Case Study: A Critical Exploration Of Museum Interpretation In The 21st Century At St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Taylor Gmahling - Marketing Representative

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In September, we had the opportunity to team up with Liza Gijanto and the other awesome educators leading the museum studies program at St. Mary’s College of Maryland to talk about the landscape of museum engagement today.

The Museum Studies Program at St. Mary’s “is designed to introduce students to the pleasures, problems, and challenges of American museum practice in the 21st century.”

That’s where Museum Hack comes in!

St. Mary’s called us to help them out with two things:

  • Introduce their students to an alternative voice in the museum world (us!)
  • Engage their students in a critical exploration of museum interpretation in the 21st century

Basically, St. Mary’s called us in to talk about what, why, and how we do what we do.

The St. Mary’s museum studies students getting ready for their first Museum Hack tour.

Excited to share our unique take on the museum experience with the next generation of museum professionals, we sent a team of our top guides and creative consultants to break down our renegade philosophy.

We decided the best way to do this would be to:

  • invite the students on one of our tours,
  • present our ideas in a class setting and
  • open the floor to students for a Q&A.

#1: A Renegade Tour Of The National Gallery

First, we had to show the students what it is we do and what better way to do that than by taking them on one of our famous renegade tours in one the best museums in the world?

On a Saturday in late September, 30 St. Mary’s Museum Studies students (plus a few educators) meet three of our lead guides for a high-energy, two-hour group tour through the historic halls of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

The students really got into character for one of our fav museum engagement activities: tableau vivant.

#2: The Backstory Of Our Tours

On the Monday following the tour, we sent one of our lead guides to the college to give a presentation on the background of our one-of-a-kind tours.

Here’s a peek:

“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.”

#3: Hack Chat

After the presentation, we opened up the floor for what we like to call a Hack Chat, time set aside specifically for Q&A leading into a thoughtful group discussion.  

During this time, we invited the museum studies students to deep dive into our methods by asking us any and all questions they have about our tours, engagement philosophies and more.  

So, how did it go?

Here’s what Liza Gijanto, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at St. Mary’s, had to say about the experience:

“I have gotten nothing but positive feedback from students and faculty…  that the presentation was great, and Erich did a wonderful job.”

We love working with museum professionals of all levels! Let’s talk about the best ways your group can – through intentional experimenting and museum interpretation – find new ways to engage and attract new audiences. Want to hear more about how we can work with your institution? Drop us a line at [email protected].

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