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Exhibit Planning Guide

The following guide is intended to support Northwestern students, staff, faculty, and independent researchers consulting collections from the McCormick Library to curate displays, pop-up exhibits, and digital exhibits.

Exhibit planning

When embarking on an exhibit, especially a large-scale one, it is beneficial to write a comprehensive plan outlining your vision. The plan should include a description of the exhibition, a timeline, and the resources required. Having a plan will assist you in organizing your thoughts and steps, as well as support you in communicating your plans to others. 

Writing a project plan

Here is some information that you may find useful to include in your project plan:


  • Project description [Describe your exhibit, including its topic, focus, and scope.]

  • Purpose [Explain the purpose or significance] 

  • Format (ex., pop-up, digital, or physical exhibit) [Elaborate on why you have chosen this format and how it is the most effective way to convey the story you want to tell.]  

  • Preliminary research [List the collections you plan to consult or briefly describe your findings.] 

  • Exhibit elements [How would you like your exhibit to be organized? Are there particular features you want to include, such as audio, video, interactive elements?  

  • Audience [Who is the intended audience for this exhibit? Who do you want to reach?]

  • Promotion [How do you plan to let people know about the exhibit? Will you involve collaborators? Do you plan to organize programming around the exhibit?] 

Project Management:   

  • Duration of the project [Specify the start and end dates for planning and displaying the exhibit]  

  • Determine if you need to form a project team. [If so, outline their roles, such as curator, researcher, graphic designer, etc. Are there stakeholders or others who need to be involved as consultants?] 

  • Resources [Identify the resources and equipment required to build the exhibit, including materials for panels, labels, marketing materials, audio/visual equipment, etc.]   

  • Location [If it is a physical exhibit, platform if it is digital]  

  • Expenses [Determine if you need a budget for production elements, hiring specialists, acquiring licensing fees, travel expenses, etc.]  


  • Develop a timeline. [Specifically, describe when you plan to do research, select items, design your display, do promotion, etc. Remember to include dates for each step.]