• Part of a roofline shows from one building. Trees with fall color leaves on them fill most of the photo. A lamp-post is near center of the photo.

    Harpers Ferry Center

Managing an Exhibit Planning & Design Contract

An exhibit contract or task order has a beginning and an end, yet many aspects overlap, and no two projects are alike. Here are some notes from Harpers Ferry Center Exhibit Designer Mitch Zetlin on what to think about and look for during the administration of an exhibit planning and design contract.

Understand all aspects of the scope of work. Be aware of and understand all deliverables.

Be aware of review times. Establish who will be the reviewers. Are there any partners, such as friends groups, Indian tribes, regional reviewers, or HFC staff that should be accommodated in the review scheduling? Allow time for these.

Understand the payment schedule. Be concerned for the contractor’s cash flow. Prompt payment for acceptable work goes a long way toward ensuring good working relations with a planning and design firm.

In the early stages of the project—when first meeting the contractor—making them aware of the park's story is critical. Miscommunication of the design direction is a major cause of planning and design problems. Initial discussion of the themes or “thesis” of an exhibit is critical. It helps if a contract designer can do sketches at the site. An exhibit is by its very nature a tangible, designed product, and different people form different images in their heads early on. It works best when some early drawing takes place to help ensure the direction so that all parties understand the visual direction of the story. As deliverables proceed, they should be a refinement of the design direction. It's ok if these drawings are simplistic; they give everyone involved the opportunity to explore space configurations with possible exhibit elements.

Organizing the resources for exhibit elements as soon as possible will define what possibilities the design can take. This means that photos, illustrations, artifacts, models, electronic or AV elements, maps, and reproductions are available early on for the palling and design team to consider. If artifacts are to be used, begin defining the conservation needs and requirements for case design. The Exhibit Conservation Guidelines prepared by the HFC Department of Conservation may be useful.

Having the space for the exhibit accessible to the planning and design team is critical. If it is an existing space the contractor will need to be able to take measurements, review any building constraints, and be aware of electrical conditions in order to design lighting for the exhibit space. To ensure artifact conservation needs will be met it is helpful if the changes in room temperature can be monitored. If it is a proposed new building it is important that the planning and design team work with the architects to ensure compatibility with the overall visitor experience.

Exhibit text, drawings, schedules, and related data are contained in phased deliverables called the Schematic Plan, Concept Plan, and Final Plan Packages. If there are unusual circumstances, or you want better control of the contractor’s direction, you can ask for intermediate deliverables or progress reports. These should not be seen as extra deliverables, but as work in progress. The goal is to ensure the project is going in the right direction. It is better to be sure the direction is proceeding without any miscommunications early in the process rather than after a great deal of effort has been placed in a design direction.

When things go wrong or the Scope of Work changes, be sure the Contracting Officer or Contract Specialist is aware of any proposed changes. Define what changes to the contract you wish to make, and submit the proposed modification to the contracting office before you ask the contractor to do work outside the original scope of work.

Follow up on the acquisition of photos, illustrations, reproduction artifacts, and all other elements that must be obtained. Establish a budget for the acquisition of these elements.

At each critical stage of planning and design development, and as they correspond to deliverables, have the contractor develop cost estimates for fabrication to ensure the design you like is realistic with respect to the fabrication budget specified in the contract.

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