Many museums possess outstanding collections and programs that engage audiences. But sometimes, their offerings need a refresher — with new perspectives and ideas to re-energize existing audiences and get new ones in the door.
The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (NCSML) was confronted by this problem. They had lots of great collections, but they knew they needed a refresher in order to foster high-level audience engagement. This case study explores how we helped NCSML design new programs and activities for their galleries.
Our Mission: A New Approach to Museum Education
A few months back, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library approached us seeking to revitalize their current programming. The museum had lots of interesting content that audiences loved to talk about, but they wanted more than just talk: they wanted visitors to feel the same deep passion and connection with their collections as the staff did. We took their programs up a notch with custom activities and games to get visitors engaging with their museum in a brand new way. To approach this, we worked with NCSML’s education departments and reviewed their current public programs to look for engagement gaps — places where there was room for more highlights to re-engage visitors and showcase the amazing stories held in the museum.
Activity #1: Scavenger Hunts
We were able to use some of our standard games, like our fun photo challenges and methods for fighting museum fatigue, and rework them for the NCSML spaces. This included our popular Scavenger Hunts, which encourage guests to be the creators of their own experiences in the museum. Scavenger Hunts allow guests to engage in friendly competition while diving deeper into the exhibits than what is possible on standard tours. We also make these activities full of active sharing, with photo challenges that encourage guests to share their finds via social media!
Activity #2: Character Cards
We also created new activities focused around the content the museum already had, such as Character Cards which invite guests to interact with and think like they were one of the real-life Czech and Slovak immigrants to Cedar Rapids. Designed for small groups, guests are given a random Character Card that directs them to a specific location in the museum. Using the information on their character card, they must use what they know about the person to create a story about that person, as prompted by a docent facilitator, or find an object in the museum that would be of use to their character. Character Cards is a fun activity that gets visitors exploring the museum, the people whom it represents, and investigating objects they may normally overlook!
Activity #3: Authors and Writers and Musicians, Oh My!
Taking a cue from the immense accomplishments of Czech and Slovak individuals, our next activity focused on influential authors, writers, and musicians in Czech and Slovak history. Since the museum has a relatively large Czech and Slovak language and historical library, this was the perfect activity to get visitors exploring and engaging with their collection! It also allowed a lot of room for customization, inviting museum educators to tailor the activity to address specific library records, topics, or people as well as to create a variety of media — like poetry or art — that could be displayed in the museum.
One game we played utilize these influential individuals for a fun Quote Matching ice breaker. During this game, guests were split into two groups. One group received Quote Cards, while the other received Author Cards. Guests were challenged to find their counterpart in the other half of the group, in order to match up the quote with the author that said it by using context clues from the quotes and information about the author. It’s a great ice breaker activity that encouraged guests to interact, while still allowing them to learn about famous Czech and Slovak authors!
How to Get Your Team “All-In” On Museum Education
During our visit with the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, we discussed and demonstrated our various activities, working with staff to refine these techniques to perfectly fit their museum’s needs. We also focused on equipping NCSML’s staff with useful tools for museum spaces, including ones that help to keep groups moving throughout the museum together, and discussing strategies that could help them create successful museum activities in the future. But that’s not all — our audience engagement workshops double as team building. As shown in the video below, their staff became a team that was “all-in” for making their museum an engaging space where audiences learn and have fun:
Final Review: How Did We Do?
We absolutely loved customizing activities for the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library. As one of our museum experience consultants, Zak Martellucci, stated:
“The great thing about this project is that we got to customize activities for the museum without being educators there, and without being influenced or biased by the activities they already had. We got to play with their content and reinterpret it in new ways that were entertaining as well as educational, so the guests have fun and feel like the stuff is really exciting but still walk away learning something.”
And the feeling was mutual. Sara Jacobmeyer, Director of Programs for the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, stated,
“Thank you again for working with us this week! This was a transformative professional development experience for our staff. Everyone who attended is feeling reinvigorated and empowered. They appreciated getting the chance to slow down for a moment to truly appreciate our exhibitions, and loved getting to focus on interpreting those exhibits in exciting ways that can really make an impact. The audience engagement workshop is fantastic teambuilding for museum staff — we love Museum Hack!”