White text on a green block reading AASLH Onsite Workshop Focusing on Visitors. Behind the green color block is a group of people standing facing away from the camera.

Workshop: Focusing on Visitors

Workshop Description

Visitors are central to our work, but how strategic and thoughtful are we in how we communicate and interact with them? How can we do a better job of engaging visitors when it comes to developing programs and exhibits in our organizations?

Keeping visitors at the forefront of our thinking, participants will explore a wide range of topics including audience types, program development and planning, developing/updating exhibits, marketing, evaluation, volunteer management and training, and collaboration. Case studies and interactive activities provide fun opportunities to engage with fellow participants and our host site. Attendees will leave the workshop with information, ideas, and materials they can take back to their organizations to adapt and apply.

Details

FORMAT: On-site group workshop

LENGTH: Two days

DATE: June 11-12, 2020

LOCATIONThe Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas, TX

MATERIALS: Workshop materials will be provided upon registration and in-person at the event.

COST: $230 AASLH Members/$345 Nonmembers

OPEN REGISTRATION: December 19, 2019 - June 8, 2020; 30 participant limit

** Save $40 when you register by May 11, 2020 and use promo code EARLYBIRD20 at checkout! **

REGISTER HERE

Who Should Attend This Workshop

This workshop is ideally suited for early-career museum educators, curators, volunteer managers, museum studies students, or dedicated volunteers who play a role in education, interpretation, exhibition planning, and/or public programming. Mid-career professionals can also benefit from revisiting the content covered in this workshop to help update and rethink programs and exhibits and gain insights on how to train and support newer staff.


From California to Italy, Visitor Engagement and Meaning-Making Matter

By Alexandra Rasic, Director of Public Programs, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum

As summer comes to a close, many of us are thinking back to vacations we enjoyed or recovering from a busy tourist season at work (maybe both!). The Homestead Museum where I work is a historic site located a little over fifteen miles east of downtown Los Angeles, not in an area frequented by tourists. We are in the City of Industry, which is just that: a city dedicated to industry. About two hundred people live here, and about 80,000 come in and out to work every day. While the City is surrounded by diverse, long-standing communities, we struggle to engage them.

Recent off-site evaluations in our surrounding communities confirmed a lot of what we felt we knew. A little more than 40% of the people interviewed said that they aren’t interested in visiting the Homestead because they don’t like history. The h-word, as we sometimes call it, is a barrier to visitation (as is our location), so we are always thinking of different ways to explain who we are and what we do. We’re not abandoning history; we’re just trying to get people to understand that history is about much more than "the past."

History organizations need to do a better job of letting people know that we want to be places that enable and inspire them to make their own meaning. One way to do this is to acknowledge that visitors have needs and wants, too, such as providing experiences for children, nurturing an interest or curiosity, wanting to have a choice in how they experience a place, and simply having fun with family or friends.

As a public historian and tourist, I was ruminating on visitor engagement while I was on vacation with my husband and our two boys in Italy this summer, never expecting that I was going to learn about an organization that was grappling with similar concerns. When we arrived in Venice, I wanted to find a place that would give my boys a sense of how people lived in this remarkable city long ago. In doing my research, I found the Fondazione Querini Stampalia. Established in 1869 after the death of Count Giovanni Querini (a descendant of one of Venice’s founding families), his will called for his ancestral home to become an institution to foster education. The Foundation includes a library, a museum comprised of the family’s living quarters as they looked in the 1700s, and space for temporary exhibits.

The exterior of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice’s Castello district.

Exploring the Foundation’s website, I clicked on the Events page and began reading. I wasn’t sure if I was understanding correctly when I saw a listing about a workshop focusing on visitors. I was intrigued. We visited the Foundation the next day and it ended up being one of the most memorable experiences of our vacation.

As you see in the cover image, one of four individuals’ faces is circled, which gave me the impression that this was going to contain information about people, and indeed it did!

Aside from friendly staff in the museum’s galleries, they gave us a fantastic visitors’ guide called Palace Voices. "How did people used to live in a Venetian palace?" they asked in the introduction. "What were everyday rituals, passions, and intrigues…?" I wanted to know!

