55 Low-Resource Ways for Museums to Connect with the Community

photo from artolog on flickr

photo from artolog on flickr

“It’s not about the collections anymore… It’s about community.”

This is what a recent article by the Christian Science Monitor says in regard to museums, and it nicely sums up the discussion in the museum blogging community on the transformation from the static object-based museum of the past, to the dynamic community-based institution of the future.

So how does a museum transform into such an environment? I like Megan Blankenship’s notion that this process may perhaps align more closely with a revolution rather than through slow adaptation. This begs the question of what can be done now to summon community interaction. In an effort to aid museums in this transformation without losing sight of their mission, Nina Simon offers eight ways for museums to connect with community. I think one solution lies in museums positioning themselves as cultural centers and integral aspects of the local/regional community.

Here are 55 relatively low-resource ways for museums to connect with the local community. I present a brainstorm of middle-sized items that come in between (the obvious) smiling to welcome visitors and the (time and resource required) launching of a new outreach program or grant-funded initiative. Several museums already utilize a number of these ideas. I hope to compile an easily accessible  and quick list of little ways for museums to create a connection with the community while respecting their brand and promoting the museum.

I had to stop at 55 as I noticed that this list really is endless. Please feel free to comment with your own thoughts and suggestions!

  1. Tweet

  2. Keep a list of the dates, and send museum members small a gift on their birthday.

  3. Add an “Interview with a Local Expert” section to your newsletter.

  4. Offer a free program to celebrate an audience

  5. Highlight free coffee for members on Sunday mornings.

  6. Start a blog and use it to instigate discussion.

  7. Add a public forum for thoughts and opinions to your website.

  8. Allow visitors to make video responses at the museum– like these videos shot at the Mattress Factory.

  9. Start a science cafe. (if you haven’t noticed, I love these!)

  10. Highlight local experts on site.

  11. Seek opportunities for curators and museum professionals to serve as guest lecturers at local schools and universities.

  12. Ask staff members to take 10 minutes each day to interact with visitors.

  13. Supply staff members with educational items or “did you know” facts to facilitate interaction.

  14. Participate in local parades.

  15. Host a science fair or an art exhibit with the work of local adults or children.

  16. If you can’t host a fair, go to one and give out an award to a qualified participant on behalf of the institution.

  17. Set up craft projects that make a difference or have meaning in the local, national, or global community.

  18. Hold a book drive.

  19. Provide small, branded lab notebooks or sketch pads (just a few sheets of printed paper is all that they’ll need- no fancy binding necessary) for visitors to fill out and take home.

  20. Create a low resource scavenger hunt, and offer a small gift at the information desk (pencil, sticker, etc) to those who complete the hunt.

  21. Celebrate with the community! Give out candy or subject-appropriate treats on Halloween.

  22. Wear “Ask me about Membership” buttons.

  23. Host a camp-in for kids in the community.

  24. Offer free hours of admission when possible, even if it’s just for a specified demographic such as teens, college students, the elderly, etc.

  25. Put your events on community calendars.

  26. Create a calendar of relevant events for adults in the community and post it on your website.

  27. Use this calendar to help create community partnerships with organizations that have a similar mission.

  28. Complement exhibits with interactive and educational craft projects.

  29. Ask for feedback (on blogs, written or electronic surveys, etc).

  30. Ask visitors to write their favorite museum memory and post it to a memory board. Have the board out for public viewing so that participants know that their positive experiences have contributed to the museum in a physical way.

  31. Thank your donors when an exhibit is a success– but don’t forget to publically thank your broader community as well.

  32. Have recommended reading lists available and have the books available at the bookstore, if possible.

  33. Encourage visitors to share their own stories on your blog.

  34. Know the local school curriculum, and explain to teachers how your museum complements that curriculum.

  35. Have a connection with at least one person at every school in the county (but shoot for 3 or 4 surrounding counties).

  36. Create a network of teachers and send them useful ideas of how to offer extra credit by visiting the informal learning environment of the museum. If you can, give the teacher passes to events so these kids get in for free or reduced rates.

