Do you remember how Tom Hanks’s character walked around in a bathrobe while living in the airport in the movie The Terminal? Or how Natalie Portman got creative while living in Walmart in Where The Heart Is? I thought Kate’s Month at the Museum would be something like that crossed with Mythbusters. I imagined all-nighters spent making Home Alone-worthy physics-filled gadgets to fight off the possibility of living mannequins. I looked forward to hearing the thoughts of a normal person who has excessive time to contemplate every stage of baby chick development. I imagined a cross between entrainment and learning and charming transparency; I was excited to learn along with Kate. Instead, I learned that Kate learned.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that the Month at the Museum was engaging, fun, and a great marketing endeavour that opens the doors for several new opportunities for museums… but why weren’t mission and marketing more united in this innovative-museum-world initiative?
Kate spent her last day in the Museum of Science and Industry on November 18th. The Month at the Museum seemed to be used primarily as a marketing tool for the institution. And I think it worked well in that way. Kate’s glass cube was awesome. The competition was awesome. There’s a sort of magic about having the opportunity to spend the night (let alone several) inside a museum with doll houses, interactive activities, and a darkened 727. However, the Month at the Museum could have transcended the boundaries of a marketing project and more efficiently engaged audiences in the wonders of science while promoting the museum.
Bravo to MSI for taking on a roommate and opening their doors to the world. They have set a great standard. But, should MSI have the opportunity to take on another overnight visitor, I would like to present some changes to make the experience even more time-and-interest worthy for folks at home. The thing that unites all of the following suggestions? Making it more about people and learning, and less about Kate. Don’t get me wrong: as another female twenty-something Chicago native– I thought Kate was spunky and fun. But I don’t know if all demographics relate to Kate, or even if Kate represents the demographic that the MSI was trying to reach… even though she did frequently make me smile.
1) Get people involved during the month. The Month at The Museum initiative was arguably the biggest success during the competition stage. Over 1,500 people applied or submitted videos and folks even created a “We Applied for MSI’s Month-at-the-Museum” Facebook group. The event was publicized in newspapers, blogs, and news broadcasts all over the country. But after the winner was picked, the buzz died down. Why? There’s no reason why Kate’s adventures couldn’t be made to be news-worthy throughout the month by keeping the innovation going. The vision of the MSI is to “inspire and motivate our children to achieve their full potential in the fields of science, technology, engineering and medicine.” That’s an exceptional vision but Kate’s Month at the Museum didn’t help people do that very easily. Getting the community involved in creative ways throughout the event would have painted a more accurate picture of the institution and its values. Here’s a quick brainstorm of things that could have helped:
- putting out a call for things people wanted to see her do in the museum
- hosting a daily “Kate Report” in which she interviews visiting kids and families about what they’ve learned
- posing daily challenges to visitors such as to walk like a T-rex for the rest of the day, do their best impressions of the inner-workings of body parts, or offer a prize to the person who can best explain why a tornado spins (with creative, silly answers also featured).
- put on a could-be historically accurate skit with visitors in Yesterday’s Main Street exhibit
- conduct a real-life version of Leno’s Jay Walking and test the science literacy of visitors (with their permission, of course)
2) Make it about learning more than living. Kate shared what she learned with us through a few videos after she learned it. Case in point? SnugSci Episode 3 (or 2 or 1). However, it wasn’t often that we got to learn along with Kate. It would have been fun to see Kate go around in a snuggie and mash-up cool parts of her tour of the Science Storms exhibit with Olivia, the on-site scientist and one of the creators of the exhibit. And while snuggie science aims to teach us something, most of Kate’s videos are more of a video diary in which the audience is removed from the experience. Some ideas that wold have gotten us more actively involved? Here’s a few:
- make creative mash-ups of tours from on-site scientists
- engage in a ridiculous but scientifically-correct debate with an exhibit interpreter
- walk us through Kate’s favorite interactives as she masters each of them and challenges others to a duel
- spend a full day in the life of a coal miner, having interpreters aid Kate in learning what her day-to-day life would be like working there.
- spend a day living in the Smart Home without using any energy or making any kind of carbon footprint (or try to do that for the whole month!)
3) But a little more living would have been cool, too. Two of my favorite videos from Kate show an insight into her day-to-day life while living at the museum. I love this one where Kate pretends to go crazy being alone in the museum. I also like this one where she actually shows viewers what she thinks is the scariest exhibit at night. Kate lived at the museum for a full month, so it’s fun to see insights into how she lived. (Though I must give some serious kudos to Kate for showing just how fun it can be to work in a museum). Given the reality of time constraints, I think Kate did a good job in this arena, but here are a few things that would have been fun to see:
- a morning routine in which Kate starts training for next year’s Chicago Marathon, showing her route around the inside of the museum visiting her favorite exhibits. Kate mentions taking runs in some of her posts. Why not take us along?
- conduct a museum bathroom inspection and formally propose which bathroom is the very best in the museum
- solve a mystery (the case of the missing bernoulli ball)
- discover a secret hideout in the museum for when Kate needs a break from the cube
- sleep in the Zephyr and create physics-filled booby traps just in case mannequins come to life
- try to summon spirits within the museum
- name the chicks in the hatchery
4) Give us some more fun features to inspire audiences in science education. The Museum of Science and Industry is in the business of inspiring people and making learning fun. And learning is fun– even when you’re not a special, publicized guest living in a glass cube on-site.
- have a short, daily highlight or fun fact and compile them at the end into one video to summarize the weird awesomeness of the month
- on Kate’s first day, write down a list of science-based “Why” questions and make it a goal to get them answered before the month is up.
- make a MATM bucket list of things Kate is determined to do before the month’s end
- create a lip-dub to Weird Science with MSI staff members (this is less about science education, but highlights a sense of community)
Though I am sad that MSI’s Month at the Museum has come to an end, I look forward to seeing how museum’s will build upon the MSI’s idea. I expect to see many more initiatives involving transparency, and I hope that we will build upon these initiatives to merge mission and marketing in order to captivate audiences– with a purpose.
Have ideas for how MSI’s month at the Museum could have better merged mission and marketing? Please leave comments below.