It has been a brilliant year celebrating the stunning work of Michael Foreman in our exhibition Painting with Rainbows. But what happens when we close the doors and turn off the lights? 

We asked Sarah McGlynn, Seven Stories Touring Exhibition Coordinator to tell us more...

"We waved goodbye to our Michael Foreman exhibition this week but that is not the end of its story.  One of the ways that we can celebrate being The National Centre for Children's Books is by touring our exhibitions.

Here are some facts:

  • Nearly 1.5 million people have seen Seven Stories exhibitions in venues across Britain.
  • Each exhibition will generally tour to three or four venues over a two year period.
  • We have been touring our exhibitions since 1996 - that's nearly a decade before our Visitor Centre opened in Ouseburn.
  • We've toured exhibitions to every country in the UK and top to toe from Devon to Kilmarnock.
  • Take a peek on our website to see which exhibitions are touring and where.

Step One: Planning 

As Touring Exhibitions Coordinator planning the tour, I had very close involvement throughout the planning stages of the exhibition which helped me to know the exhibition inside out.  Last July, when the exhibition opened, I was fortunate to spend time talking to Michael about his practice and also his hopes for the tour. I took part in an invaluable curator led show round of the exhibition which I recorded and still listen to before meeting and talking to potential venues. Constant visits to the exhibition also help to keep it fresh in my mind and I am always looking at elements of the build and props thinking about how we will pack them!

Step Two: Researching

Even before the Painting with Rainbows: A Michael Foreman Exhibition was launched at Seven Stories, we began looking for venues which may be a suitable match for the exhibition. This involved both making approaches to potential venues and also responding to approaches from venues.

The first exhibition on the Painting with Rainbows national tour is the Harris Museum in Preston.  It is the first time we have worked with this museum and we're delighted.  It is such an ideal match for Michael’s exhibition with its excellent football links - a subject close to Michael’s heart and they even have an elk skeleton in their collection which will link well with the Moose section of the exhibition.


Step Three: Meeting

It feels a long time in the planning, but there is a lot to consider with each venue.  A team from Harris Museum came up to meet us and visit the exhibition.  This is a great opportunity to meet members of Seven Stories staff and ask lots of questions about the running of the exhibition, the install process and this is a chance to find out how best to market the exhibition. The initial face to face meeting helps the process along as we now work very closely with the Harris Museum team to make sure the exhibition is smoothly installed.  I then travelled down to Preston for a venue site visit and saw the museum and the space the exhibition will go into.

Step Four: Problem solving

One of the big tasks is to make the exhibition fit into a different space.  Our designer Alan has been playing around with the layout and we have double, then triple checked measurements.  Preston Council have been helping us to plan the installation and work out the schedule to remove the current exhibition and get ready for the arrival – as you know from your visit it will be quite a change both in artwork and design.  We are taking guesses as to how many coats it will take to paint out the black walls in one of the galleries!


Step Five: Audience

Often, venues have a different audience to Seven Stories and we are able to support them with marketing advice so that they and their visitors get the most out of the exhibition. Families will be an important audience for this Touring Exhibition but we think that the illustrations will appeal to a wide range of visitors. We have also approached a local school in Preston about making a film to appear in the exhibition with children responding to Michael Foreman's books. 

It’s scary how soon the time has passed and now we are into the change-over already!

Step Six: Deinstallation

Lots of logistics for deinstallation means that everything has to be planned with great precision. We have lots of meetings within the Collections Team, write list after list, create spreadsheets, schedules and colour coding. Claire, our Touring Exhibition Assistant has been busy ordering lots of props and books to send on with the exhibition.

Step Seven: Installation

Harris Museum need to prepare their gallery space and get painting and build walls according to the tour manual which we have sent to them prior to the exhibition arriving. When the exhibition arrives in a carefully packed lorry all the way from Newcastle it is showtime! Building, hanging artwork, dressing the space and displaying the props...there is lots to do.  All along the process we need to be condition checking and thinking about how we keep the original artwork protected. 

...and breathe!

What follows is a fabulous launch to celebrate the exhibition and everyone's hardwork.  It's always lovely to see an exhibition in a new home and we're full of anticipation for what a different audience will think. Lots of summer activities to bring the exhibition to life are already in the pipeline - this is great fun to see unfold as each venue has new and interesting event ideas and plans.

...and Repeat

It is never long before we get cracking again and the whole process begins from the top.

We are delighted to be working with Chatham Historic Dockyard again as the next venue on the Painting with Rainbows tour.  In 2014 over 56,000 visitors enjoyed our Julia Donaldson exhibition A Squash and a Squeeze there."

Read a lovely review of the Painting with Rainbows exhibition here.