Students Unveil ‘Coming Soon’ Exhibit

Exhibit Design Course
Graduate students in the intensive summer-course worked with professional curators to learn all aspects of designing and producing an exhibition.
The student-led project spotlights the university's new museum.
July 01, 2013

Walk into the Great Hall of the Marvin Center this week, and you’ll notice a new addition to the space—a four-panel installation celebrating the new George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, and the university’s growing number of collections.

The project is the work of 12 graduate students in the George Washington University Museum Exhibition Design Institute, a summer course held over six weeks led by co-directors of the Exhibit Design Graduate Certificate program Carl Gudenius, deputy chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, and Barbara Brennan, a professorial lecturer in the Exhibit Design program and former exhibition designer and chair of the Exhibits Design and Technology Department at the National Air and Space Museum.

“We wanted to create anticipation for and interest in the museum among the student body and really get the idea across to the students that this is their museum and they can come, use it as a teaching lab and just enjoy the collections,” Ms. Brennan said. 

The students divided into teams to conceptualize the installation, working with professional curators at the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection, The Textile Museum and the inaugural Director of the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum John Wetenhall to create three distinct panels representing each collection.

Ms. Brennan and Mr. Gudenius spoke enthusiastically about the class, noting that the students’ design, museum studies and performing arts backgrounds gave the installation an eclectic feel.

“It worked out perfectly,” Ms. Brennan said. “The students all fell into their specialized areas, whether it was curatorial work, design fabrication or writing the script.”

After revising the initial ideas, the students joined forces to draft a budget, write text for the panels and build and install the pieces.

The final product is a physical representation of the future museum, which will house the Washingtoniana Collection, The Textile Museum collection and GW’s own fine art collection. 

 “We wanted to unite the three collections under the new museum but keep their personality,” student Xuchen Wang said. “The goal was to reflect different aspects of Washington, D.C., and attract more visitors to D.C. and GW,” she added. 

According to Ms. Brennan, the give and take of making a budget work and presenting to and working with the curators mimicked the process of a professional design team.

Christy Wallover, a Pennsylvania native and second-year museum studies student, agreed.

“I never thought I'd be in a workshop learning fabrication and actually putting together exhibit panels,” she said.

“Although this exhibit was created by a class, this was a serious project that involved prestigious institutions. Their eagerness toward our work and positive attitude really made all the difference. I never felt like a student throughout this process. I felt like I was a member of a design firm,” she added.

The exhibit will be on display in the Great Hall through mid-July. The museum is scheduled to open in late 2014.