Successful collaboration between institutions

This post originally published on the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Blog on October 26, 2010.

Is your institution looking to cut costs? Gain visibility to new demographics? Do you have underutilized collections that would make an excellent exhibition? Need support or funding for a big idea that you have?

If your answer is yes to any of these questions then collaboration might be the answer. In Monday’s session presented by Paul Eisenhaur, Curator and Director of Programs at the Wharton Esherick Museum and Lynne Farrington, Curator of Printed Books, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania, attendees gained insight into the positive effects successful collaboration can have on your museum.

Wharton Esherick Exhibition Website

The University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton Esherick Museum recently collaborated on the exhibition, Wharton Esherick and the Birth of the American Modern. The speakers walked through their 3-year collaborative process, including the birth of the idea, difficulties, and positive outcomes of their personal experience. The outcome was a successful exhibition with all collaborators benefiting from the process.

Why collaborate?

1) Museums/institutions/businesses with common collections, interests, or missions can create larger exhibitions than might be possible on an individual basis

2) The opportunity to display collections your museum doesn’t always have room to exhibit

3) Increased visibility to your museum from a greater variety of sources and demographics

4) Shared cost of exhibition expenses, including publicity and marketing

5) Ability to host greater cross-disciplinary programming

Hints and Tips to Remember

1) Get publicity out early! – This allows other individuals or institutions to get interested and join in the process. A simple rack card or Website provides a means to disseminate information.

2) Make the decision-making process clear – Decide how you will deal with any obstacles or tough decisions before they arise.

3) Make expectations clear – What does each party expect to contribute and/or gain from the collaboration?

4) Funders love collaboration – Showing you already have some support is a great way to gain more.

5) Be flexible!

6) Keep open and frequent communication lines.

7) Time – Consider the types of businesses/colleagues you are working with and if your calendars will be conflicting (e.g., an academic vs. a professional calendar).

8 ) Be willing to recognize your fellow collaborator’s issues: constraints, time, mission and governing voices.

Collaboration doesn’t mean less work but it often means increased benefits for each entity involved

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