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National Geographic Travelling Exhibitions

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This month, we spoke to Cynthia Doumbia, Senior Director of Business Development at National Geographic. As well as being one of the 2023 Ecsite Conference sponsors, National Geographic will be at the Ecsite Business Bistro tradeshow. National Geographic is a familiar name to us all, but we discovered their scope is wider than we knew.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us today Cynthia, can you tell us about National Geographic, what don’t we know?

Of course, yes! Everyone knows about our publishing but we find that the travelling exhibitions, the National Geographic museum, our funding opportunities and work on sustainability are new to many.

So, you have your own museum?

Yes, National Geographic has a museum in Washington DC, just a few blocks away from the White House. We’ve been based there since 1888 when our earliest explorers would return from their expeditions and bring their findings back to share the wonder of the natural world with each other and the public. It has just closed for refurbishment and we’re already looking forward to welcoming people once again when it reopens in a few years.

And you provide travelling exhibitions for venues around the world?

Yes, the exhibitions we develop for our own museum are big and very interactive so logistically can only tour in the US, but we have a separate arm which develops travelling exhibitions for global exposure.

We are pleased you will be joining us at the Business Bistro Tradeshow. What are your plans are for the Ecsite Conference in Malta?

We’re going to be making people aware that we have a travelling exhibition programme! Even though we had 23 different exhibitions in 22 countries and 88 cities in 2022, people often don’t know this is a service we offer. We have 2 new Travelling Exhibitions for 2023: ‘Wolves’, which explores the relationship between humans and wolves, and ’Pristine Seas’ which reveals the benefits of Marine Protected Areas – among other venues, this one is being hosted Museon in The Hague until January 2024.

Where do these ideas for exhibitions come from?

Our exhibitions are intended to prolong the life of a story – whether that be a story that was in our magazine, a book or on our TV channel. Primarily, these are based on the work our explorers, scientists and photographers have done, giving us a very rich archive of both still and moving images that we can draw from when creating these exhibitions.

What do you provide when a venue hosts a National Geographic travelling exhibition?

For venues outside the US, we provide a fully-curated digital package – the images are provided in a high-resolution, ready-to-print format; we provide text to the accompany the images, translated if it needs to be; and we also provide marketing and PR support to promote it on the venue’s own social media, as well as promoting it on our social media channels too.

From first contact to opening day, how long does this process usually take?

It takes at least 8 to 12 weeks. Fees for this vary depending on the complexity of the materials and what the venue requires, but this is all provided at a flat rate per exhibition. For venues that we’ve worked with before we sometimes collaborate to create curated exhibitions, but of course, this process takes a bit longer.

What kind of venues are suitable for your travelling exhibitions?

The venues we exhibit in are extremely varied! It’s often inside science and natural history museums, but we’re also able to do exhibitions in outdoor spaces because the formats are so flexible for exterior display. We’ve had our work displayed at COP Conferences in parks and on promenades, so we’re certainly not just suited to traditional museum venues.

Are there any other professions that are involved in the production of National Geographic’s content and exhibitions?

We involve a lot of different disciplines - so photographers yes, but we've also had poets, science communicators and even artists. Sometimes people will apply for a specific storytelling grant looking at a something like, for example, how the climate is affecting your local community, or a project on the Amazon river.

So, your funding might be interesting for people in the science engagement community?

Definitely! We’re one of the largest funders and supporters of storytellers in general - we award grants to storytellers and since we were founded we’ve awarded over 15,000 grants to a diverse group of changemakers who support our mission to protect and illuminate the wonder of our world.

Could you tell us about some of your organisation’s sustainability practices?

We have a full-time Sustainability Officer and our headquarter buildings are one of the world’s most certified and longest continuously-certified buildings – in 2003 they became the first existing buildings in the world to be LEED-certified which is a global certification that stands for ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’.

Sustainability of travelling exhibitions is a hot topic – how do you ensure the sustainability of yours?

Our exhibition team follow the Sustainability Exhibition Design and Construction Toolkit, and choose the best possible materials. We also recycle all of our material and we have a third party that we use to collect or reuse elements of the travelling exhibitions. It’s important to think about the carbon impact of materials over their whole lifetime – for our US exhibitions, we experimented with an eco-friendly composite material that looked great - it's very ‘green’ and sturdy but then you put them on a truck and then and it weighs a lot! So, we consider the carbon impact of the materials used over their whole lifetime to ensure that our exhibitions are as climate-friendly as possible.

Thank you Cynthia, it was lovely to meet you, we look forward to seeing you in Malta!