From Student to Stage: An Exhibition Designer Lights Up The Arena

Nora Neely
Nora Neely, “Double Vision Renderings” (2020)
October 31, 2022

Originally published on Hyperallergic.com. By Abigail Cain '25.

 

When Nora Neely graduated from the Exhibition Design program at George Washington University’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, she didn’t know her next step would involve massive arenas. Now embarking on a career as a Creative Producer at Quince Imaging and freelancing as a lighting technician and stagehand based in Washington, DC, she works on many different sides of exhibition. This summer, she helped light shows at the National Portrait Gallery with Pixelumen Lab and build video walls and stages with Rhino Staging, a national event production company.

 

“The production for these shows are huge, and there are multiple teams working at once,” Nora says, reflecting on a career highlight where she traveled to Nashville to work for Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, on his This Is Not a Drill tour. “It was hard work, and extremely rewarding.”

 

Nora Neely’s work contributes to the success of major events and the messages they convey. In addition to assembling stages, she works on documentaries, rigging cameras, audio, and lighting. 

 

She credits her “extremely formative” time at the Corcoran — where she earned her MA in Exhibition Design in 2022 — with preparing her for the field. “I went in … feeling a bit unsure of how to actualize my interests into a career,” she recalls. “I came out of the program feeling validated, excited, and connected with the world of design.”

 

The Corcoran offered her an opportunity to work with a community of dedicated artists, musicians, designers, and professionals from many backgrounds. The Exhibition Design program encourages students to explore design and public communications. Students choreograph, design, and innovate exhibitions, connecting people through material expression and activism.

 

“The program taught me that there are so many careers to choose from as an exhibition designer, and helped me find a path in lighting design, projection mapping, concert and video productions,” Nora explains. She also credits courses in 3D modeling as having a direct application to her career.

 

“We had a class — ‘Design for the Senses’ — where we looked more closely at lighting design and learned how to map out lighting plots. And, in our capstone class, we got to practice taking a design from an idea and sketching it into a real-life installation.”

 

Does she have advice for future students? “Let your interests guide you. Embrace your network and community.”

 

To learn more about the Exhibition Design program at the Corcoran, visit corcoran.gwu.edu.