At the recent AAM conference in Minneapolis, In a roomful of small museum professionals those who were looking to build their museums reputation in the community all agreed that what we needed to do was to stand up from our desks, walk to the door and go outside and out into the community. So I did. Then I did it again. Then I did it a third time. Know what? It’s awesome!
The museum out of which I walked is a tiny historical society with one 2/3 staff member (me!) and a budget that makes most other museums smile politely and look at me like they are thinking “oh, that’s so cute” or look at me like I am a brave patient with a terminal disease. Our community is urban, suburban, mostly residential, aging and diversifying at the same time, and surprisingly small-towny. I hear “oh, I didn’t know we had a museum” a lot. If you can’t get 35,000 residents to come to you, you go to them, right?
So, with an intern, we designed some table top display boards and handouts and went to our city’s farmer’s market for the first of 6 monthly appearances. Result: In the space of two hours hundreds more people know that we exist and that museums might not be as boring and isolated as they thought.
I could get to like this.
Then, I loaded up a tablet with a slideshow of awesome pics, rubber-cemented a map into a small kid friendly activity, assembled my handouts and clipboards, and pinned on a nametag for our city’s Unity in the Community festival. My secret weapon? Another intern heading up an interactive video project designed to engage two generations and to encourage diverse involvement (but more on that later). Result: A lot of people who might have previously thought their their local historical society is for old, white people have been introduced to the idea that everyone is a part of the fabric of the community.
Next, with another set of interns, a self-guided QR Code tour was developed. Quick and dirty, it took us just 12 hours from concept to deployment. I wanted all those people passing by on the sidewalk while we are closed to have a chance to see inside the museum and get some answers to their curiosity. Result: We all got some new skills and hopefully the clicks will start rolling in– stayed tuned for a later post.
Along the way, I re-upped the ante with our organization’s facebook page and became absolutely addicted to the charts and graphs of virality and number of clicks and shares. I started staying up late to stock this virtual social museum with photos and shared links and the result was an increased buzz across the board that translated into a 120% increase in people paying attention to our mission of story-sharing.
In the last two weeks, then, my non-traditional museums– the ones we created online, under a park shelter, in a market stall, on the sidewalk– garnered attention from 40 times as many community members as did the traditional four walls of the museum.
I may never sit at my desk again!