Engaging Otters, Porcupines, and the Visitors: A Case Study of the High Desert Museum

Museum Resources
Marketing & Aud Dev Associate
Museum Resources September 29, 2017 Featured Image

Art. History. Cultural. Wildlife.

Normally these words all describe different types of museums – but what if your institution contains them all?

Opened in 1982, the High Desert Museum in Bend, OR brings all of these elements together to promote an understanding of natural and cultural heritage of North America’s high desert country. The museum uses indoor and outdoor exhibits, wildlife in natural-like habitats, and living history demonstrations to help their visitors discover and appreciate the high desert environment.

These elements are all connected by exploring the theme of geography, but when it comes to interpretation, how can you cohesively illustrate each of these different areas?

The answer? Great storytelling.

Storytelling is scientifically proven to release oxytocin — otherwise known as “the cuddle hormone”— which facilitates empathy, kindness, and a heightened ability to connect with people, spaces, and things. It’s your brain’s way of letting your guard down, putting you at ease, and making you comfortable in the present moment. This storytelling technique combined with your collection makes for an unforgettable museum experience.

But nailing storytelling isn’t as simple as it seems.

It’s one thing to understand the power of storytelling and another to implement it successfully across all different aspects of your institution.

That’s why The High Desert Museum called us!

The High Desert Museum team practicing great storytelling.

The High Desert Museum staff were interested in bringing their team together to incorporate new storytelling techniques into their space, and to learn a common language through which they could easily develop new ideas.

HDM is slightly off the beaten path, so the staff was also hoping to attract and engage new audiences that would be willing and excited to make a special trip to visit their museum.

Our workshop provided the High Desert Museum with everything we know about high-level storytelling as a tool for audience engagement, including the 5 Elements Of A Hack – the exact formula we use to create engaging pieces on our own tours.

With the 5 Elements and other audience engagement tools in hand, the High Desert Museum team had a clear roadmap of how to use storytelling to showcase their collection, along with the know-how and practical tools to begin implementing new interpretation techniques immediately.

With a new common language to interpret their expansive collection, the High Desert staff can immediately begin to utilize and experiment with using storytelling to develop new tours and inspire engaging programming.

Workshop facilitator Diana was pretty stoked to see porcupines at High Desert.

Here’s What Museum Hack Facilitator Diana Montano Thought About Her Experience At The High Desert Museum

“I had no idea what I was getting into before my visit to the High Desert Museum for a Workshop – but I was floored by the staff’s willingness to open up with me, show me what they loved about their museum, and imagine their space in a new way, so we could develop new skills and tools to get new visitors to stop by the museum and fall in love as well. We had a fantastic 2 days together, and I know that the staff will be working hard in the future to engage all kinds of audiences from their community. PS. besides the amazing dioramas in their Spirit of the West gallery, they have otters on site that are fed every afternoon!”

Want help maximizing audience engagement at your institution? Find out more about our audience development offerings here.


written with 💖 by Julia Kennedy

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