Creating Alternative Museum Experiences: A Case Study with Academy of Natural Sciences

Julia Kennedy - Marketing & Aud Dev Associate

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If you want to bring in new audiences, you have to be open to experimenting.

Sometimes museums are hesitant to experiment with offering alternative-style tours or programming because they fear their institution’s integrity is at risk, or they’re nervous about the public’s reaction, and those are fair things to be concerned about.

But we believe the opposite — that creating alternative museum experiences allow even more people to appreciate the significance of your museum and its collection.

Presenting the content in a different light doesn’t dumb it down; it allows more people to experience it in new ways.

Alternative tours are still completely, one-hundred-percent factual. You’re not changing the facts, history, or meaning — you’re just translating your museum and collection into a colloquial language that makes the information more accessible.

One of these is not like the others. | Guide Dustin Growick explores the collection.

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University: A Historic (And The Oldest) Natural History Museum In America

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, located in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, is a natural history museum dedicated to the advancement of research, education, and public engagement of biodiversity and environmental science.

Founded in 1812, The Academy of Natural Sciences is the oldest natural history museum in America! With over 18 million specimens at their institution, they also have one of the most impressive collections we’ve ever seen.

Why The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University Chose To Bring Us Onboard

The museum was interested in bringing their staff together to develop alternative museum experiences beyond the standard handful of age-based tours.

Timshel Purdum, the Assistant Vice President of Public Experience at The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, stated:

“It was important to me to have this cross-departmental group investigating that our audience isn’t monolithic.”

Purdum continued by noting that offering “adult” tours were too big of a catch-all term, and wanted their entire staff to learn, work, and play together while investigating how to offer more personalized and unique experiences to their visitors.

That’s exactly what we helped them do.

Our VIP guides Dustin and Kelly traveled out to Philadelphia for a day of intense training with the Academy of Natural Sciences team.

To start, Dustin and Kelly gave an in-depth presentation to the institution’s entire staff. TANS is a large institution with over 150 employees and 300 volunteers, and nearly all departments of the museum were represented: visitor services, membership, marketing, social media, event planning, and scientists, to name a few.

The presentation was interactive, encouraged participation from staff, and collaboration with other departments. At one point, the president of the museum even got up on stage and recreated a diorama!

Staff from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University recreating a famous painting on stage.

After the presentation, they broke off into more individualized workshops specific to each department.

The goal of the workshops was to add new tools to help supercharge storytelling methods and interpretive style; energize and improve collaboration and communication among staff; and reframe conversations about reaching new groups and engaging existing groups better.

After our day together, we asked Timshel how she and her team felt about the training. Here was her answer:

“I asked everyone who participated to give me their key takeaways to help make sure that we can implement some of the learning. And a lot of the feedback I got said that you all did a really good job, and even our scientists thought it was really amazing. A lot of people wrote something along the lines of, “It got me outside of my comfort zone and made me really nervous —  but I’m so glad I did it!”

Does your team need to experience some creative collaboration? We can help facilitate that. Email us at [email protected].

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