Boot Camp Alum Update: A Wacky Walking Tour With the Watkins Museum

Museum Resources
Marketing & Aud Dev Associate
Museum Resources October 11, 2017 Featured Image

Something magical happened for Abby Magariel, Education and Programs Coordinator at the Watkins Museum of History in Lawrence, KS, at our Audience Engagement Boot Camp.

She tells it like this:

I realized the Met was “mine,” and that I had special knowledge about some of the works on display. I worked up a story on the Frank Lloyd Wright sprite for my team’s tour of the American Wing, and now I have a real feeling of ownership when it comes to that corner of the museum. Those were some intense hours spent in Diana’s shadow (the Saint-Gaudens Diana, not Museum Hack Diana!) prepping that story, and so enjoyable that I have tapped into that feeling of urgency when creating new programs back at my own museum!

When Abby returned to Kansas, she and a colleague developed a new tour just in time for the city’s annual commemoration of the day Lawrence was terrorized by guerrilla Confederates during the Civil War (Quantrill’s Raid, for those Googling along). The new event included walking tours of the downtown district.

Abby and her coworker created a new tour that touches on Civil War stories, but incorporates even more history: town buildings, important people, and a little bit of architecture. The techniques Abby learned in Boot Camp allowed the walking tour to become more contextual and immersive for attendees.

“More than anything, I brought back the Five Elements. They are such a great way to begin to develop a tour—any tour!” – Abby

Abby had two main goals when developing her new tour:

  • To create a new experience for people who have already taken our standard walking tours;
  • To reach a new audience.

What were some of the new activities she designed?

Abby spent a lot of time talking about bricks on this tour – like, a lot. She notes, however, that without bricks, the town would have struggled to grow! With engaging storytelling and a bit of context, attendees had a new appreciation for the role of the humble brick in their community.

Another activity drew inspiration from an artifact in the collection that was part of a national movement: the “Don’t Spit on Sidewalk” brick, which exhorted pedestrians to not spit their tobacco juice on sidewalks in the interest of public sanitation. To boost engagement, participants used a piece of chalk to write their own modern message on a sidewalk brick.

What do the people think?

Most participants had signed up for Abby’s new tour because the standard tours were already sold out that day and the new tour, as an unknown commodity, was slower to sell. In the end, though, the Museum sold nearly all available spots on the new tour and everyone participated in the activities!

The audience was typical for Watkins’ current museum audience, but happily, the tour-goers were enthusiastic about the new games and content.

To truly find out what the public thinks, Abby and her team are sending out a post-tour evaluation to attendees, and hope to improve upon programming as they continue to roll out new, unconventional walking tours.

Abby’s advice?

“Boot Camp was, hands down, the best professional development I’ve experienced.”

Want to pump up your professional development and bring back inspiration to your our institution? Find out more about our Audience Engagement Boot Camp, and check out what other Boot Camp alums are up to back at their home museums:


written with 💖 by Julia Kennedy

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