Creating Exhibits with Small Budgets

It is fairly common for archives, local heritage groups, historical societies, and small museums to have relatively small budgets (or no budgets) for creating displays.

Everyone likes the ideas of displays and of putting items from the collection into public view, but finding money for this type of work can be challenging.  When I first started creating low cost displays I was fortunate to work with a colleague who was passionate about exhibits and who was infinitely creative in coming up with affordable ways to display material. I learned a lot from her and have been able to reuse some of the display ‘tricks’ she showed me.

I am definitely not a ‘crafty’ person. But I’ve learned a few simple things that can help in creating basic exhibits:

  • A decent printer, cardstock, and basic digital design skills can be a life saver.  Creating labels, small text blocks, and basic signage in-house is often much cheaper than sending things out to a printer. Though doing things in-house does mean you may be limited in size and unable to print large format items.
  • Creating template styling and formatting  that can be used on all your labels can help make your work look uniform.
  • Basic sewing skills can be useful.  Some broadcloth and stuffing can create simple display pillows or props to support small artifacts or books.
  • X-Acto knifes can do a lot.  From creating stands out of coroplast to trimming labels and shaping foam supporting it’s a handy tool to have around.
  • Create things that can be reused or re-purposed for future displays.  Be this signage, stands, or design templates.
  • Purpose built display cases are really expensive.  They might be worth the cost but cheaper alternatives might work when you’re just starting out.  Retail or home display units that are made of glass can often be suitable alternatives.
  • Purchasing a few multipurpose display stands that can be reused can help up the quality of your displays. Things like book cradles, book stands, and basic object stands can be reused again and again.

What are some of your favorite low cost display hints and tips?