Captivate Repeat Visitors with Little to No Budget


By John Sawvel

Creative Director

The urge to display an entire collection and share all of its captivating stories is tempting. You want to convey the full extent of the story for the greatest impact. That works, but let’s think about the long game. An exhibit’s success can be judged by its ability to attract and hold the attention of its visitors and encourage them to return and explore. The trouble some exhibits face lies with the return visits. When a story or collection is seen in its entirety the first go around, what is left to compel the visitor to return? How will their experience change from one visit to the next? Here are 3 low cost methods to orchestrate a museum experience that remains fresh and captivating for years to come.

Rotate Displays

Not all museums rely on a large base of artifacts to shape and tell the prevailing story(s). For those that do, showing constraint in not displaying everything at once is a big win for repeat visitors. It is Museum Arts’ recommendation to keep some of the displays, collections, and storytelling from permanent viewing. This allows for the rotation of content throughout the year, improving the chance of repeat visitors wishing to explore a new topic or observe a new collection. There are a couple different avenues when planning rotating exhibits:

Wild West exhibit at The Bryan Museum in Galveston, TX. The saddle display covering the right wall is a permanent rotating exhibit with saddles rotating every six months.

Outlier Exhibit:
These are the easiest to identify. Do you have a prominent story or collection
of artifacts that holds its own but still relates to the bigger message? Devote
a display to this content to be visible periodically throughout the year. Make
sure to be cognitive in segregating these components so that it does not
diminish the impact of the larger message/story.

Sub-Story: When
looking at the many interlocking sub-stories forming the bigger story, there
are often times an abundance of smaller artifacts or perhaps personal stories
that can seem overwhelming. These are great opportunities to establish Sub-Story
displays that can be rotated to engage repeat visitors. Form small displays
around such content that add further comprehension of the broader topic.

Seasonal Exhibit: Seasonal rotating exhibits can be a special treat for repeat visitors. Do you have an Outlier or Sub-Story exhibit that chronicles a specific time of year? By relating to a holiday, season, or annual event, seasonal exhibits give audiences a new way to engage with an exhibit.

Traveling Exhibit: Are there other local museums in the area interested in arranging a traveling exhibit? This can work both to give your audience new content and also broaden your message/story to other locations, thus growing your exposure.

Impactful Graphics

We know casework, dioramas, and technology are some of the costliest design methods used in creating stunning displays. These methods become even more costly when reinventing them to deliver visitors with new experiences. Graphics however, provide a low-cost alternative to bringing stories to life. We all love the larger than life “WOW” exhibits here at Museum Arts, but even in these instances the graphic designs are heavily used to provide context and deeper understanding for these impressive displays. New graphic designs can tell the same impactful stories while allowing you to update or improve your message. Allow yourself to be creative in the diversity of your collections, historical imagery, short stories, and messaging and you’ll soon find a world of opportunities to captivate your visitor’s curiosity and keep them engaged.

We’ve already discussed rotating exhibits, consider rotating graphics! It’s true that graphics play an enormous role in telling the overall story. With a single graphic you have the opportunity to tell a story (and stories within the story!) Rotate them within your permanent exhibits to shake things up for repeat visitors.

Native American exhibit at the Spellman Museum of Forney History in Forney, TX. This display shows the importance of graphics to a larger exhibit. The messaging is found on the rail graphics with simple hands-on interactives that can be altered over time to engage visitors in new ways.

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