Life as an RVC Student

Topic: History Subtopic: General

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Anna Darron

Published on April 29, 2012, Modified on July 24, 2013

  • Museum: Royal Veterinary College Focus: Science

  • People who worked on this: Anna Darron, Luke Stempien

  • My role: Jointly responsible for all aspects of the project including: content, planning, research, object selection, physical and graphic design, photography, sourcing and purchasing of materials, hiring and overseeing of contractors, text writing,and installation .

  • Description and goals

    This exhibition was designed for the entrance of the Royal Veterinary College’s new Teaching and Research Centre (TaRC) – a building that was designed to be home to both laboratory research, and collaborative student space. It also serves as the main reception for the RVC’s rural Hawkshead campus, and is the first stop for many visitors

    We were asked to develop an exhibit to fill two purpose built display cases in the main foyer that would appeal to current students and staff, as well as prospective students and outside visitors.

    The exhibition we developed allows visitors to investigate what life was like for RVC students from the College’s opening in 1791 through to present day. While the history of the College is widely written about on their website and on a timeline printed along the building’s wall, the history focuses on the College elites and staff. We wanted to create a display that highlighted everyday life at the college, and tell stories and anecdotes that would bring the College’s history to life.

    The cases are divided into five time periods: 1791-1840, 1841-1890, 1891-40, 1941-1991, and today. Each invites visitors to consider what being an RVC student in that era would have been like. By focusing on the lived student experience, the exhibition allows a wide variety of issues to be explored, and a wide range of objects to be displayed.

    The displays aim to highlight the differences and similarities between the lives of students of the past and those of the present; contributing to a sense of continuity, community, and tradition at the college.

    The exhibit additionally provides a platform on which to showcase current research, allowing ongoing work to be communicated with the visiting public as well as the rest of the student body.

  • Development process and challenges

    This project provided many challenges, though the main difficulties stemmed from the physical space provided.

    The display cases are located very prominently in the entranceways of the building, and while highly visible, they are not in an ideal location for visitors to stop to read text or look at objects.

    The cases themselves were problematic for displaying historical objects, as they are fitted with commercial grade ‘Shopkit’ shelving (glass shelves suspended from cables – which have a large degree of sway), are not climate controlled, and not UV protected. This was especially problematic given the front of the building is exposed to direct sunlight.

    This had a great impact on the objects we selected and how they were displayed. For example, reproductions or prints of paper-based artefacts were made so as to avoid exposing originals to UV light.

    The division of space also proved difficult. For example, the height of the cases presented a challenge, as shelves had to be positioned nearer to eye-level in order to allow objects to be easily seen. However, this created a large void towards the top of the cases. The fact that the cases were entirely made of glass made dividing time periods and topics visually challenging as well.

    We solved the issue of empty space at the top of the cases by designing large vinyl stickers that related to the time period of each column. This helped divide the space into the five historical time periods, and this division was further emphasised through the use of colour coding. Each column had an assigned colour based on the RVC’s brand and visual identity. The colour schemes were applied to text panels and object identification cards.

  • Lessons learned, mistakes we made (and what we did about them)

    Despite the challenges this project presented, the exhibition was completed on time for the building’s formal opening and Royal visit held in December 2011.

    Most importantly, we learnt that with a little (or a lot!) of creativity, a very small budget can be stretched a very long way. Exhibit mock-ups also proved invaluable, especially for planning object selection prior to installation. Early and late stage mock-ups also helped to share progress and ideas with RVC staff.

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