View Full Version : Exhibition costs per square foot

T. Ashley McGrew
09-09-2011, 12:48 PM
Not exactly a topic that everyone associates with being a preparator but if you are around for a while despite your best efforts it is likely that you will find yourself responsible for supervising people, managing budgets and generally taking on all sorts of things that - though still all about making things happen - may end up with you being called an "Exhibitions Manager", "Exhibitions Coordinator" or something similar. A preparator by any other name would smell...well... you know what I mean.
Anyway there are quite a few such folks on the list and registered on the site who get called things like that and who do a lot of exhibition design, and/or deal with a lot of designers and contractors and generally have to do so utilizing very limited resources. There are a lot more who are on the list or registered on the site who will find themselves doing this kind of thing sometime in the future.

Anyway here are a couple of items scavenged from the NAME (National Association for Museum Exhibition) listserve that I think are kind of helpful.

The first is from Cliff Abrams cliff@aaexhibits.com and is in response to the following question:

"Does anyone have any sources for recently available fabrication/installation square foot costs for exhibits that have opened in few years? I'm looking for natural history exhibits in particular in smaller 1,500 to 5,000 sq. ft. sizes.

Of course, I know that this kind of pricing is quite variable as to what's included and not, but nonetheless, it would be useful.

Boy, wouldn't it be great if there was some widely used resource that was collectively shared."

Cliff states:

Varies. I wrote this for a client to try to determine what kind of exhibit we were planning. Where are you on this spectrum? I assume that the exhibit will be built by an outside contractor. Do you have a target budget? If the exhibit is, say 1,200 square feet and a lowball per sf cost is $75, you are already up to $90,000. If you have drawings or sketches, ask a contractor to provide an estimate— then expect to pay 20% more.

Basic didactic exhibit—
• simple graphic panels
• limited or no interactive devices, self-guided tour, audio or video
• limited artifact display, mounts, and other exhibit properties (figures, dioramas, etc.)
• basic finishes and simple materials

Median exhibit—
• Innovative graphics— large images, banners, other special graphics in selected, story-driven areas
• opportunity for basic interactive devices, self-guided tour, audio or video
• better artifact display, mounts, dioramas, simple figures, and other exhibit properties
• opportunities for innovative finishes, new materials, archival materials

State of the art exhibit—
• Innovative graphics— large images, banners, other special graphics— throughout
• Most current technologies for interactive devices, self-guided tour, audio or video throughout the exhibit— with opportunity for updating
• best artifact display, mounts, dioramas, lifelike figures, and other exhibit properties
• best finishes, new materials, and archival/green/LEED materials and techniques throughout

Good luck.


The second comes from Mark Walhimer mark@walhimer.com and consists of the results of a survey on the topic conducted last year.

2011 Museum Exhibition Costs Survey:

Hope this is helpful