Workshop: Exhibit Makeovers

Interpretive exhibits bring objects, images, and ideas to life for visitors through storytelling, diverse presentation media, and learning opportunities that engage multiple types of intelligence. In this workshop, you’ll learn the basics of exhibit planning, organization, text writing, and design. Drawing on resources of the host institution, working hands-on in small groups, you’ll experiment with ways to make exhibit content meaningful and memorable for visitors.


FORMAT: On-site group workshop

LENGTH: Two days (8:30 am - 5:00 pm; 9:00 am - 5:00 pm)

DATE: April 29-30, 2019

LOCATION: History Colorado, Denver, CO

MATERIALS: Workshop materials will be provided upon registration and in-person at the event.

COST: $230 AASLH members/$345 nonmembers

** Save $40 when you register by March 29, 2019 and use promo code EARLYBIRD19 at checkout! **



Participants of this workshop may be eligible for an AASLH Workshop Scholarship. Each year AASLH offers scholarships to four individuals in the history field to attend an AASLH onsite workshop. Recipients of the New Professional Workshop Scholarship and Diversity Workshop Fellowship receive registration fee reimbursement for one AASLH workshop and one year Individual Membership in AASLH. Registration for 2019 Workshop scholarships is now open. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2019.



Who Should Attend This Workshop

This workshop is intended for museum staff and volunteers who want to create more engaging and effective exhibits. It’s also an opportunity for managers and board members to gain insight into the processes of exhibit development and design. A supportive, team-based environment will build skills, confidence, and a network of colleagues.


Ann Craig (BA, History and Asian Studies, 2000, University of Oregon; MA, Arts Management, Museum Studies, 2006, University of Oregon) is the Director of Public Programs at The Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon. Ann has been with the museum since 2005, where she oversees educational programming and exhibitions for all audiences. She is a board member with the Oregon Museum Association, chair of the Museums of Springfield and Eugene (MUSE) and a member of the Lane County Cultural Coalition.She is co-author, with Alice Parman, Lyle Murphy, Liz White, and Lauren Willis, of Exhibit Makeovers: A Do-It-Yourself Workbook for Small Museums, Second Edition (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).

Participant Feedback

“I really enjoyed all aspects [of the workshop]. I enjoyed working with others and hearing their ideas. Alice was a great facilitator of thought and discussion.”

“The group size worked well to build a sort of camaraderie feeling and the info was fantastic and immediately put into use.”

“Great vocab, take home information, comfortable friendly, enjoyable, thought provoking.”

“The activities that supplemented each lecture help to see these concepts in practice.”

A Little Romance

I first heard exhibit designer Craig Kerger use the term “galleries of thought” to describe the successive spaces that lead visitors through an interpretive experience. Whether by design or by accident, often those spaces are organized according to what might be called default concepts: category and chronology.

Military uniforms, obsolete business machines, tea-party china, branding irons, cameras are examples of categories of objects. Remember: the fact that you find a category of objects fascinating doesn’t mean those objects will automatically appeal to visitors.


Think about how you first fell in love with branding irons, 1920s dresses, or butterflies. Then think up ways to offer your visitors a similar opportunity. For example, invite visitors to compare and contrast similar objects. How are 10,000-year-old sagebrush bark sandals like today’s plastic flip-flops? How are they different?

Does your exhibit storyline have a beginning, middle, and end? If so, you may decide to organize the content along a timeline. Warning: some people demand a timeline because they feel lost without it. Others find that timelines make their eyes glaze over.

An alternative solution to the time issue is to contrast “then and now.” What was the floor plan of a typical family home in the 19th  century and today? When did men wear beards and when did they shave them off?

In his essay “The Aims of Education,”  philosopher/mathematician Alfred North Whitehead described his theory of learning. As far as I know, Professor Whitehead didn’t test his theory; but it is consistent with ideas of Piaget and Montessori about how children learn. Whitehead posited that at any age, you can’t learn anything unless you first fall in love with the subject. He called this the stage of romance. And when you fall in love with your life partner, or initiate a deep friendship, everything about that person becomes interesting and memorable to you, no matter how trivial. Whitehead called this sponge-like ability to absorb facts the stage of precision. From this encounter, you glean big ideas that carry over into the rest of your life; Whitehead called this phenomenon the stage of generalization.

Where would you put your chips, in terms of exhibit development? Clearly, romance is the portal that makes learning possible. And when visitors embark on a museum visit, they are looking for romance. It’s up to us to help them get in the mood!

What amazing objects, juicy facts, and hair-raising stories lie hidden in your collections and even in your exhibit galleries, longing for their moment in the spotlight? The search for romance is one of the most amusing––and amazing––aspects of the exhibit planning process.

Learn more about adding romance to your museum at the AASLH Exhibit Makeovers workshop in Nashville, TN on March 3-4. Register by January 27 and save $40!

Alice Parman is a Museum Consultant and Organizational Coach in Eugene, OR. She also serves as faculty for AASLH’s Exhibit Makeovers workshop and co-authored the book Exhibit Makeovers: Do-It-Yourself Workbook for Small Museums.