Engaging with the Travelling Exhibitions World

Engaging with the Travelling Exhibitions World: Informal Learning Experiences Inc.

For over ten years, Informal Learning Experiences Inc. has hosted the Touring Exhibitions Forum, providing a place for exhibition producers and the owners of venues to meet and share information.

Informal Learning Experiences Inc. (ILE), a company dedicated to helping people of all ages be engaged with their learning environments, was founded in 1992 when Robert “Mac” West relocated to Washington, DC, after serving as the director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, PA, and the Cranbrook Institute of Science in suburban Detroit, MI. “I wanted to move into consulting in order to experience and serve the broad museum field as well as to be independent,” said Mac. “The move to DC was intended to make ILE more ‘central’ and closer to the national organizations.”

I wanted to move into consulting in order to experience and serve the broad museum field as well as to be independent …

Since its foundation, ILE has provided varied consulting services for many different clients – from museums, government and cultural organizations to associations and societies, universities, foundations and commercial exhibitions – mostly focused on institutional planning and strategies; this includes master and strategic planning, institutional assessments and feasibility studies and content development, especially in the geological and biological sciences, plus occasional grant writing. At the same time, ILE also hosts the Traveling Exhibitions Forum (TEF), manages The Traveling Exhibitions Database (TED) and has published the bi-monthly magazine, Informal Learning Review for over 22 years.

ILE now works internationally, having served clients in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Israel, China and Saudi Arabia.

ILE now works internationally, having served clients in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Israel, China and Saudi Arabia. The company is a member of the Asia-Pacific Network of Science and Technology Centers (ASPAC), and regularly participates in the European Network of Science Centers and Museums (ECSITE) and the triennial Science Center World Summit (SCWS).

The Traveling Exhibitions Forum

Twice a year, ILE hosts the Traveling Exhibitions Forum (TEF), which is held during the annual conferences of the Association of Science Technology Centers (ASTC) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). For over ten years, TEF has provided an opportunity for vendors looking to lease a travelling exhibition, and venues looking to host a traveling exhibition to meet each other and learn about the current exhibitions available in the market and the needs of specific venues. “The Forum has evolved over time,” says Mac, “and, in its current format, involves approximately 30–40 speakers giving brief (two minute), verbal (no videos or Power Points) presentations about current travelling exhibits they have available, a space they are hoping to fill with a travelling exhibit in the coming year, or both.”

I started a series of casual breakfast conversations that quickly graduated into the formal and highly desirable session.

Mac says he founded TEF, “as a direct result of my frustration as a director in locating available and appropriate travelling exhibits for both Carnegie and Cranbrook. Thus, I started a series of casual breakfast conversations that quickly graduated into the formal and highly desirable session.” The session is open to all; “however,” Mac says, “information is distributed via the ILE email list since neither AAM nor ASTC will list it on their conference programmes. This seems to be because we do not rent a booth or otherwise subsidize the conferences, thus the fact that we provide a no-cost service to participants is not enough for the TEF to be on the ‘official’ program. Our expenses for facility rental and breakfast are covered by generous sponsors.”

The next meeting will be held on October 18th from 7:30-9:00am at the Holiday Inn Montreal Centre-Ville, during ASTC 2015. Charlie Trautman of Sciencenter in Ithaca, NY, will start off the session by presenting a brief analysis of the roles and importance of travelling exhibitions for modest-sized science museums. Afterwards, speakers (and attendees) from all over the world will make their two minute presentations. The forum’s sponsors at ASTC 2015 are Science North, SC Exhibitions, Imagine Exhibitions, Minotaur Mazes, Dinosaurs Unearthed, the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago.

The Traveling Exhibitions Database

The Traveling Exhibitions Database (TED) started in the 1990s as a hard copy publication, but is now online, listing 450 available exhibitions from private and institutional producers in 13 countries; access is via paid subscriptions so listers know that lookers are serious. “There is no fee to list, but listers must keep their materials current,” says Mac. “We continue to review proposals for the National Science Foundation and serve on the boards of the National Center for Science Education and the Rocky Flats Museum.” ILE’s website also lists travelling exhibitions available to lease in the next 12 months on their 11th Hour Listing Page.

The speaker list for the upcoming TEF at ASTC is full, but all are welcome to attend the event on Sunday, October 18th from 7:30-9:00am in the Orchidee A&B Ballroom at the Holiday Inn Montreal Centre-Ville (no RSVP necessary). People interested in speaking at or attending future Forums should email ileinc@informallearning.com to be added to ILE’s Forum email list. The TEF is hosted by ILE at AAM and ASTC every year.

» Read our interview with Robert “Mac” West, principal of ILE, here.

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