Exhibition Design

MA in Exhibition Design

Create meaningful experiences and engaging spaces

The Master of Arts in Exhibition Design is one of the few accredited graduate programs in the nation devoted to interpretive exhibition design. The curriculum is focused on design-thinking and experiential design, which students learn through a balanced integration of academic, technical and real-world design opportunities. Throughout the program students are challenged to consider human factors in the creation of meaningful experiences and engaging spaces. Students obtain the professional and technical skills needed to create narrative environments and museum exhibitions, through user-centered design. Real-world design opportunities are integral to learning in the MA Exhibition Design program. 

Admissions Requirements

For detailed information regarding admissions requirements such as application deadlines and required documentation, visit the GW Program Finder.

Current Curriculum

The MA in Exhibition Design Program is a two-year, 48-credit program, which can be completed in four semesters of full-time traditional study. Part-time study is also available for those balancing coursework with careers and other demands.

The curriculum focuses on four main areas of study: museum theory, design theory, technical skills and practical experience. A fifth area of focus that is included throughout the program is a consideration of the future of exhibition design as an experiential medium.

Year 1 Required Courses


  • CAH 6030 History of Architecture and Interior Design OR CAH 6400 History of Exhibitions 
  • CEX 6010 Core Studio: Introduction to Exhibition Planning and Design 
  • CEX 6011 Core Studio: Introduction to Tools & Methods of Visual Representation 
  • CEX 6110 Materials, Finishes and Methods for Exhibitions


  • CEX 6020 Core Studio: Advanced Exhibition Design & Plannng: Museum Environments OR CEX 6021 Core Studio: Advanced Exhibition Design & Plannng: Non-Museum Environments
  • CEX 6120 Design Core Studio IV: Advanced Methods of Visual Representation
  • CEX 6050 Advanced 3D Modeling and Rendering: Vectorworks
  • CEX 7200 Curatorial Studies for Exhibition Designers

Summer 1st Year Recommended Courses 

In order to reduce your workload during the Fall and Spring Semesters 2nd year, it is recommended that you take 2 summer classes.You may take 2 electives, Museum Management (or equivalent), CEX Internship, or CEX Independent Study.

Fall 2nd Year 

  • CEX 7120 Construction and Detailing for Exhibition Design
  • MSTD 6203 Preventive Conservation Concepts (can be taken 2nd year) 
  • CEX 7800 Exhibition Design Capstone/Thesis Part 1 
  • One Elective (disregard if taken summer of 1st year)

Spring 2nd Year 

  • CEX 6100 Lighting Exhibitions 
  • MSTD 6101 Museum Management (or MSTD 6601 Museum Marketing) OR
    • MSTD 6103 Leading Change OR
    • MSTD 6104 Managing People and Projects OR
    • MSTD 6105 Museum Fundraising 
  • CEX 7900 Exhibition Design Capston/Thesis Part 2
  • One Elective (Disregard if taken summer of 1st year)

Elective Options

  • CEX 6800 Independent Study: Exhibition Design
    • Student must present research and work plan to Faculty Advisor prior to registering for Independant Study. Submit a 10-page paper including visual evidence of research. 
  • CEX 6900 Exhibition Design Internship
    • Program-specific internship forms are required. See faculty advisor before and after registering. Submit written report and visual evidence of work. 
  • Approved electives at the 6000 or 7000 level including CAH, AH, MSTD, IA, or FA courses.

Note: Additional CEX Internships can substitute for Degree Requirement Courses only when they match the learning goals and outcomes of the Degree Requirement Course. For instance: a lighting design internship could substitute for the Exhibition Lighting Course, or an internship in paper conservation could substitute for the Preventive Conservation Course.


Department Life

Students have an opportunity to develop valuable professional networks through membership in the Washington D.C. Student Chapter of the Society for Experiential Graphic Design. Through SEGD students attend conferences, take field trips to Philadelphia and New York to visit design firms, and engage in career focused workshops.

The program's faculty members are all drawn from major museums and design firms. This professionally-oriented faculty offers students exposure to real-world exhibition design projects in addition to providing students with professional advice and opportunities for networking.

DesignCorps is a collective of graduate students from the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design College, (led by faculty advisor, Clare Brown) who review, accept, and implement proposals for client-based design projects with the supervisions of professional design faculty. Originating in the Master of Arts in Exhibition Design program, DesignCorps takes on three-dimensional, narrative, and environmental design projects such as exhibitions, installations, interior designs, and pop-up experiences for clients in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

Recent projects have included:

  • Faces Of Diplomacy, a photography exhibition in collaboration with Corcoran Photography students at the US Department of State, Center for Diplomacy
  • Memnon Project, a collaboration with the GW Engineering School, and D.C. Public Schools to develop thermo-acoustic and thermo-kinetic sculpture
  • For The Record, a collaboration with the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
  • ADA 25 / VSA 40, a large-scale installation at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts including 5 exhibitions throughout the building. The project coincides with a national celebration of disability rights and marks the 25th Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the 40th Anniversary of VSA (formerly Very Special Arts.)

Careers and Internships

Situated in the heart of Washington D.C., an international hub of the museum and design community, the MA Exhibition Design program offers students opportunities to practice their skills and theory among professionals of the highest caliber. Students intern at the Smithsonian Institution museums, the National Zoo, the National Gallery of Art, the Textile Museum, Creative Mornings D.C., SweetGreen and award-winning exhibition design firms located in D.C.

Additional recent hosts have included:

  • The National Museum of American History
  • Smithsonian Latino Center
  • The National Air and Space Museum
  • Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art
  • Phillips Collection
  • Smithsonian Office of Exhibits Central
  • The National Portrait Gallery
  • Hamiltonian Gallery
  • The Textile Museum
  • The New National Museum of African American History and Culture

Job placements include:

  • The Getty Museum of Art
  • Gallagher and Associates
  • Cortina Productions, Inc.
  • Howard + Revis Design, Inc.
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • The Whitney Museum of Art
  • Thinc
  • C&G Partners
  • The PRD Group
  • F. Shumacher and Co.
  • Quatrefoil Associates

Exhibition Design in Action

Photo of Ashley Hinkle's Exhibition Design (Digitized on Computer)

Ashley Hinkle

MA Exhibition Design, 2014

“I occupied my space with sculpture by Anish Kapoor, most of which consist of reflective materials that distort or highlight the perfect proportions of the Villa. For the central rotunda I chose to display Edward Burtynsky's shipbuilding photographs to juxtapose his subversive aesthetic with the Villa's utopian-like setting of Vicenza, Italy.”

Read more about Ashley’s project
Photo of Emily Clark Presenting in front of Class

Emily Clark

MA Exhibition Design, 2015

“We Need to Talk: A Show of Deception is my thesis project for the MA program in Exhibition Design at the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design. It is a proposal for an exhibition about deception that relies on the methodology of improv workshops to facilitate visitor-to-visitor interaction within experiential spaces that calibrate emotional tone.”

Read more about Emily’s thesis project