The layering of information in the guide is excellent. Pages about specific rooms contain short descriptions, interesting facts or quotes, and an opportunity for a deep dive with lengthier content about specific topics. I felt like the institution set my family up for a successful visit by giving us a variety of ways to access content as we explored the exhibits. They gave us just the right amount of information about the residence, and those craving a more traditional and deeper museum experience could spend more time enjoying any space, asking questions of the stationed interpreters, and viewing an accompanying exhibit that was also accessible and informative if you took a shorter skim through the rooms.

I left wanting to know more about the Foundation, staff, and the workshop listing I saw. After we got home, I sent an e-mail to the Foundation and received a reply from Nicole Moolhuijsen, who works in the areas of audience access and development. Nicole explained that since 2015 the Foundation has dedicated four days a year to better understanding visitors’ "meaning-making strategies" through dedicated workshops aimed at improving the visitor experience. As a result, she said, "new interpretive materials put more emphasis on the social significances of the spaces rather than on the art-historical elements, as it was in the past." This was evident in the visitors’ guide.

The layering of information in the Foundation’s guide will serve as model for updating self-guided tour handouts at the Homestead.

"Museum Studies as an academic discipline… is relatively underdeveloped in Italy," Nicole wrote. "Here reflections are generally framed within wider discourses of art history or heritage conservation and management." In her observation, this has resulted in a generation of professionals having had few opportunities to address "the complex theme of the museum’s relationship with society and its audiences."

The first workshops took the "topic of interpretation, often stereotypically conceptualised as that of writing labels, as a departing point to open a discussion on the ways to interpret the multilayered significances of collections and to make them accessible to visitors… We addressed issues such as the questioning of authority and voice, as well as the loss of expertise vs. engagement... This year, the title of the course was 'Museum: rethinking audience engagement.' As audience engagement is becoming increasingly discussed in the heritage debate, we wanted to create an occasion to reflect on the complexity of its processes."

Nicole explained that the workshops have been curated by three museum professionals based in Italy with international background and experiences. Each session brought together a mixture of participants including museum professionals, professors and researchers from Italy and abroad, designers, and others working outside the museum field. Being interdisciplinary was important to the organizers. Presenters came from diverse backgrounds, such as design, music, and other performing arts, encouraging "participants to step out from their comfort zones and look at things from diverse perspectives."

Reaction to the workshops has been enthusiastic. While the majority of participants were from public and private museums, the Foundation was surprised by the level of interest from staff at different levels and positions, and not just educators, but also directors and people who work with collections. At future sessions, they hope to include more university students. "From a content perspective," she explained, "one thing that is emerging is the need to speak more about how to support and manage change within organisations."

Like many organizations in large tourist markets, the Foundation knows that both locals and young people are underrepresented groups of visitors. "We have the perception that there may be an issue of unawareness (most local people know our venue for its public library, rather than for its house museum) and also of attractiveness. We haven’t developed further research, as we are already facing the challenge of reaching out and expanding our current audience. There are many tourists who visit Venice and seek experiences out of the masses, in order to get in touch with the life of the city and its authenticity. We know, through audience research, that this is a target we have the potential to increase and as the institution increasingly relies on its revenue (which includes ticketing), this plays a strategic role."

When I asked Nicole if it has been challenging to make visitor engagement a priority within the organization, she said "Fortunately not, but it has been a gradual process." When she proposed the first pilot audience research project back in 2014, leadership was enthusiastic and agreed that this focus was important for the organization. "Through their role, they have made it possible to share data in staff meetings and to slightly involve the whole organisation in new thinking about the experience of visitors. Audience research was not the only driver of change in this direction. As the institution faced severe challenges in terms of economic sustainability, it became evident that thinking afresh on the relationship we wanted to have with our stakeholders (including audiences) was a priority."

So much of what Nicole candidly shared resonated with me, and things I’ve heard discussed with staff from other history organizations. Whether you’re in a large tourist market like Venice, or an industrial zone in the shadow of Los Angeles, understanding as much as we can about visitors and experimenting with ways to engage them is a global challenge that is vital for us to continue exploring. What I find really impressive and inspiring is that the Foundation has committed to having ongoing conversations about engagement both internally and externally. We can’t figure things out on our own. We must continue to ask questions, challenge one another, and share what is working and what isn’t. Nicole sees the conversations as creating exciting opportunities for us to evolve and grow, and I could not agree more.


