7 Reasons Museum Hack Tours are Different

Renegade Tours
Stories October 24, 2014 Featured Image

7 Reasons Egyptian wingTo some, Museums are just colossal spaces full of old stuff. The Museum Hack team lives in an alternate reality in which Museums are the coolest places on earth. We can just walk into the museum and see things humans made 5,000 years ago, objects that belonged to the most infamous characters in history, and actual dinosaur fossils that are 66 million years old! At Museum Hack, we’re figuring out how to make this alternate reality the norm. We want everyone else to be as excited about museums as we are. We do what we do because we love museums, and because we firmly believe that museums are f**king awesome.

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We Do Things Differently:

  • We want you to have a positive experience more than we want you to walk away with cold, hard facts. To have that moment of “oh my god – I’m having FUN in a MUSEUM.”
  • We don’t come from the art/museum world, and don’t pretend to – we’re ready to connect on a level playing field.
  • We want to bring a new audience to museums.

What does ‘hack’ mean?

‘To Hack’ is to study the elements of a system so closely that you can manipulate them to make them into something new. We call ourselves renegade, not rogue. We break conventions, not rules. Hacking experience for us, means an informal, somewhat sassy attitude that encourages people to be themselves, have opinions, and share them.

7 Reasons Museum Hack Tours are Different

1. We Curate by Passion
We talk about pieces that we are excited about and can connect with, not just ones that are historically and/or artistically important. The excitement of being reverently irreverent is infectious, and people can feel that sort of energy.

2. We make content accessible
If we use art history terms or scientific jargon (like “impressionist,” “cladogram,” or “rococo”) we’ll define what we say, because we want museum goers, and non museum goers alike to latch on to what we’re saying. One of our mantras is that people have been people since they’ve been people. The artists and scientists behind the objects are people, the people depicted in the art are people, the people in the museum’s history are people, and people have been doing people stuff forever. We reframe the artworks and artifacts using storytelling and pop-culture references – because a lot of the characters in history have modern counterparts.

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3.We are low tech/high touch

We’re low tech and high touch. We like to get to know our guests, which is why we have roughly a 9 person per guide limit. We are going to tackle the collections with our guests’ interests and perspective in mind.

4. We know how to fight Museum Fatigue
Onto something a bit more serious, Museum Fatigue. We address the perils of the condition and fight to prevent it. We try to balance content delivery with active participation.

  • Photography: Some criticize Millennials for using their cameras too much in museums because it they feel cheapens the experience. We see it differently. We encourage our guests to take photos because it personalizes the experience.
  • Take short physical and brain breaks: We’ll give people the chance to walk around a gallery for 1 minute without guided content, lead some quick stretching, have a water break, or have each guest take 5 reflective minutes to write a postcard.
  • Wine and Candy: We have pit stops where we eat a sweet treat, or on our weekend evening tours, we have a drink at one of the museum’s bars for the simple reason sugar gives you energy and wine helps you loosen up and be yourself

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5. We have the Outsider/Insider scoop

With Museum Hack, you get the insider scoop from an outsider. We’re not affiliated with the museum, so we’ll tell you things you’d never hear from an official guide.  Being a team of renegade tour guides give us the opportunity to have conversations about subjects that aren’t usually breached in the museums, whether they be racy, get into the nitty-gritty of the museum’s past, or are a little too low-brow for your average tour.

6. We mixed it up and keep it fast-paced
We think of our tours as a tasting menu of the museum, showing off some of the most choice pieces. We’ll usually cover 6-12 pieces on a tour, but make sure each piece has something different to offer – some will be thought provoking, some will have a great history lesson built in, some will spark debate, and some will be funny. We ask you to socialize and relate with the pieces in different ways. Sometimes, we’ll ask you to try it the old fashioned way and look at something silently for one minute. We may send you off with a stranger to find something you can both connect with and discuss it. We may ask you to put a funny caption a painting.  We also won’t spend forever at each piece -we keep it moving.

7. We break down traditional museum behavior conventions
We hack experience is by breaking down museum behavior conventions. You don’t have to be rigid, silent, and an art historian to enjoy the  museum. You don’t have to follow the traditional, prescribed methods. You should be respectful of the artifacts and other museum visitors. But there’s no reason for people to be intimidated, or feel like they’re not worthy or educated enough to pass judgement or have an opinion about something. We want to empower our guests to feel good about the way they engage, whatever it may be.

Why We Think It Matters

We have fun running our renegade tours, but we think what we’re doing matters, too. We want to get more feet in the doors of Museums.

  • Being open minded about versatile museum experiences is a first step toward boosting visitorship.
  • More visitors means stronger museums. It’s no secret that museums depend on ticket sales, membership fees, and donations as part of their annual budgets -more visitors) means more money for these institutions that preserve and present human history!
  • Museums have so much to offer, but in a fast-paced, highly digital society, the the old school methodology often fails to engage the younger generations. If we want more young people to visit museums, we have to consider new means of engagement and be creative and forward thinking in our approach. At Museum Hack we using our unconventional tours to get more Millennials excited about museums, and hopefully create repeat visitors.

Museum Hack is growing because something we’re doing is working. People are actively seeking out an alternative museum experience – it’s in demand. We think that says a lot. Skeptical audiences can have fun, memorable museum experiences, and we can reach them by changing our thinking about what constitutes a positive museum experience, and abandoning the idea that the traditional way is the only way.


This article is based on a speech written by Jessye Herrell about Museum Hack for the Touring Exhibitions Meeting in 2014.

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