What’s your unpublished case study?

June 11th, 2009 by Wendy Pollock
Rotten Truth About Garbage - an exhibition that was never built

From what I’ve heard, it sounds as if there are quite a few of us who’ve started writing case studies, but haven’t quite finished – or haven’t gotten around to hitting “publish.” I started a post some time ago about an exhibition called Rotten Truth that I worked on with Kathy McLean, Beth Redmond-Jones, and colleagues from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, about 15 years ago. (The exhibition was never actually built – which is part of the story.) One thing that’s held me up is that this all happened so long ago that records aren’t that easy to pull together, few were in digital format back then, and documents will need scanning. It was such a collaborative project, shouldn’t we allĀ  consult on the case study? And then there were some sensitive issues – what Gretchen referred to recently as “exhibition frictions.” Should those be mentioned? What are the “frictions” or tensions that would be meaningful to recount? I gather others are stymied by those “intellectual property” issues Paul was commenting on earlier this week. In the interest of sharing experiences that may save some reinventing-of-the-wheel – one of the reasons we created this site – I think I ought to take on those challenges and finish this case study. I hope others will overcome hesitations and do the same. The stories, however imperfect they may seem to us, are part of our collective memory, the foundation of the “wisdom of practice” that informs our field.

2 Responses to “What’s your unpublished case study?”

  1. Writing Reviews and Case Studies Says:


    I’ve been considering writing a review of an exhibition for some time, but two things get in the way: time and confidence. Time is my problem, you can’t help with that. But, perhaps you can help me on the confidence front. Specifically, if I do a review, I want it to have a good structure and to approach it in a very objective, thorough way. Yes, I’m type A – but also I’d like to think that’s how a colleague would handle my exhibit if they were reviewing it.

    I was wondering if there was value in posting an “ingredients” list for a review to help some of us get started and make sure we tick the most important boxes. I know for me personally, I’ve been reading “Judging Exhibitions: A Framework for Assessing Excellence” by Serrell, et al, and have found it really helpful along these lines.



  2. Wendy Pollock Says:

    Thank you for raising the question, William. I think Beverly Serrell’s Judging Exhibitions could be a really useful framework for approaching a review. You might even want to get together with a friend or two, as the Excellent Judges group did when they worked on this book together, and compare notes, then post a review that reflects your conversations.

    Another source to check for things to consider in writing a review is Kathy McLean’s Planning for People in Museum Exhibitions. Appendix A is called “Looking at Exhibitions: One Approach to Criticism.” She offers a whole list of things you might want to include (from how you heard about the exhibition to whether it was easy to find once you arrived at the museum). She suggests noticing: organizational clarity, the exhibition environment, the appropriateness of the exhibition media, and the overall effectiveness of communication between planners and visitors.

    I appreciate even the simplest reviews and the chance to glimpse exhibitions I might never have seen otherwise through the eyes of colleagues. So I encourage you to jump in! (And a technical note you also might find reassuring: You can always go back and edit your contribution.)


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