Ideas from Midwest Museums: Creative Ways to Engage Audiences

During our spring mixer in Chicago, hosted by the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, we dedicated some of our time together to brainstorming solutions to a common challenge. In this post, we share creative ways that museums can increase audience engagement and visitation and potentially generate new or additional revenue.

Engaging Audiences on Social Media

What can we offer that is one-of-a-kind? Surprising? Sparks curiosity?

  • Give them a peek behind-the-scenes
  • Show “a day in the life” of artifacts, people, museum workers, etc.
  • Show objects deconstructed, how they were made, or show views you can’t see when on display
  • Bring play into the museum
  • Create an app that connects museum collections across museums in your city/region, so people can build their own adventures around personal interests
  • Create a collection I-Spy game/contest – how many X can you find??
  • Text with an historian, historical figure, or other “personality” at your museum (maybe it’s an animal in a diorama!)
  • Host “Did you know?” episodes or let people text questions to Did You Know…? resource for replies from museum staff
  • Share funny things (Me? Serious? Museum people laugh too!)
  • Take the “stuff” out of the “stuffy” atmosphere – show your lighter side



Engaging Families with Children at the Museum

What are simple ways we could change things up? What do they already ask for or love, and how do we turn that into an opportunity?

  • Snacks!
  • Improve access/tactility
  • Add a simple maker space or play space
  • Add chairs/seating for kids
  • Encourage play
  • Create an immersive soundscape
  • Offer sensory experiences for adults and kids
  • Offer engagement activities/options around a place to sit
  • Reading or sensory nooks



Engaging Adults at the Museum

What are simple ways we could change things up? What might catch their attention? What do visitors ask about that we can turn into a revenue-generating opportunity?

  • Make sure experiences are intergenerational
  • Book clubs
  • Music education programs
  • Collaborations with neighborhood
  • Add seating so people can relax and enjoy the museum!
  • Free days
  • Host community events
  • Host events with adult/senior social media influencers
  • Offer takeaway items/crafts
  • Hands-on exhibits for grown-ups!
  • Create a social space/social cafe
  • Add signage that highlights offerings for adults
  • Free docent-led tours and art projects
  • Nighttime tours of the museum
  • Offer “be a kid again” programs (Come play, roll down our hill, climb our tree, etc.)
  • Create a museum club for older adults to visit museum(s) and make friends



Engaging Audiences Through Outreach

Where can we make appearances outside the museum that our participation is a value-add? What are new and unique ways our museums can be present in our communities?

  • Museum programming outside the museum walls
  • Connecting museum exhibitions to higher ed syllabi and college courses to make exhibitions opportunities for further inquiry and research
  • Civic engagement and collaborations with programming
  • Library exchanges
  • Museum exchanges
  • Connect with local artists and musicians
  • Connect with local schools
  • Become an election polling or voter registration location
  • Set up pop-up exhibits in community spaces (libraries, parks, etc.)
  • Offer mini-shows or pop-up actor-interpreter performances at local theaters and community events
  • Display costumes or other artifacts at plays/performances
  • Connect with community galleries
  • Storytelling at libraries
  • Collaborate with a partner organization on outreach programs
  • Take advantage of outdoor/open air spaces
  • Organize staff “field trips” and exchanges in collaboration with other local organizations or sites
  • Offer language translation services