The Wing



Our Process

"Encompassed." By Artist Erin Shigaki. Cut and collaged watercolor and ink on paper, 2016.
When you make exhibits, develop programs or run an organization, how do you integrate community members throughout the process? Let’s take exhibits for example. From development and design to fabrication and installation, what does the process look like? Behind each exhibit are community members making decisions – determining exhibit directions, setting priorities, making selections, and guiding execution each step of the way.

Each Exhibit Team generally includes:

· Museum staff

· Core community members

· Participating community members

Since Museum staff has experience creating exhibits, they serve as:

· “community organizers,” mobilizing volunteers and bringing community members together toward a shared vision

· “project administrators,” monitoring timelines and budgets, finding resources and facilitating communication

· “technical advisors,” providing input on exhibit components, feasibility and constructability

· “professional liaisons,” gathering research and materials from other institutions, where everyday individuals may not normally have access

Core community members include a Community Advisory Committee (CAC), typically ten to 15 individuals. CAC members serve as the primary decision-makers and are charged with developing the main messages, themes, content and form of the exhibit and its related components. The CAC also connects the project to other community members by:

· inviting others to join the CAC

· sharing about the project with family members, peers and community contacts

· suggesting individuals for oral histories and artifact, photograph and document loans

· helping gather materials

Oftentimes, individuals on the CAC or others they know will: write the exhibit text, create an exhibit video, take new photographs to showcase oral history participants and/or community life, serve on an artwork selection panel, provide graphic design services, and more.

Participating community members also contribute by:

· Participating in and helping conduct oral history interviews, translating and transcribing

· Loaning artifacts, photographs and documents

· Researching in libraries, historic societies, museums and other institutions

· Outreaching to other community members and the general public

· Serving as docent guides, speakers, public program participants and volunteers

6 Stages to Make an Exhibit

Exhibits are typically made according to these six stages:

Visiting with community member Van Sar at a Khmer American conference.

Initial Outreach

Museum staff conducts Initial Outreach during the first stage. We begin learning about the community and its dynamics. Community members also get to know us – exhibits we have done in the past, how we create exhibits, and what resources exist in the Museum to use. At the end of Initial Outreach, we have a confirmed list of CAC members and are ready to hold our first meeting and begin Exhibit Development.

The CAC dives into discussion.
Two CAC members diagram a potential storyline for the exhibit.

Exhibit Development

Exhibit Development occurs over a series of intensive meetings, sometimes stretching over a year. By the end of Exhibit Development, we have all the materials we need to move forward with Exhibit Design, assured that we have identified the vision, including the main messages, themes, content and form of the exhibit and its related components, envisioned and prioritized by the CAC.

Research in the Whatcom Museum of History & Art archives uncovered this studio portrait of Sikh men, most likely taken in Bellingham, Washington, ca. 1905-1910. Photo by Henry Brown, #1995.108.117, Whatcom Museum of History & Art.


Research and Gathering

Research and Gathering for an exhibit begins almost immediately. Museum staff, interns, CAC members and volunteers scour libraries, historic societies, museums, community organization files, news articles and online databases. We conduct oral history interviews, with Museum staff training volunteers, providing equipment, tracking contacts, and processing interviews. Community members contribute artifacts, photographs and documents for potential inclusion in the exhibit.

Exhibit Designers review materials with the CAC.

Exhibit Design

Armed with decisions and direction from the CAC, we begin Exhibit Design. The Exhibit Designer uses the storyline, exhibit components, and descriptions of the exhibit look, feel and atmosphere to guide design of the physical space. During this time, the Exhibit Team also selects specific materials for the exhibit.

The CAC poses in front of their "In Struggle: Asian American Acts of Resistance" exhibit, May 1, 2014.

Exhibit Opening

We send out invitations to Museum members and special invited guests, including the CAC, participating community members and other contacts. We use community networks and media to spread the word. We invite mainstream media to amplify the voice.


Attending a conference held by the Korean American community in Shoreline, Washington.


Public programs and education initiatives planned by the CAC further the exhibit throughout its run. When the exhibit closes, we document it, archive materials in our Governor Gary Locke Library and Community Heritage Center [insert link], return items to community members, and look forward to next projects that may have been identified by community members for future work.


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