In the last week I have seen mention of Museum Hack, in both Bloomberg (h/t Artsjournal.com) and Washington Post (h/t Nina Simon). The company does customized tours of museums from a particular frame of reference.
For example, their Badass Bitches Tour,
…shares stories of female artists, muses and subjects. (Versions of the tour are also offered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, National Gallery of Art in the District and the Getty Center in Los Angeles.) Over the course of two hours, we hear about witches and their love of psychedelics; we view works dedicated to the African goddess Oshun, who has inspired the art of Beyoncé; we peer into the dollhouse-like miniature rooms conceived by artist Narcissa Niblack Thorne; and we chew on the fact that works by women, historically, are largely underrepresented in art museums.
…a tour tailored to “finance bros,” for example, will immediately take them to the most expensive object in the museum, with a blunt discussion of its worth—an entry point to engage the newbie audience.
For Harry Potter fans, there is “The Completely Unofficial and Definitely Unlicensed Boy Wizard Tour”
Their core mission is to “go after people who think museums aren’t for them.”
This was a top response in the recent Culture Track survey among people who don’t participate/attend/visit arts and culture organizations. It is also a goal of Arts Midwest’s Creating Connection initiative. Not to mention Nina Simon’s whole raison d’etre.
According to the news stories, Museum Hack is increasingly being hired by cultural organizations to train their docents to present the content in a more accessible manner in terms of language, context and delivery.
My first thought was that there might be a lot of push back from cultural institutions who felt like this was dumbing down the experience what they have to offer. (Though the fact Museum Hack brought $200,000 in revenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year is something to be dismissed.)
The thing is, people who regularly visit museums already have different motivations for doing so that may not align with the assumptions or goals of the institution. I have written about John Falk’s Identity and the Museum Experience before. What is described as the motivations of the a Experience Seeker pretty much aligns with the tour designed for “finance bros.”
While the experience provided at a cultural institution can often delight, you can’t control what type of experience people expect to have. Falk’s identity scheme acknowledges that the same person might not return to the same museum with the same agenda. They may be acting as a facilitator for others during one trip and simple seek to recharge the next time around.
From what I have read their focus seems to really be more about storytelling and forming an engaging narrative about what is found in the museum rather than trying to exploit pop culture trends.
I have often seen titles for university courses that invoke pop culture associations that don’t always follow through and deliver on the promise of an engaging course. There is probably less to complain about in terms of misrepresentation in a two hour museum tour than a 14 week university course.
One thing I was curious about that I didn’t see mentioned in either of the two articles was how many people who have never entered a museum have used their service versus how many regular museum attendees are signing up for the change of perspective.
I can believe that someone who never entered a museum might pay $59 for a tour that resonated with their interests. It would be good to know how often that happens because it could further refute the argument for free admission days.
Research already shows that free admission days are largely attended by those already in the habit of going to museums. Indications that people are willing to pay for an appealing experience might go some distance to bolstering museum finances.