Join the Blue Star Museums Program!

Blue Star Museums is a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 2,000 museums across America to offer free admission to the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve, from Memorial Day, May 28, 2018 through Labor Day, September 3, 2018.

A number of AASLH members participate in this great program, so we asked them to share with our readers how they became #BlueStarMuseums and how this has affected their audience, visitation, and community engagement.

Michelle Zupan, Curator and Director at the Hickory Hill historic house museum:

"Georgia is a huge military state (the 5th largest in the nation), so it's the norm, not the exception, for people to know active or retired military here.  We have 8 military bases. We have worked for 11 years with the Ft. Gordon Signal Museum on cooperative programming and preservation efforts.  So, when the Blue Star Program started, there was no question that we would join.  We actually began offering free admission for active and retired military and their families year round because of it.  Also as a result of the Blue Star Program we began working closely with a program that helps wounded warriors reintegrate with society and with the Veterans Curation Program that is administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers. It's an easy thing to offer the Blue Star admission and the vets are always surprised. It costs us nothing to administer, but brings us lots of goodwill in our community which is more important than any admission dollar."

Regina Asborno, Deputy Director of the New York Transit Museum:

"Last summer the New York Transit Museum proudly offered free admission to 202 visitors through the NEA Blue Star Museums program. It is such a great program that we’ve chosen to continue this offer to military families throughout the year and saw over 600 military visitors and their family members in 2014."

Steve Hawkins, Director of Marketing at the Oklahoma History Center:

"The Blue Star Museums program is a way we here at the Oklahoma History Center can offer our deepest gratitude to those who serve our nation.  By offering these brave folks and their families a no-admission opportunity to see a slice of Oklahoma history and a day to relax, we are essentially shaking a hand and patting them on the back.  This is the very least we can offer and we do it with pride and respect for them and our wonderful country."

What about your museum? Will you be a Blue Star Museum this summer, or even throughout the year?

Register today!


Engaging New Museum Audiences with Pokémon Go

As a follow-up to Alexandra Rasic’s blog last week, "Is There a Place for Pokémon Go in History Museums," I was encouraged to write about the ways in which I have employed Pokémon Go at the Aurora Regional Fire Museum. When I first heard about the game I was skeptical, however as the game built momentum during the week I knew that we had to be involved. While there have been some negative stories around Pokémon Go and museums, the advent of the game provides an opportunity for our aging institutions to attract a new generation of visitors and provides the ability to teach about museums.

A Rattata in the Aurora Regional Fire Museum
A Rattata in the Aurora Regional Fire Museum

The use of Pokémon Go at the Aurora Regional Fire Museum began towards the end of last week when I realized that wherever I went, children, teens, and adults were playing. I asked my staff and volunteers to begin their day by downloading Pokémon Go and then searching the museum for Pokémon. We soon saw that the statue in front of our museum and the fire station next to the museum were gyms and the building across the street was a Pokéstop.  Given this, one of our volunteers purchased some lures to bring Pokémon into our building. We allowed visitors into the museum to catch Pokémon on the condition that they posted on social media. The response to this was incredible, several of our followers commented how sad they were that they missed out.

fire3Once a month, Aurora Downtown organizes an event called First Fridays. First Fridays encourages businesses and cultural institutions to stay open into the evening, offering free events to the public. For the next event on Friday, August 5th, the Aurora Regional Fire Museum decided we would host a “Pokémon Take Over the Fire Museum” night. We are going to purchase lures to bring in Pokémon, hide miniature Pokémon figures throughout the museum and galleries, and encourage visitors to dress-up as their favorite Pokémon. We will be raffling off a variety of prizes to visitors who find Pokémon in the museum, dress-up, and post their finds on our social media.

Although involving our staff and developing events around Pokémon Go can be seen as straying away from our educational mission, it is a risk that needs to be taken to interest a younger generation in our museums and cultural institutions. One visitor to our museum this week noted this place is really cool and that they would need to come back to visit the museum sometime. What successes have you had with Pokémon Go? Has it helped bring in new, younger audiences?

fire5


Is There a Place for Pokémon Go in History Museums?

