The Importance of Storytelling to Engage Millennials (Case Study: Hancock Shaker Village)

Known as “The City of Peace,” Hancock Shaker Village is a living Shaker history museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

This Village — set on 750 acres with 20 authentic Shaker buildings —  preserves its rich history for generations to come with tours; live demonstrations of Shaker traditions; costumed interpreters; and a gallery showcasing a rotation of Shaker furniture, tools, and artifacts.

But with a community so richly steeped in tradition, how do you attract and engage younger audiences?

Hancock Shaker Village reached out to Museum Hack to find out how we might be able to help them formulate ideas and create programming for millennials — and create opportunity for engagement staff from different institutions in the Berkshire area to work together in the process!

Hancock Shaker Village | source

Engaging the Millennial Audience with Tried-and-True Techniques

Two months ago, we sent two VIP tour guides, Kate Downey and Jen Browne, to spend three days in Pittsfield and work with the Hancock Shaker Village team to develop new and exciting ways to attract and encourage participation from younger audiences.

During their time there, Kate and Jen led a workshop and hosted a small evening event where they:

  • demonstrated our “hack” tour structure,
  • shared proven tour approach techniques,
  • and discussed everything from pacing to the utilization of technology to encourage guest participation!
Some of the animals living on site.
Some of the animals living on site.

The 5 Elements of a Hack

Kate and Jen ran a workshop for the Village focusing on a five-step storytelling development technique we refer to as the “5 Elements of a Hack.” They walked through these steps with the Village staff first, then demonstrated using pieces in the Village’s own collection.

Once the Village staff had a good grasp of the basics, Kate and Jen set them loose to construct narratives around their own favorite artifacts and spaces!

Some of the findings!
Some of the findings!

Participation for Personal Connections 

In addition to the tour experience itself, Kate and Jen also relayed the importance of activities in the museum space to involve younger guests and ensure they foster a personal connection with the things they see and experience in the Village.

Some of the suggestions included:

  • exploratory activities to get guests involved in fun “missions”;
  • encouraging guests to speak their minds about the way certain artifacts and exhibits make them feel;
  • using smartphones and technology to play a big part in keeping visitors engaged and learning!

It takes a Village…

By the end of the workshop, our friends at Hancock Shaker Village were ready to use the methods taught to them by Kate and Jen to go forth and “hack” on their own!

Check out this video Jen and Kate put together about their time at “The City of Peace!”

“I think it was great. We are so happy to have the Hackers here, and we learned a lot. And I think everybody took a lot away from the workshop.”

“I saw you at NEMA in Portland and it was one of the best presentations I’ve ever seen. And I said, ‘We have to find a way to get these guys here to engage millennials at our site and other sites around the Berkshires.’” – Lesley Herzberg

Thank you to Lesley, Cindy, and the Hancock Shaker Village staff for having us! We had a great time learning about Shaker history in Pittsfield and helping facilitate out-of-the-box ways to create experiences for the millennial audience at this wonderful institution.


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