Low-cost approaches to putting exhibitions online

A case study from the Scottish Fisheries Museum
Digital
Linda Fitzpatrick
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Graphic from the Sea Change exhibition at Scottish Fisheries Museum. By Claire Corrigan
Graphic from the Sea Change exhibition at Scottish Fisheries Museum. By Claire Corrigan

Sea Change is an exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Fife and the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020. It was designed to explore what our seas, and the fishing industry, will be like 50 years from now.

Environmental sustainability was a major theme and we devised displays with a degree of digital delivery in mind. We also wanted the exhibition to have a strong family focus and to “gamify” the often complex scientific theories.

This all stood us in good stead when the museum was forced to close in March with the onset of lockdown. We already had some elements of the exhibition available online, such as the Fishing Boat of the Future game created by Reclaimer Games and a podcast series, and during the period between closing and staff being furloughed, we moved the rest of the display online.

A restricted budget of £3,300 meant the graphic design for the exhibition had been done in-house, which made it relatively easy to create additional graphics for online-only aspects.

Physical interactives, such as a jigsaw, were re-created as digital versions using free software. We also benefitted from resources provided by our exhibition partners, particularly Marine Scotland and our funder, the Buckland Foundation. This meant we were able to move online with no additional costs other than staff time.

The exhibition launched online on 11 April and consists of text, video and audio information as well as fun learning activities. It was supported by our annual school art competition, which also transferred online, and our social media channels shared videos using themes from the exhibition to support home-schooling activities.

The online exhibition attracted 1,300 visitors in its first two months and has generated considerable positive social media activity.

A major challenge was getting the content ready in the time available, while juggling other pre-furlough priorities.

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However, having created the basic exhibition structure, non-furloughed staff were able to add and update elements as they became available, creating a more dynamic display.

Being able to edit our website in real time gave us a lot more freedom than exhibition print deadlines generally allow.

It was also a good opportunity for staff development. The experience of creating podcasts led us to develop Anchored: Marine Life in Lockdown, a contemporary collecting project looking at the experiences of people living and working by the sea during lockdown.

The museum reopened at the end of August, and visitors are now able to see the physical Sea Change exhibition, which has been extended until the end of the year.

Although we have had to remove in-gallery interactives, we are using QR codes to direct visitors to online counterparts. These can be accessed as part of their visit or as a follow-up activity.

The model has been so successful that we plan to roll it forward to our future programme, designing the online elements in from the start to support and increase access to our ongoing exhibition programme.

Linda Fitzpatrick is curator at Scottish Fisheries Museum

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