Your Museum Needs Late Openings: Here’s Why

Museum Resources
Museum Professional
Museum Resources July 26, 2017 Featured Image

Yes, your museum.

Yours too.

And yep, that’s right, even yours.

Whether big or small, established or emerging, science, history, or art-focused, there are major benefits to organising late openings at your museum. Need convincing? Read on.

A night at the museum doesn’t need to be scary.

They’re a great excuse to try something crazy

Feeling like your museum is stuck in a rut? Got a crazy-awesome tour/performance/event idea you’ve been wanting to try? Want to reposition your museum’s brand or core audience? Late openings are a great way to experiment.

There are many examples of unique and unexpected museum lates to take inspiration from:

Most evening museum visitors appreciate – and even expect – something unusual, so it’s a perfect way to test out a new idea.

Hampton Court Palace: an epic sleepover destination! Photo credit: Ashleigh Hibbins.

They bring in new audiences

One simple but often-overlooked barrier to certain audiences visiting your museum is: you aren’t open when they’re available.

People who work Monday to Friday 9-5 won’t be able to visit if you are only open during standard business hours, and even weekend visits can be a struggle if they’ve got errands to run or family responsibilities during the day. Having extended opening hours – even if it’s only a few times a year – increases the potential for new audiences to visit.

Some audiences actually prefer to visit museums in the evening, when they are less likely to run into large numbers of young families, schools, or tour groups. All these audiences should be welcome in your museum, but they need to be catered to in different ways.

If you’re looking to increase your popularity with busy young professionals while maintaining a strong family audience, late openings could be your solution. Vancouver’s Science World has often been perceived as a museum for families and schools, but their After Dark events have made them a destination for young professionals too.

They tap into the nighttime economy

The nightlife sector generates billions every year in the US, UK, Canada, and beyond. Why shouldn’t your museum benefit from a slice of this huge industry?

The Musée d’Orsay, The Met, and The British Museum all offer evening dining experiences to coincide with their evening events. By having late openings, your museum competes not only with other tourist destinations, but with bars, restaurants, theatres, and other nighttime activities.

Edinburgh Castle, venue for many late events including the Edinburgh Tattoo. Photo credit: Ashleigh Hibbins

Late openings bring people together

Because late openings give more people the chance to visit your museum, they are also a great opportunity for bringing different groups of people together in creative, inclusive ways.

At the National Portrait Gallery in London, late openings every Thursday and Friday feature free drop-in sketching classes, live music, and a bar. The attendees are an eclectic mix of art students, retirees with a passion for drawing, young professionals looking for a unique night out, tourists, and sometimes even families.

Just down the road, the Royal Academy offers evening lectures for visitors with visual and hearing impairments so people of all abilities can participate.

You can have them as often as you want

One of the biggest worries we hear from museums about late openings is that they don’t have the staff or resources to run them on a regular basis. These are valid concerns, but there is a solution: only have late openings when you can.

Many larger, well-established museums have late opening weekly or more, but you can adapt this to fit the your museum and audience. The Auckland Museum organizes a curated “season” of late openings from August to November, and Vancouver Aquarium only hosts their “After Hours” events just a few times a year.

So rest assured museums of all sizes and subjects: no matter how often you choose to have late openings, you can make it work for your organization. Just make sure you do some research, audience testing, and budgeting first.

The Alamo at night. Photo credit: Ashleigh Hibbins

There’s no wrong way to do it

All of the above boils down to one fact: there is no single right way to do late openings.

Some museums will only keep certain areas open late, such as the Tate Britain for their recent David Hockney exhibition. Some museums have special ticketed events for their late openings, while others will just keep the doors open. Some free museums will charge for tickets at their lates, while other paid museums offer free entry exclusively in the evenings, such as MoMA and Neue Galerie in New York.

We think museums are an awesome place to be at night. With so many benefits to late openings, and so many ways to do them, one thing’s for certain: the only wrong way for your museum to do late openings is to not do late openings.

written with 💖 by Ashleigh Hibbins

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