How Much Do Museum Exhibitions Cost?

Mark Walhimer Exhibition Design, Museum Planning 10 Comments


“How much do exhibitions cost?” The number one question that I am asked.

The quick answer is: “$75-$550 per square foot”

“Why such a wide range?”

An Art exhibit of mostly flat Art work, little mount making or rigging can start at $75 per square foot including graphics. An interactive Science Center exhibition with a high density of interactive exhibits can reach $550 per square foot and beyond. When Disney does preliminary estimates of their attractions they budget $650 per square foot.

Per Square Foot Costs:
Aquarium $300-$550 per sq. ft.
Science Centers $300-$550 per sq. ft. (Highly interactive)
Corporate Museum $150-$550 per sq. ft.
Natural History Museum $250-$400 per sq. ft.
Out Door Exhibits $300-$550 per sq. ft. (Interactive, high end water exhibits)
Traveling Exhibition $100-$400 per sq. ft. (Dependent on level of interactivity)
Visitor Center $150-$300 per sq. ft.
Children’s Museum $150-$350 per sq. ft.
Art Museum Exhibition $75-$200 per sq. ft. (Does not include cost of Art)

1. All pricing dependent on level of interactivity, original exhibits and A/V
2. Costs do include, exhibition lighting, exhibition area walls, floor and wall coverings, specialty electrical requirements and exhibit costs
3. Costs do not include HVAC, base building electrical, cleaning lights, base building drywall, shipping and life / safety costs (sprinklers, exit signs, fire extinguishers)
4. Does not include back of house costs
5. Does not include FFE
6. Does not include staffing costs

Most design firms charge 20%-25% of the exhibition budget for design fees, i.e. “a 10,000 square foot science center is $300 per square foot times 10,000 sq. ft. for an exhibition budget of $3,000,000, 20% of the budget would be design fees ($600,000)”. Of the 20% design fees, approximately 25%-50% are graphic design fees, depending on the type of exhibition.

In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t work on percentage basis, I don’t believe it is fair to the client or creates the best results, we work on an hourly basis, estimating hours per phase.  I have been estimating museum exhibition costs since 1992.

Percentage of Design Fee Per Phase
Concept Development 15%
Schematic Design 30%
Design Development 40%
Final Design 15%

Total 100%

1. Percentages are approximate; Art exhibition will have a greater percentage of conceptual development (curator fees) than a Children’s Museum.

Example Exhibition Costs:
10,000 Science Center Exhibition at $300 per square foot is $3,000,000 in exhibition costs with $600,000 in design fees.


Exhibitionist, Vol. 21, No. 1, Spring 2002 by Jay Rounds and Joyce Cheney
2009 ASTC Statistics Analysis Package

Comments 10

  1. Mark, This is a nice article and a good, concise resource, but…I feel that you might be misleading by posting figures from 2002. A LOT has happened with media and graphic technology since then. These square foot costs are quite low by today’s standards. I’m seeing averages closer to the $500-700 range. Further, exhibit costs can’t really be based on typology anymore. Most all of my clients seek to break out of the box: children’s museums are incorporating water features. Aquariums are using interactive media. History museums are going hands-on. Square foot calculations must be based on design factors such as the desired quantity of complex media, the quality of finishes and casework, theatrical lighting, life support for live animals, etc.I think it might be time to take a new survey.Thanks for hosting Museum Planner. I enjoy your contribution.

  2. Thank you for the kind words! To date the most expensive per square foot project I have worked on is $500 per square foot, I am sure there are more expensive projects out there, but as “rule of thumb”, the above projects costs are as of today (including A/V, interactive exhibits, lighting effects). -Mark

  3. Hi mark, I was wondering what is the average design efficiency rate (net to gross) for museum & exhibition project and would it play a major role on cost per sq. ft?

  4. There is no “quick answer!” Readers, be cautious. Don’t under-plan, underfund, and underwhelm based on these numbers. They are on the low side. And if you’re a social or cultural history museum with rich, collections-based exhibitions, your typology hasn’t been addressed here. What ever kind of museum you are, please talk to your contemporaries and colleagues whose exhibitions you admire and whose institutional practices and resources reflect your own. One budget does not fit all.

  5. our school is planning to put up a museum. our collections include old books, school memorabilia, old furniture, old photographs, old school documents and odds and ends like trophies and yearbooks. what would you call this museum or would our holdings suffice to be museum pieces? thank you!

  6. I stumbled onto your website when investigating how to go about building a museum. I’m now exploring all your sections of your website. Very informative. I will check your site often for guidance and future collaboration.

  7. I am living in a progressive city in the metro area of Atlanta, GA., approximately 95,000 population. The Archives have outgrown the temporary space provided, and we are now seriously going after a “real” history museum and archives for the preservation of the history of our city. Gathering as much info as I can to help get an idea of the costs involved.

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