Behind the scenes of an Exhibition: Come and Join Us!

Gemma Henderson, Visitor Engagement Co-ordinator for Public Programmes, writes:

Clare and Karen asked me to write about my involvement in The Life of Objects Exhibition.

Where to start?

Devising and developing a programme of events for an exhibition can often be complex. The programme not only has to be steeped in the content of the exhibition but offer something extra and deeper for the audience to engage with. It can be a bit like internet dating, matching audiences with events and hoping they get along.

Being part of the exhibition working group is essential as it gives you real understanding of the exhibition and what it is trying to say (and who to attract). Working with people across Special Collections is also integral, as they bring their own ideas and expertise. Often it’s their passion that makes the exhibition come alive and that helps me understand how to create a programme that will transmit this passion to an audience.

Our Young Visitors
Our Young Visitors

I have a “toolbox” of event types that I can choose from that we know work well with our audiences, for example our Collection Encounters which give visitors an amazing opportunity to get close to items from the collection. This is a dialogue, so not us telling people about the material (although having simple background knowledge is good) it’s more about creating conversation and building a connection between the items and the people viewing them. They are often exciting and unpredictable and are a unique way to connect our visitors to the Library. However, sometimes I get the opportunity to be daring so for The Life of Objects we’re hoping to have some life drawing classes in the Historic Reading Room. I’m not sure what Mr and Mrs Rylands would think of naked people in the Library!

Gather round
Gather round

At the start of an exhibition I often have a brainstorming session with the Public Programmes champions from the Visitor Engagement Team. Once we’ve looked at the content hierarchy to understand to message of the exhibition we can then start to think about our audiences and what events we can create that would motivate them to visit and participate in an event. From then on it’s planning, which can range from co-opting curators from Special Collections to give talks to buying ribbon and glue for a family workshop.

Being Creative
Being Creative

It’s always a team effort, so from the inception of an exhibition idea to the curators and archivists who seek out the material to the Visitor Engagement manager who looks after deadlines making sure we have exhibition to open to the Visitor Engagement team who deliver the programme plus a thousand steps in between. It is always enjoyable and gratifying when an event is a success. If visitors come away from the Library with more than they came in with, whether that be some new knowledge or a strange handmade craft object covered in glitter and pom-poms…our job is done!

With the opening date fast approaching everyone is busy getting their element of the project ready.  There’s a real sense of excitement about how the exhibition will be received by the public and what their reaction will be to the objects and stories on display. Details of all the events accompanying Life of Objects are to be found here:  What’s On Guide.

If you would like to see and hear staff discussing Stories Behind the Exhibition why not have a look here:

Stella Halkyard, Joint head of Special Collections and Visual Collections Manager, discussing the Library’s Changing Collections.

Anne Anderton, Collection and Research Support Assistant, discussing Walt Whitman.

Jamie Robinson, Special Collections Photographer, and Clare Baker, Collections Assistant, discussing Li Yuan-Chia.

Share your experience of The Life of Objects: #jrlobjects @TheJohnRylands

All images unless otherwise stated are copyright of the University of Manchester.


1 comment on “Behind the scenes of an Exhibition: Come and Join Us!

  1. Penelope Blackburn

    This is wonderful! I cant wait for the exhibition to open; I’m excited all ready 🙂 The anticipation, planning and involvement with such things, is half the joy and pleasure the exhibition itself can bring. Well done and good luck to its success 🙂

Leave a Reply