  37. Hold large scale, educational special events or celebrations if budget allows.

  38. Coordinate a debate with local industry leaders to take place at the institution.

  39. Hold a training for local scientists/artists to provide skills for communicating with the public in regard to complicated, academic material. The link is to a grant-funded project, but this could be done on a smaller scale.

  40. Know the talents of staff members, and utilize their talents (as oragami specialists, or watercolor artists, or something else exciting, educational and relevant) to create a low-resource program.

  41. Award “shout outs” in your newsletter to highlight the accomplishments of individuals or institutions in the community that have succeeded in an area related to the museum.

  42. Offer a unique class through a community partnership by giving a handful of passes to instructors, who may later offer them as a benefit to paying clients.

  43. Utilize community resources. Need face painters for an upcoming event? Call the local art school and ask for volunteers.

  44. Wouldn’t it have been cool if you your senior prom was in the museum? Teens are a tough demographic for museums. Market this angle. There’s plenty for them to learn at the museum as well… just be sure to keep dancing away from valuables.

  45. Along these lines, tap into teen volunteers in the community.

  46. Start a Flickr photostream.

  47. Ask for papers that visitors write/ have written on objects in the museum and post them to the website if they are appropriate (and help give them some positive google- recognition).

  48. Have a Facebook page.

  49. Create an iTunes iMix for your institution with fun songs related to the museum and exhibits (ex- Walk like an Egyptian).

  50. Compile an iTunes iMix like above, but use songs that are more directly academic or relevant (ex- cultural songs pertaining to the exhibit).

  51. Make videos of interviews with your curators and put them on YouTube.

  52. Arrange a flash mob. Hey, it’s an idea!

  53. Ask your intern to write a series of posts about his/her adventures within the institution with thoughts about events and exhibits. I simply must write in a shout-out to Web Developer (Stan) and Web/Special Events Intern (Evan) of Pacific Science Center here.

  54. Manage a document that lists staff members and the languages they speak. Sort this list by language.

  55. Add a “Focus: Museum Staff Member of the Week” to your newsletter that allows readers to understand job functions and specialties at the Museum. Include interesting facts and allow this to offer a special behind-the-scenes look at the museum.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Trends 4 Comments

About the author

Colleen Dilenschneider

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

4 Responses to 55 Low-Resource Ways for Museums to Connect with the Community

  1. Alessandro Califano

    Excellent, Colleen! There’s truely a lot that can (and should!) be done by a museum (or any other cultural institution) to better root into their (micro & macro) community… And some of it is really very effective. #35, 39, 37, and 54 are very inspiring!
    I remember running a programme for teachers at a museum, nearly 30 years ago, that was called “Beyond the Museum” (i.e.: beyond what you can actualy see exhibited), featuring visits to the conservation and registration department, explaining the data and photographic info collected for each artefact, as well as the various ways to get back to it from various angles (no computers at that time…). Was pretty successful and you could see people coming out of the meetings with a fully new awareness about our job as museum professionals and about the role of a museum and its procedures… 🙂

     
  2. colleendilen

    Hi Alessandro,

    Thank you for sharing. “Beyond the Museum” sounds like a great program! I think that’s exactly the kind of thing that museums can utilize to inspire personal connections between visitors and the museum in a very positive way. Though it was 30 years ago, I hope the museum still has something like this now; it sounds like a great way to build community!

     
  3. mjwrites

    Thank you for the great resource, Colleen!

     
  4. yorksunburymuseum

    We have a scavenger hunt-like game at the York Sunbury Museum and kids LOVE it!! They look for little PVC frogs throughout the Museum … inspired of course by our Coleman Frog exhibit. Sometimes it’s difficult for the parents to leave because the kids do not want to leave until they have found every frog! It such a wonderful sight to see children enjoy the Musem so much giving the parents an opportunity to stay a little longer so that they can enjoy it too! Of course, we have a treasure chest filled with inexpensive prizes for all the kids who participate in our scavenger hunt!

     

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