Ekarv text

Having worked at an organisation where writing text in Ekarv format was just ‘what was done’, despite being used to this style, I have always had problems with it.  Some curators take to it naturally; others would rather write scholarly essays, and this hesitancy to engage with a different style of writing often shows through.  Ekarv makes text look like a poem – which does not always make people write text as though it were a poem.  It can feel stilted, fake, imposed.  Having worked in learning and interpretation, for years I have tried to encourage certain curators to make their text more accessible for audiences, so it was rather ironic that my first attempts at writing text for this exhibition proved wildly too long and unwieldy – both for interest, and for aesthetic reasons.  So I found myself resorting back to Ekarv, and principles derived from a workshop held at Manchester Art Gallery whose interpretation policy rested on some of these key principles (and I quote from a document dated August 2007 from Manchester Art Gallery):

  • All panels and labels throughout the Gallery are  written according to the format devised by Margareta Ekarv for use with adult literacy classes, which is designed to communicate ideas clearly and concisely, be easily read and easily communicated from one person to another.
  • Colleagues at Manchester Art Gallery adapted the Ekarv format slightly to suit their needs, for example extending the maximum line length from the 45 character limit suggested by Ekarv, to 52 characters, which they felt gave more freedom to explain concepts and made the flow of text less staccato.


One idea expressed per line

Line breaks placed at natural pauses in a sentence

No more than 3 lines per sentence

Simple sentence structures, no complex clauses

Use active forms of the verb where possible

Conversational rhythms, easily spoken out loud

Maximum 52 characters per line (including spaces)

Maximum 8 lines per paragraph

Maximum 15 lines for labels, 22 lines for panels (including spaces)

This framework provides a strict discipline for writing and is initially quite difficult to work within.  It also has significant implications for design, as the placing and spacing of text is absolutely crucial and the short line length imposes a portrait format on the final label.  It is therefore extremely important to work closely with designers from the beginning of the process.

The final sentence has been crucial in the design and writing of the text for ‘Mouseion’.  In particular, information about each artist for its wall panels has reduced from an initial 400 words (as in the artist summary pages on this website), to about 50 words.  Cy’s design ideas have impacted on the way words and phrases have been written for both the labels and text panels.  Rather than detracting from the artists’ objects, it is hoped that the exhibition labels are also seen as objects that resonate with the artists’ themes and reflections on museum processes.


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