Some very excited colleagues came into my office earlier this week: “Hey…we’re not only the site of two Pokémon Gyms, but we’ve also got seven Pokéstops!” “OK,” I said, “now how do we engage these people?”

Since last Friday, Pokémon fever has swept the globe and we’ve noticed a definite increase in the number of people exploring our site. In the ridiculously off chance that you aren’t familiar with Pokémon Go, software developer Niantic hit a grand slam with this a location-based augmented reality mobile game that encourages users to get outdoors and explore their surroundings as they strive to collect coveted Pokémon characters. So why should history museums care about this? Is it just another fad? As it is, many of us struggle to continually come up with clever Facebook and Instagram posts—we don’t have time for another “thing.” Well, my team is of the mind that cultural phenomenons like Pokémon Go are definitely worth thinking about for a number of reasons. Here are two:

pkgo

Reaching out to new audiences

Take a minute to read Russell Holly’s article about who is playing Pokémon Go. Yes, players get caught up in their screens, but they are also socializing with friends and complete strangers. They are talking to one another while exploring new landmarks and neighborhoods. (How many of us would kill for this kind of ongoing interaction in our institutions?) Yesterday, my friend John who lives in Portland posted the following in his Facebook feed:  “Say what you will about Pokémon Go, but I've never seen so many diverse groups of people out on a Tuesday night. I went for a run along the waterfront and I saw friends and lovers wandering about, battling sundry creatures and experiencing the city. I snickered at one couple, who denied they were playing Pokémon until I admitted that I too had downloaded the app out of curiosity.” Like visitors to our museums, players of this augmented reality game have a variety of motivations for engaging with this technology. For some it’s nostalgia, for others it’s an obsession or a curiosity.

Seeing a great opportunity to engage with people who like to explore, the National Park Service quickly released a video welcoming Pokémon players to their parks and encouraging them to take a moment to explore the incredible reality of their surroundings. (Well done!) At the Homestead, we did something similar on a much smaller scale with a simple Facebook post.

pgopomemon homestead

 

While we don’t have hard data from Niantic about who is playing the game at the museum and in our neighborhoods, my team has seen that it’s mostly people from their mid-30s to elementary school-aged kids. These are people that many of us are trying to appeal more to, especially folks in their teens and 20s. We’ve decided to set a couple of Pokémon Lures (modules that attract Pokémon trainers to Pokéstops for a period of 30 minutes for a fee of 99¢) at our next First Sunday Picnic. These low key, relaxing events provide visitors with more opportunity than usual to explore our historic site on their own. It’s all about free choice. We offer a few activities at each picnic that visitors can choose to participate in, or just relax with family and friends. If we see players on site, our plan is to engage them in conversation. We want to know if we were on their radar before Pokémon Go, and encourage them to learn more about the museum and what we have to offer. “You think you’ve got a great 'collection'…check out ours!” We see this as an opportunity to have some one-on-one conversations that will provide us with more info about an audience we want to better understand.

 

Being responsive to current events and trends

History museums are working on becoming more nimble and less static. We’ve got a new reputation to cultivate, and not just when it comes to how we can use Pokémon Go! Museums that address complex social issues such as the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center quickly responded and have kept conversations going about the jarring recent events in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas. Are they posting and talking about Pokémon Go? No. It’s not the right fit, but for a historic site like ours in a park-like setting, or a museum like the Hirshhorn who used social media to welcome Pokémon players featuring a painting from their collection, great! The first organization to comment on their post was the National Museum of Women in the Arts who said “Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden we love you! This is hilarious.”

 

pgopokemon hirshhorn

 

What is not hilarious, however, is hearing about all of the Pokémon Go being played at places like the National Holocaust Museum and the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. It’s disheartening that these institutions have to ask visitors not to play the game in their galleries out of respect for other visitors and the subjects being addressed. If only we could flip the switch on everyone who lacks good judgement... But we also should not assume that people who are engrossed in their smartphones at historic sites are tuning out.

NPR’s All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro asked tech correspondent Glen Weldon if Pokémon Go symbolized the downfall of civilization. After a good chuckle, Weldon answered “You know, I - we went to the Lincoln Memorial which is a Pokémon gym for a Facebook Live piece yesterday looking for people playing this game. We looked for 45 minutes to find somebody who was actually doing it because instead, they were reading about Abraham Lincoln. This is not the downfall of society. This is just another little bend in history.”

