Writing text for new museums

In Museums on April 5, 2011 at 9:26 am

I’ve always enjoyed writing for museums. My first love has to be exhibition text – the panels on the wall, the labels in the display cases, and every other piece of text in between – maps, diagrams, image captions etc. Making all the text in an exhibition work together is rather an art and I suppose I’ve done quite a bit of it over the years for a variety of different subjects – from contemporary Japanese crafts to the history of the British High Street, via Leyton Orient FC and reggaeton.

Recently I’ve been working on a few projects with museums who are preparing their text for new displays. But now, rather than writing the text myself, I’ve been training museum staff in how to go about putting their text together.

There’s much more to writing text than sitting down one day and starting to type. In fact the preparation for writing and way in which it’s managed internally are crucial – especially if there are multiple authors on a project.

I ran a workshop last year for staff at the Museum of Bristol, who were preparing text for the new MShed museum – the challenge here was to bring together a team of many curators and writers who needed to create text that was representative of a diverse community and can be updated.

And a few weeks ago I ran another workshop for staff at Chichester District Museum, where they are now writing their text for their exciting brand new museum. This project is on a smaller scale, but the challenges still remain – in this case taking time out to think about the voice of the new museum and how the staff there were going to go about putting their text together.

Each workshop is designed specifically for the client, with short presentations from me combinted with practical writing exercises and group discussions. In fact, I’m not really teaching how to write text. I’m asking the right questions – based on my experiences – to help museums come to their own conclusions about what text will look and feel like in their new displays.

And they seem to like it. Tracey Clark from Chichester said:
“I would like to say a massive thank you for the workshop you provided and for the text guidelines you have also supplied. Everyone came away from the workshop full of enthusiasm and all commented on how much they enjoyed the day and how well you had presented it all to us.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day and was raring to go with the text writing afterwards. Just working through preparing and writing text and considering when additional flamboyant text could be used was really useful. It was also good to see how the team reacted to the training and the examples of text writing that they produced on the day. This gave me confidence that we can produce some exciting text for the new museum.”

I hope they’re enjoying writing their text now. I look forward to going back to Bristol and Chichester to see how it all turned out. If you’re working on a similar project and you’d like a friendly, helping hand to point you in the right direction on museum text, then drop me a line:


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