Five Museums, Two Guides, One Great Workshop: A Case Study with Buffalo Bill Center Of The West

Julia Kennedy

Julia Kennedy
Marketing & Aud Dev Associate

How often does your museum’s entire staff get together in person?

Some museums bring their staffs together infrequently, or only for major projects or meetings.

This is understandable, even though it’s not ideal, given that cultural institutions often have many moving parts working independently to support the larger whole.

That being said, it’s all too easy for weeks to pass while you’re sequestered in your office, limited to email or phone communication with your colleagues, or only speaking to the same group of people in your department.

Not only does this pattern get stale for many museum professionals, it also stagnates innovation.

This was a particular problem for The Buffalo Bill Center Of The West – because they are really five museums on the same complex.

The Buffalo Bill Center Of The West: An Authentic Experience With The American West

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a huge complex dedicated to Western American art, culture, and artifacts that describes their mission as the following:

To inspire, educate, and engage global audiences through an authentic experience with the American West.“

Based in Cody, Wyoming, just outside the east gate of Yellowstone National Park, The Buffalo Bill Center of the West (BBCW) is comprised of five individual museums: the Draper Natural History Museum, Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, and Cody Firearms Museum.

The New York Times has said The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is “among the nation’s most remarkable museums.”

The BBCW were recently looking for unique ways to freshen up their space, shake up their storytelling methods and interpretive style, and improve collaboration and communication among their staff. So who did they call? Us!

Learning Museum Hack’s Best Practices For Audience Engagement and Storytelling… While Simultaneously Team Building?!

Our senior tour guides Zak and Dustin recently flew out to Cody, Wyoming for an intensive three-day training at BBCW.

To start, Zak and Dustin gave a presentation to the institution’s entire staff showcasing Museum Hack’s best strategies for bringing new life to art and cultural institutions through storytelling, with an emphasis on engaging and attracting millennial audiences.

After the presentation, the team broke off into smaller, specific groups, so that individual departments (e.g. information technology, marketing, public relations and social media) could learn new strategies for selling and promoting their amazing institution.

BBCW’s initial goal when hiring us was to get on the cutting edge of storytelling for museum spaces. But in addition to the storytelling toolkit they received, Karen McWhorter, Scarlett Curator of Western American Art at the Whitney Western Art Museum, also found that the experience brought their staff closer together.

“It was just so neat to see my colleagues from such disparate parts across the museum experience something very new for most of them. Most of the tactics discussed were boundary pushing, and it was neat to see our staff all grow and open themselves up to different ways reaching out to new and different audiences. So I just had a blast, and it was fun.

I think the real benefit as well, in addition to the toolkit we were left with, and armed with, was also the fact that this was a team building exercise to be sure, and encouraged interaction among departments who otherwise wouldn’t otherwise wouldn’t cross paths with during the day…  and I think it was a consequence of the experience that we became a closer team because of it.”

Would The Buffalo Bill Center Of The West Recommend Working With Museum Hack To Other Institutions That Want To Increase Their Audience Engagement?

Even though our training wasn’t explicitly designed as team building — the primary focus was to teach and implement our best audience engagement practices to BBCW staff — people really enjoyed their time spent with colleagues they don’t normally work with.

They considered our training both a fun team building exercise and a great way to explore the museum through our lens and that of a colleague.

After our three days together, we asked BBCW if they would recommend working with Museum Hack to other institutions.

“I would definitely suggest that. I’ve already shared a bit of our experience with our colleagues at the Denver Art Museum and elsewhere and just mentioned what a constructive and creative activity it was, very much worth our time, with the ancillary benefit of team building, but also an increased energy and commitment toward audience engagement. And if that’s what people are looking for, and hoping to shake things up, then I think your training program is definitely the way to go.”

– Karen McWhorter, Scarlett Curator of Western American Art at the Whitney Western Art Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West

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