Behind the scenes: Creating exhibitions

Behind the scenes: Creating exhibitions

17 August 2023

We display up to 10 exhibitions a year at The Box - but have you ever wondered how we put them together? They can take months, sometimes years to plan and deliver. Here's an insight from some of the staff who've worked on our current shows.

Each of our exhibitions has a lead curator/producer, who takes overall responsibility for the project. They are supported by a team of people, which is drawn from a range of skillsets and areas across The Box. The planning phase involves many elements and varies based on whether it’s an exhibition we’re developing ourselves, or a show from an artist or another venue that’s coming to Plymouth as part of a tour.

If it’s the first of these it involves coming up with an approach or overarching theme, selecting works that are relevant and which will help us tell that story, assessing their condition to make sure they can be safely displayed and making sure there’s enough time and budget.

Getting the work done

The to do list is long and includes conservation work, planning the layout, securing any loans and dealing with the associated insurance, transportation and paperwork, research, copywriting, proofreading, producing interpretation panels, labels and signage, sourcing press images, developing news releases and a marketing campaign.

There is also the booking of technicians, suppliers and placing orders, planning the install schedule and launch as well as planning and setting up any related events, sourcing and procuring retail products for our onsite and online shops, briefing staff and volunteers so they feel confident with sharing information with our visitors.

Installing 'Rana Begum: Dappled Light' at The Box, summer 2023

Working collaboratively

The second type of exhibition involves many of these elements plus close collaboration with the venue or artist throughout the process to make sure they’re happy with the way we’re presenting their work in our spaces. Many artists are represented by commercial art galleries, so we’ll also liaise with them to make sure everyone is in the loop.

The installation period can take anywhere from two to four weeks depending on the size of the exhibition and usually involves lots of physical work, including deinstalling the previous exhibition, building and painting walls and polishing floors - as well as installing the new show with all its different elements.

Two people condition check a painting
A group of people hang a heavy painting on a gallery wall
A group of people moving a heavy painting in a large wooden palette

Did you know?

  • When we installed the major ‘Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters’ exhibition in 2020 we had to do everything over Zoom at different times of the day as the show was on an international tour from Australia and the curators were based in Canberra.
  • Some of our large framed paintings are too big for our lifts so have to be carried by hand up the stairs. If they’re also really heavy it can take up to about eight people to move them.
  • When exhibition labels and panels need to be proofread we try and involve as many different viewpoints as possible. 12 different people reviewed the texts for the ‘Reframing Reynolds’ exhibition, including academics and members of our front of house, marketing and engagement teams.

Find out more about all our exhibitions.