Your museum is hosting a Blockbuster exhibition. Attendance numbers are more crucial than ever. There is a need to foster public awareness, and a strong desire to prepare visitors and school groups for what they will see. The most viable and successful route may be an alliance with your local commercial television station. Whether the station produces public service announcements or an extended program about the exhibition, the greatest number of people will be reached via local television. Cooperation and collaboration between non-profit organizations, businesses, and commercial television are increasingly common occurrences. In Dallas, Texas, for instance, 3 1 such programs have been produced by the Dallas/Fort Worth NBC affiliate, KXAS-TV, in partnership with area cultural, scientific, and educational organizations. The station has embraced the idea of providing significant support to museums and other local organizations by supplying technical support in the form of photographers, editors, graphic artists, equipment, on-camera talent, and programming air-time.
In 1989, when “Ramses the Great” was exhibited at the Dallas Museum of Natural History, a 30-minute documentary about the Blockbuster was shot on location in Egypt. The program, which was produced by Mayah Production for KXAS, included images of objects in the exhibition in their historic, social, and geographic context. It was shown on two occasions, one at prime-time and the other on the weekend. Funding, supplied by corporate sponsors, offered supporting businesses valuable exposure as underwriters and presenters of this televised “special.”
The impact of the broadcast upon museum visitation was enormous. The museum had 1.2 million attendees during the run of “Ramses the Great” — the largest attendance ever in the city. The exhibition’s success was directly related to the impact of the television program. As an added bonus, the NBC affiliate was award the coveted Business Committee for the Arts’ Obelisk Award as the “business in the metroplex contributing the most to cultural exposure and education in Dallas.”
Among the most important considerations for content of the “Ramses the Great” video was that this video could go where the museum visitor could not … to Egypt. Viewers could see that Ramses made his presence known all over Egypt during his reign and that this presence can be seen there even today. A powerful educational tool, the video provided real-life settings for the objects in the exhibition.
With this in mind, “Ramses the Great’ video was used as an introduction to the exhibition, giving visitors the opportunity to view it and learn prior to entering the exhibition. Copies were also circulated to schools and community centers planning visits to the exhibition. Reviews quoted visitors as saying, “The program made our experience very exciting because we could imagine the objects as they are in Egypt.” Currently, the video is in national educational distribution through the efforts of Guides to Understanding, a distribution and media development group in Dallas.
Sponsorship of Blockbuster exhibitions usually comes from large corporations. Often, they will respond enthusiastically to the idea of creating and distributing documentary videos to elementary and secondary schools, libraries, and universities as an extension of educational outreach. The majority of classroom teachers have access to video tape players and seek out materials that better prepare students for their museum experience.
Properly planned and produced, a video or documentary should have a viable presence, and should stand on its own, educationally. Documentary videos give a longer life to Blockbuster exhibitions, far beyond their actual presence in the local community. Such videos can be useful to museum education programming and can be used in support of the curriculum in schools. In addition to their tremendous educational and public relations potential, videos can permit us to experience outstanding collections of art, objects, or natural specimens that are brought together only once in a lifetime.
Barbara Nichols, educator, trainer, And fund-raiser is a principled in Creative Learning Associates. Katina Simmons, television producer for KXAS-TV and Mayah Productions, has produced 31 documentaries on science, multi-cultural, and arts-related topics. Both are located in Dallas, Texas. Together they operate Guides to Understanding, which develops educational materials to accompany media products, and arranges for educational distribution of documentaries.
Nichols, Barbara and Simmons, Katina. “Videos Boost Blockbusters,” Docent Educator 3.4 (Summer 1994): 16.