There are numerous ways that institutions of every size can use current trends and events to promote programs and collections. If you are in need of a rich topic to explore, just look to politics as we are ramping up for the presidential election. Do you have something in your collection about a specific election, or a letter from someone important to your institution’s story that states a strong or controversial opinion? Use it as an opportunity for discussion and debate. Do you have sheet music or recordings of campaign songs? Maybe you don’t have the time to write an in-depth blog post about them, but you can share an image of an item from your collection with a link to something like professor Brian Ward’s post about the “politics,” impact, and importance of campaign music in US elections.

Now back to Pokémon Go! It’s up to each organization as to how they react, respond, tap into, or ignore the phenomenon. It’s made for some great conversation around the office this week about the features of the game—but more importantly about visitor behavior, access to our site, the impact of crowd-sourced information, publicity, security, free-choice learning, and much more.

------------------------------------

pgojigglypuffAlexandra Rasic is the Director of Public Programs at the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum in the City of Industry, CA, and chair of AASLH’s Educators and Interpreters Committee. She worries that her six-year-old son will figure out how to unlatch the backyard gate and be caught wandering the streets of their neighborhood in search of Jigglypuff. 

 

 


Using Front Line Staff to Build the Best Visitor Experience

Do a quick Google search for the definition of Visitor Experience. Go ahead. You won’t find one. Primarily because we, as institutions, define what the visitor experience is for ourselves. Therein lies one of the most fundamental struggles we all face. What does our visitor experience look like? What do we want our visitors to see, think, feel, do, etc. when they come to see us? The visitor experience will also be vastly different based on the mission of the organization. For example, the 9/11 Memorial’s mission includes the words somber, remembrance, murder, terrorists, horrific, resolve, respect. By contrast, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’s mission features the words create, arts, humanities, power, learning, sciences. Visitors will have different expectations based on, in part, where they are going. But, there is much more to consider. We focus a great deal on the experience once visitors have gained admission, but what about that first and last encounter and the people providing it?

Trey2

I am the Front Line Experience Unit Manager at the Ohio History Center (OHC) in Columbus, Ohio. My background includes nearly a decade of retail management and a few years in OHC’s Education and Outreach Department where I worked with schools throughout Ohio. I view my responsibility to the visitor experience like customer service on steroids. Customer service is all well and good, but what I’m encouraging our front line staff to do is something bigger…something grand. We have the privilege of greeting and serving every single visitor that walks through our doors. The vast majority of visitors we encounter are happy to be here and have justifiably high expectations that they will walk out feeling that their visit was money well spent. We have the ability to make sure every visitor starts off on the right foot in our museum, and it’s a responsibility we take seriously. But how can I, as a staff supervisor, make sure that this is happening and that the experience is genuine?

Jan09_FB

We see articles, books, and blog posts (ahem) all the time that tell us customer service is the key and great customer service is an investment in our institution’s future. While that is certainly true, how do we make that a reality? I learned a long time ago that a successful approach for one person does not guarantee success for another. I’m extremely lucky to supervise a team with very different personalities, interests, and styles. We talk…a lot. I have gotten to know the team, we call them CSRs, and have found out what they like and don’t like, what they hope to do, and as a result I’ve discovered ways to connect them to the organization.

In that discovery is the silver bullet to an excellent experience for every visitor. Engaged staff. You must be thinking that surely I’m not just now realizing that an engaged staff equals positive visitor results. Of course not. But, by finding a solid connection to the organization through professional development and projects that pique their interest, I am creating a space where they can become true blue museum experts. We are undertaking an experiment, which involves utilizing our museum space in a new and exciting way. One of the challenges of this endeavor is explaining it to the public. Who better to do this than the front line staff? We have established specific times for the front line staff to go behind the scenes of these experimental museum spaces and hang out with curators. They ask questions and touch objects, all while learning about the goals and expectations for these spaces directly from the curators. This experience (there’s that word again) has given the front line staff the knowledge they need to talk about the spaces with our visitors in a truly engaging way. There is also the side benefit that the information they are passing along is accurate.

