Aiming for global reach

The Science Museum’s new venture should mean more work for designers, says Scott Billings

Design groups are to be drafted in to work on a series of global exhibition projects for the next ten years, under a new company just formed by the Science Museum.

The creation of Science & Media, a multi-million pound investment venture, will establish a global brand of exhibitions while also helping to generate revenue for the museum in the face of funding cuts.

The independent company has been set up as a partnership with rights acquisition fund Fleming Media to enable the museum to develop a series of blockbuster exhibitions that will embark on worldwide tours and create spin-off branded material, all marketed as ‘The Science of…’.

According to Science & Media chief executive officer Sara Milne, major exhibitions – covering an area of 500m2 or bigger – each require at least £1m of investment, a figure the Science Museum can only raise infrequently and through sponsorship deals.

‘We have struggled to do these travelling exhibitions in-house previously, and this was largely to do with cash. The cash injection from Fleming Media will carry us for the next five to ten years,’ she says.

Milne hopes to establish an annual calendar event for ‘The Science of’ exhibitions, each opening in the Science Museum in London before touring for three to five years. The museum will receive a fixed royalty from each of these exhibitions, as well as a cut of Science & Media’s profits.

Design consultancy Odd and advertising agency Naked are developing the brand identity for ‘The Science of’ series. Milne also intends to put together a roster of consultancies to work on future exhibitions, which will focus on topics including speed, crime and sound.

The first in the series will be The Science of Aliens, opening at the museum in October. Urban Salon is leading the design of the exhibition space, with Bibliotheque creating the identity and Art & Com generating digital media installations (DW 12 May). Ambient sound is being composed by sound artist and architect Janek Schaeser, and artist John Isaacs will create an impression of the notion of ‘alien’, according to Milne.

Interaction design consultancy All Of Us is also working on Aliens, producing a centrepiece installation that will focus on theories of alien communication.

According to the consultancy’s business and strategy director Phil Gerrard, the use of technology in exhibitions offers greater flexibility and cost-effectiveness, particularly when exhibitions are touring across multiple territories.

‘The use of technology across this exhibition has been carefully considered by the museum, as you can see from the consultancies it is working with. The integration of technology is something the museum is likely to be looking at as part of a scheme to generate revenue, as it is much more flexible than printed material. Languages and software can be very easily adapted for different regions,’ says Gerrard.

According to Milne, the brief for Science & Media is to present science issues in a creative and exciting way. ‘The challenge is to achieve high production values that can also be effectively toured. Technology, while costing more initially, enables [the museum to do] this. I believe people are willing to pay for good quality, well-designed educational experiences,’ she says.

The exhibitions will be characterised by a multidisciplinary approach to design and research. Aliens, for example, will present ideas from anthropology and biology, as well as physics, adds Milne.

Developing exhibitions that can travel to international audiences – as well as extend to television, DVD and other products – is an important strand of revenue generation for the museum. The rise in such commercial strategies at all the national museums comes in reaction to relentlessly dwindling funding from the Government (DW 24 March).

NEW VENTURE: SCIENCE & MEDIA

• Multi-million pound investment partnership between Science Museum and Fleming Media

• Setting up roster of design consultancies and exhibition specialists

• Developing ‘The Science of…’ brand for global touring exhibitions, TV, DVD and products

• Museum to receive exhibition royalties and a cut of company profits

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