Being an exhibition novice, I knew from the beginning that there would be pitfalls I’d blunder into, mistakes I’d make and plans that would collapse. It’s an integral part of the learning process for any new endeavor. That said, I feel that we dropped a rather large clanger when we decided what we wanted to do.
When myself, Antia and Jade met up for the first time to discuss the exhibition, we quickly decided that we would do a timeline of St Mary’s history, starting just before the 1817 renovation and ending with the church as it is presently. We thought this would make the most sense as it also works with the space we have.
Here’s where we went wrong with this:
- A timeline exhibition can work really well, but it requires so much research. The space we have for the exhibition isn’t large, and the history of St Mary’s Church is extensive. It would take longer than we have to accumulate all the information concerning the changes the church has seen over the last 200 years.
- We were approaching it very much in the style of a museum exhibition. Lots of information and interaction planned. This is great in theory, but what we lost sight of is that we’re holding the exhibition in an art gallery. Bombarding a visitor with history is likely to have a negative impact.
- I was struggling to figure out how to tie in the objects we had in the inventory to the timeline. Most of the objects are hard to date, and I felt it would have been quite jarring to present precise historical information with imprecise archaeological interpretations.
I was having a few sleepless nights over how we could make this all work, until I spoke to someone who has experience with small exhibitions like this one. After a long conversation where I outlined the troubles we had run into, we came to the following conclusions.
- It’s an art gallery, so make it an art exhibition. Less information, more visual impact.
- To that end, instead of doing a timeline we could present the exhibition thematically. One idea was to focus on the materials used in the renovations, of which we have some incredible examples (ie stone and wood carvings, stained glass windows etc). I personally like the idea of mixing the two, so a thematic exhibition with appropriate historical information dispersed throughout.
- Focus on what interests a visitor to the church. It’s hardly an exaggeration when I say St Mary’s is an architectural masterpiece, but it has much more to offer. A great example of this is photographs of the tower, which visitors aren’t allowed to go up. We could do a secret rooms of St Mary’s panel, which feels exciting.
- Lastly, but just as important was this: Meet the brief. It sounds simple, but we were overburdening ourselves with trying to organise events around the exhibition and transport to and from the gallery for all the content. This isn’t something we should be doing, so after speaking to the church they’ve agreed to deliver on that side.
One positive impact of changing to a thematic style of exhibition is I feel that by making that decision, we leapt forward in progress. We have the inventory all but completed and digitised, so we know what we have to play with. The church has their tasks to work on, and we are in the process of applying for funding.
The next hurdle is getting together and hammering out how we want it to look, and what goes where.
Wish us luck!