Jaide1

In addition to exploring the museum they work in, we have also made an effort to find substantive projects that align with the front line staff member’s knowledge, skills, abilities and interests. We are fortunate to have a paid part-time staff, so I am able to work with department managers around the building to find projects and assign them to the appropriate CSR. We have had front line staff work on visitor studies, newspaper digitization, marketing and more! These experiences help solidify the connection to the organization and foster a desire to work here long term. It also creates buzz around working at the front desk and they are genuinely excited to talk about their workspace with visitors. If that translates into a few extra membership sales, who am I to complain? I’ll save my plan for launching membership initiatives with zero budgets for another post.

The parallel between visitor expectations and staff performance is this; meet people where they are. There are 15 million ways to create an engaged staff that will do their part to create an amazing visitor experience. This is what works for us right now. Finding yours is the hard part. Talking to the front line staff and getting to know them is a critical first step. These are people who are passionate about their work, have a desire to do well, and can generally operate with very little oversight. Like all museum staff, they need professional development and ways to work with other museum colleagues. I am currently collaborating with another museum on shared professional development opportunities that will hopefully kick start a visitor experience movement in central Ohio and beyond. The ultimate goal is to create a language for the visitor experience, something we can put into shared terms. We might even come up with a definition, though defining the visitor experience is less important than understanding what it is for your organization. More to come on that soon. In the meantime, keep the conversation going about creating an engaged frontline staff and ensuring amazing visitor experiences for all who visit us and our zany, wonderful museums.

________

Want to write for the member voices blog? Send your article idea or complete article to hethmon@aaslh.org with a title, at least two photos, and your membership number (staff of institutional members please send your institution's membership number). 


Mount Vernon Releases New Animated Feature

AASLH Member Since 1984

Washington’s Winter Campaign Comes to Life in Mount Vernon’s Second Feature Animation

vernonMOUNT VERNON, VA – George Washington’s crossing of the icy Delaware River on Christmas Day 1776 is one of the most remarkable and well-known events in American military history.  Why did this crossing on a freezing winter’s night matter so much?  The Winter Patriots, Mount Vernon’s cutting-edge video presentation, looks at not only this pivotal moment of the American Revolution, but also the battles and challenges confronting Washington and his army at places like Trenton and Princeton.

Starting during the summer of 1776, the story follows the Continental Army as it is repeatedly defeated and driven from New York, south across New Jersey towards the Delaware River.   After crossing over the Delaware River on Christmas Day, Washington’s Continentals swiftly defeat three different armies at three different battlefields around Trenton and Princeton.  Washington’s lightning campaign, coupled with timely guerilla actions, completely unhinged the British position, forcing their precipitous retreat back towards New York.

“If we want the next generation to truly understand the role that George Washington played in America’s founding—and to grasp why he was crossing the Delaware— we need to tell the story using the kinds of rich media and digital channels that a modern audience now expects,” said Rob Shenk, senior vice president for visitor engagement, who oversaw the production in collaboration with the Washington Library’s founding director, Dr. Doug Bradburn.

Like Now or Never: The Yorktown CampaignThe Winter Patriots incorporates cutting edge animation, historical imagery, and live action footage into an exciting, fast paced presentation created by Wide Awake Films.  Much of the live action footage was filmed with Hessian, British, and American re-enactors in the deep snows of New Paltz, New York.

The Winter Patriots is available to view for free at mountvernon.org/winterpatriots. The presentation is available to download for a $4.99 fee. The production has been made possible through the generous financial support of the F.M. Kirby Foundation of Morristown, New Jersey.


Join the Blue Star Museums Program!

Blue Star Museums is a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than 2,000 museums across America to offer free admission to the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve, from Memorial Day, May 25, 2015 through Labor Day, September 7, 2015.

A number of AASLH members participate in this great program, so we asked them to share with our readers how they became #BlueStarMuseums and how this has affected their audience, visitation, and community engagement.

Michelle Zupan, Curator and Director at the Hickory Hill historic house museum:

"Georgia is a huge military state (the 5th largest in the nation), so it's the norm, not the exception, for people to know active or retired military here.  We have 8 military bases. We have worked for 11 years with the Ft. Gordon Signal Museum on cooperative programming and preservation efforts.  So, when the Blue Star Program started, there was no question that we would join.  We actually began offering free admission for active and retired military and their families year round because of it.  Also as a result of the Blue Star Program we began working closely with a program that helps wounded warriors reintegrate with society and with the Veterans Curation Program that is administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers. It's an easy thing to offer the Blue Star admission and the vets are always surprised. It costs us nothing to administer, but brings us lots of goodwill in our community which is more important than any admission dollar."

