How to Appeal to New Audiences (Case Study: Allentown Art Museum)

Jesse Sussman - Marketing Associate

The Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley has served as a beacon of cultural heritage in Allentown, Pennsylvania for more than 75 years. Boasting a collection of over 17,000 works of visual art, the museum currently sees over 100,000 visitors each year and plays host to a number of exciting exhibitions and programs, a large number of which are geared toward children in school programs.

A recent revivification of the city’s downtown area led to a surge in the millennial population living and working in Allentown, and the museum was looking for a way to attract and connect with this new audience.

The team at the Allentown Art Museum reached out to Museum Hack to help explore possibilities in appealing to the city’s new young audience, and we were more than happy to get to work!

How We Get Started: Pennsylvania Bound!

Last summer, we sent a team of four Museum Hackers — Diana, Zak, Dustin, and Kate — to spend three days in Pennsylvania, familiarizing themselves with the Allentown Art Museum, demonstrating our tour structure, facilitating a workshop for the museum’s staff, and helping “hack” the museum’s engagement strategies for young adult audiences.

Step One: Introduce Best Practices for Audience Engagement

At Museum Hack, we’ve developed tried-and-true techniques for leading dynamic, engaging museum tours. During our workshop, we shared and enacted our techniques for tour pacing, interaction, and encouraging audience participation to energize and excite museum guests.

Step Two: Applying the 5 Elements of a Hack

Storytelling is key when it comes to developing an entertaining, informative, and fun museum tour! We shared our “5 Elements of a Hack” methodology for developing great narratives on art, exhibits, and objects, then demonstrated the technique on pieces in the AAM collection.

Once the AAM team had a solid grasp on those five steps, our crew sent them off into the museum to develop a tour stop of their own favorite works!

Step Three: Inspiring Participation

Today’s museum-goer isn’t interested in simply seeing — they want to do! Inviting guests to get involved during tours with interactive discussions and fun activities is crucial in creating a memorable tour! We shared the importance of starting a conversation with your institution’s audience with the AAM staff — and how to get the ball rolling by encouraging guests to share their feelings and opinions on the artwork, playing mission-based exploratory games in the galleries, and even utilizing smartphones as a tool for technology-based tour activities.

Mix & Mingle to Create New Connections

During their time in Allentown, our team also led a fun professional development day for the AAM staff, providing the museum’s various departments the chance to meet and chat with colleagues they don’t often have the opportunity to interact with!

“It was fantastic!”

By the time our Museum Hackers had packed their bags and flown back to NYC, our friends at the Allentown Art Museum had all the tools they needed to revamp their approach, develop awesome museum tours, and better engage with their guests!

Check out this video our team put together about their time at the Allentown Art Museum!

“I think it was awesome! I think everybody really enjoyed themselves. I think there’s a lot of conversation; it was a great group development tool. But more than that, I think it’s leading the museum in a different direction in terms of tours.”

“I think there’s a whole idea about how to organize the tour a little differently than we’ve done in the past, and I think there’s a whole lot of issues about the use of technology, storytelling, about eliciting more responses from our audiences. All of that was great!”

– David Mickenberg, President and CEO of Allentown Art Museum

Thank you to David and the rest of the Allentown Art Museum team for having us! We loved learning about your institution’s unique story — and helping your team develop exciting ways to attract and interact with new audiences!

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