International exhibitions have long been promoted for their potential to connect people, objects and stories across political, cultural and geographical divides. Recent commentators have linked touring exhibitions to cultural globalisation, diplomacy, and the advancement of intercultural understanding, while others have critiqued them as blatant revenue generators driven by public appeal or as ‘politically-safe’ forms of national branding. Very few studies, however, have attempted to empirically investigate the complex processes and contexts through which international exhibitions are produced, and to explore their impact across diverse audiences.

Since late 2011 I have been working on two interconnected, transnational projects on touring exhibitions:

  • Museum practices, indigenous politics and the construction of cultural identities in the traveling exhibition E Tu Ake: New Zealand, France, Mexico, Canada (2011-2013)
  • Cultural diplomacy, touring exhibitions and intercultural understanding: A study of Aztecs: Conquest and Glory in Australasia (2013-2015)

These projects are the first ever comprehensive studies of international touring exhibitions. They seek to understand the effectiveness of these exhibitions in terms of cultural diplomacy, audience engagement and intercultural understanding. With a team of researchers, I have been involved in collecting qualitative, quantitative and documentary material from both staff and visitors, across multiple venues. From this, we are conducting a comparative analysis to reveal the ways in which the impact and meaning of an exhibition shift as it moves through contrasting cultural and political contexts.

There is little existing research about touring exhibitions and this project is a work-in-progress. I invite you to explore this site to learn more about the studies, publications and upcoming events, and to comment or contact us if you have something to share.

Lee Davidson

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