Regina Asborno, Deputy Director of the New York Transit Museum:

"Last summer the New York Transit Museum proudly offered free admission to 202 visitors through the NEA Blue Star Museums program. It is such a great program that we’ve chosen to continue this offer to military families throughout the year and saw over 600 military visitors and their family members in 2014."

Steve Hawkins, Director of Marketing at the Oklahoma History Center:

"The Blue Star Museums program is a way we here at the Oklahoma History Center can offer our deepest gratitude to those who serve our nation.  By offering these brave folks and their families a no-admission opportunity to see a slice of Oklahoma history and a day to relax, we are essentially shaking a hand and patting them on the back.  This is the very least we can offer and we do it with pride and respect for them and our wonderful country."

What about your museum? Will you be a Blue Star Museum this summer, or even throughout the year?

Register today!

 

Aja Bain is Program Assistant at AASLH. She can be reached at abain@aaslh.org or 615-320-3203.


#Hashtag Revolution

With many museum visitors now carrying smart devices everywhere they go, a museum visit now typically includes on-the-spot social media activity. Earlier this year, a number of museums (sometimes begrudgingly) embraced this trend by celebrating Museum Selfie Day. On January 21st, Wells Fargo History Museums across the United States were among the multitude of museums that participated in this event.

Visitors were encouraged to use the hashtags #museumselfie and #wfmuseum with photos they took during their museum visit that day. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook were flooded with smiling faces heralding a fun museum experience. Throughout the day, we tracked our social media activity using a hashtag aggregator called Hashtagr and watched as awareness of our little museum rapidly expanded. The experience was so positive for all eleven of our museums that my fellow managers readily agreed to give the hashtag idea another run.

As the anniversary of Wells Fargo’s founding drew near, I suggested that we put a company twist on Museum Selfie Day, and celebrate our 163rd birthday with Stagecoach Selfie Day. Visitors were promised a free gift after they posted their selfie, and we sweetened the pot with some celebratory snacks at each location. Again, we used Hashtagr to track incoming selfies and marveled as guests crowded around the aggregator screen to see their photo pop up alongside photos from all over the country. The excitement of the visitors and their eagerness to participate brought a new energy into the museum, an energy we plan to maintain with interactive programs and more social media fun!

stagecollage

Many museums have found innovative ways to use social media as a free marketing tool, and the use of hashtags has become a large part of that. While social media marketing still has its detractors, one can’t argue with the numbers. Our event, held between noon and 2pm on Wednesday, March 18th, outperformed the previous two days’ visitor numbers in those hours by over 250%! Have you had similar positive experiences using social media? In what innovative ways does your company merge its history and its future to reach new eyes?

Patrick Wittwer is the Museum Manager at the Wells Fargo History Museum in Philadelphia.


Pictures Say It All

Recently I saw a Facebook post from a museum boasting about how exciting a day they were having due to a large group of school children visiting. The post continued to mention just how "thrilled" and "engaged" the students were in all of the activities. Accompanying this language were pictures of the children at various activity stations.

At quick glance this seemed sweet. It appeared to be a positive post about the successful connection between the museum and their audience. However, a closer look at the images revealed droopy faces, heads slumped over, and glazed-over eyes. The images simply didn't match the words. Did this institution completely fail to review the images they were posting?

It got me wondering, just how do often museums misread their audiences' reactions. Many museums provide evaluations or other feedback loops to capture visitor responses but how often are images used as an evaluative tool? Have any of you utilized photos of your visitors during their visits as a means to learn more about their interactions? I am not suggesting replacing other evaluation methods with images alone but I do think it could be worthwhile. Snap some shots throughout the day. What are your visitors looking at or doing? Do their facial expressions match your expected outcomes/ emotions?

And once you snap those pictures, share them. In a visual culture that thrives on social media, photos of visitors are gold. Just be sure that what you say is happening in the image is in fact reflected in it.