How To Hack a Museum in 3 Hours: Ethan at the Textile Museum in DC

Museum Hack
Renegade Tours

In early April, 2015, Nick and Ethan attended the TEDxFoggyBottom conference. Nick gave a talk (see some of the great photos here) about what we do at Museum Hack, and how we use renegade tours of the museum to change the way young people think about the space. After the talk, Ethan put the theory to the test, and took the conference attendees on a customized tour of the Textile Museum in The George Washington University. He crafted a museum tour in a mere three hours– which is pretty mind blowing. We interviewed Ethan about how it went. Read below to find out more.

MH- What was the target audience?

Ethan: There was wide range of people in attendance: everything from college students to art history professors to TEDx presenters to DC residents. The major commonality was that they had never been to the new Textile Museum and were interested in checking it out, but needed a little extra push. And it worked, I think.

Textile Museum Ethan leading tour group

MH: How did the students react?

Ethan: They went wild for it! Seriously. We tried to cap the tours at 15, but so many people wanted to experience Museum Hack that the group size wound up being closer to 25. I think the Textile Museum was pretty happy too – I had a number of staff members following and smiling. It’s so nice to see people flocking to a new museum!

Textile Museum galleries dresses

MH: What was most helpful during your research?

Ethan: We had three hours to hack an (essentially) brand new museum, so I needed good stuff, fast. We had the chance to chat with Curator Lee Talbot. He is awesome. He clearly loves the museum and its collection, and the more excited he got, the more excited we got. He showed us some of his favorite pieces, and then we did some more research to craft good stories around them. (Also, Lee told me he occasionally gives tours in a kilt. Yes please!)

Nick and Ethan discussing with Textile Museum staff
Nick and Ethan chat with Curator Lee Talbot to prepare for the hack.

MH: What would you advise for others who want to make a quickie “Hack” tour of their Museum?

Ethan: Go with your gut. If it seems nifty and cool, then just start digging. If you are excited about it, your guests will be excited about it. And don’t be afraid to tell stories that seem to go “wide.” I discussed 15th century cod pieces in front of a Peruvian loin cloth to lay context. The great thing about museums is that they are jumping off points for all kinds of wild discussions.

MH: Would Museum Hack ever do this for a museum for special events, new gallery openings, etc?

Ethan: Totally! One of the great things about our staff is that we can create and turn around new content and experience with lightening speed, while making it fun, sassy and exciting. It’s pretty much our favorite thing to do! Plus, it’s a great way to get a fresh, new audience in the doors.

Do you work for a museum? Would you love to work with us to come hack your museum? Send us an email! Click here to read more about our workshops, presentations, and museum consulting work. Subscribe to our mailing list to get articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

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