Gvido Grīnbergs

What to consider when developing an interactive traveling gallery?

From June 14 to 17 in Porto, the annual conference Ecsite 2017 of the European Science Centres and Museums Association, which I also managed to visit, took place. The purpose of the visit was not only to meet the acquaintances from the industry and find out the “hottest” news, but also to get information about interactive traveling galleries.

Prices for developing interactive travel galleries are very diverse and affected by various factors. The cost of their development varies from 50,000 EUR to 2,000,000 EUR. The development price is also influenced by the size of the exhibition (i.e. the number of exhibits), the level of interactivity of exhibits, the number of unique exhibits and other factors related to manufacturing and development. The same applies to the amount of money that the developer of a traveling gallery is willing to rent it out for. The prices for renting an interactive traveling gallery found at the conference range from 5,000 EUR/month to 100,000 EUR/month (minimum rental period is 6 months). A recent survey concluded that science centres recover the costs of developed traveling exhibitions in 2 to 3 years from the date of renting it out, for example, if the traveling exhibition cost 300,000 EUR, it is planned that it will bring in this amount in 2 – 3 years (the recommended rental price would be 12,500 – 18,750 EUR/month, because on average the exhibition is rented for 8 months per year). If the traveling exhibition is in high demand, its price is not reduced, but if interest in the traveling exhibition decreases, the price is reduced.

Theme selection and selection criteria

Choosing the theme for developing interactive traveling galleries is different in every interactive science centre, but there are some similarities to take into account in choosing a theme:

1.Topicality of the theme

If the theme is "hot" at the moment, it does not mean that it will be so after 2-3 years when the exhibition will be developed. Currently, a very topical theme around the world is film production, special effects and the process of film-making. In total, 4 such new exhibitions (or those that will be offered for rent in the near future) have been seen. The theme that has always been very topical has been “Dinosaurs”. Such exhibitions are available in many places, but it must be taken into consideration that most of these exhibitions are not interactive and take-up a very large space (usually they include some dinosaur mannequin). A theme that attracts a lot of visitors is the “human body”. At least 10 interactive traveling exhibitions of this type are available.

2.Available funding / gallery size

Each science centre has set a specific amount of money within its budget that it is ready to pay for renting an interactive traveling gallery. This amount depends on the size of the science centre, the number of visitors, the level of income, and other factors. Some science centres allocate 200,000 EUR annually to this position. Accordingly, traveling galleries that match this amount and fit in the intended place (600 sq.m.) are searched for.

 

3.Sponsors

Science centres (mainly in the USA and Asia) have sponsors; usually – large organizations or companies. Then the science centre, in co-operation with this sponsor, develops a traveling gallery of the theme designated by the sponsor (e.g. PIXAR Film Studio, NASA, etc.). In Europe, this model is not very common because of the lacking sponsorship/donation culture.

4.Relevance of the theme to the science centre concept

Each science centre has its own concept of development and vision. Often, when choosing a theme for a traveling gallery, the science centre develops it based on its vision of development and covers a topic that the science centre has included in its development vision (technology, nature, water, history, discoveries, etc.).
 

5.Personal ambitions

When questioning the heads of science centres, it was often answered that the topic was chosen by the head of the science centre relying on his/her intuition. Once the theme is identified, the project team develops the theme concept and customizes the exhibits, making them as interactive and interesting as possible. Surveys highlighted that “the theme is what is to be sold, but visitors will be attracted by how interactive the invented exhibits will be that will pass on the theme to visitors”.

Recommendations by the heads of science centres for developing an interactive traveling gallery

Surveying the heads of science centres and participating in several lectures on the main topic of “interactive traveling galleries”, several suggestions were heard and noted which should be taken into account when choosing a theme and then selling a traveling gallery:

  1. When choosing a theme, immediately think about what exhibits could be produced (those that have been seen somewhere and tried-out). Exhibitions should be made as interactive as possible.
  2. When the exhibition is produced, pay special attention to its testing and troubleshooting, so that (after the exhibition is rented out to other science centres) it works smoothly.
  3. List visitors separately whenever possible (some science centres require statistics for previous periods to know the attendance of the exhibition).
  4. Develop additional things together with a traveling exhibition that would bring additional income to the science centre (creative workshops, experiment books, worksheets, souvenirs, etc.).
  5. Do not let the exhibition to be kept for a long time at the warehouse (this may indicate that it is not interesting enough and may therefore be harder to sell).
  6. When developing a new exhibition, take cultural differences into account, if it is planned that the exhibition will be rented-out not only in Europe.
     
  7. Pay attention to where the exhibition is transported and cooperate with companies that have experience in transporting exhibits (if the exhibition “gets stuck” in customs, it causes losses to both organizations).
     
  8. The contract should include items that stipulate which specialists should accompany the unloading, assembly and maintenance of the exhibition.
  9. Include a clause in the contract that provides a place for unloading with a lifting crane and easy access (so that no additional costs arise for shutting down traffic, blocking the road, etc.).
  10. Conclude the contract in a currency that is advantageous to the science centre, since exhibition contracts are usually concluded at least 2-3 years before the actual lease of the exhibition, because you never know what the political/economic situation in the world will be (for example, BREXIT).
  11. There are three best ways to agree on a collaborative model:
    1. One science centre rents an exhibition from another, paying a certain sum of money, prior to that ascertaining and agreeing on what this amount includes (delivery, unloading, installation, assembly, removal);
    2. A science centre rents an exhibition from another paying the developer for it, depending on the ticket income (interest of sales). The amount of interest and payment procedures are contractually agreed. The centre which rents the exhibition will ask to define within the agreement the specific marketing activities that the centre will take on, and the exhibition shall carry out. The practice says that, if at least 50,000 EUR are not invested in the exhibition, then such a cooperation model is usually not considered.
    3. Two science centres exchange their exhibitions without paying for each other. However, here the centres should be careful and the exhibitions should be viewed beforehand, because if one centre has developed a good, interactive exhibition, it can happen that the exchanged exhibition is of poor quality, therefore it is recommended not to use this cooperation model.
  12. Traveling exhibitions should be adaptable to other science centres – there should be easy-to-change content, languages, customizable exhibition schedules, etc.
  13. The traveling exhibition should not have special connection requirements, as it can reduce the possibility of renting-out the exhibition.
  14. If the traveling exhibition has not been rented for long, you do not have to worry about changing your marketing strategy, marketing materials, and to start up everything from the beginning (including changing the content and/or exhibits).
  15. Leasing of traveling exhibitions is an “art” – no contract is standardized – everything has to be agreed upon, everything has to be discussed, foreseen ahead, defined within the agreement. You have to be flexible and ready for compromises.

To conclude, there is no uniform recipe to create an interactive traveling exhibition that is then easily rentable to other centres – it is a set of measures and the ability to adapt without fear of risk. It all depends on how interactive the exhibition is, what the sales strategy is, how much funds will be invested in marketing, and other factors that can be decisive. Of course, unless you plan to develop an interactive exhibition about dinosaurs or the human body – success is more than just guaranteed.