating movies

Inspiration – Use to create bubble diagrams

Microsoft Office – Microsoft Word and Excel

iphoto – Organizing photos


Firefox – Free, Web Browser

Daylite – Customer Relationship Management, I have tried others keep coming back

Palm Desktop – Free, Contact Database

itunes – Listening to music while I work

Skype – International calling and chat

XStreamRipper – Free, Use to record my favorite Internet radio programs

Apple Mail – Email

Quickbooks – Use for accounting

Parallels – Use so I can run Microsoft Project on a Mac

Plaxo – Free, Use to remember birthdays

Whatsize – Gives you an idea of how your hard drive is being used

Super Dupper! – Great program makes a copy of your hard drive as a back up

Backblaze – Online back up of all files

Disk Inventory – Free, A visual of your hard drive use

Art, Inspiration

My Heros

No Comments 20 January 2010

Antoine Predock skiing on the roof of one of his buildings.

I am sitting on the deck in Ubud, Bali, thinking “who are my heroes?”.  Below is a short list.  They all are:

  • Free thinkers
  • Live life as an adventure
  • Keep trying, keep pushing
  • Have managed to change the discipline of Art and design.


Antoine Predock – He has combined Architecture, Art, Motorcycles, Scuba, Skiing and Dance, and his buildings are damn sexy!

Ingo Maurer – Has combined sculpture with lighting using a atelier structure for his business

Gaetano Pesce – An artist /designer, who creates “one off” functional Art.

Vito Acconci – Started as a Poet, then Sculptor, crossed over into architecture, industrial design and landscape architecture. Link to MIT Show Recent article about studio

James Ossi – I met James in 1990 and it changed my life.  An artist who makes machines that create square bubbles?!!  He was living in a farmhouse with a studio in the back and teaching.

Ron Arad – Industrial Designer, started by making Hi fidelity stereo equipment out of concrete, went on to have a furniture studio and now an architecture firm.

Art Museum, Exhibition Reviews, Project Management

2009 in Review: Museum Exhibitions –

No Comments 01 January 2010

Review of 2009 Art Exhibitions

2009 in Review: Museum Exhibitions –

Museumplanner is run by Mark Walhimer, Managing Partner of Museum Planning, LLC an exhibition design and museum planning company.

Mark is available for consultations. Feel free to contact him using our contact form.

Download Brochure

© 2014 - Museum Planning, LLC, All Rights Reserved