Storytelling in the California Academy of Sciences: Interview with Ethan and Dustin

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Two of our team members, Ethan and Dustin, left the New York City winter to go to a much sunnier state- California! They went over not only to restore their vitamin D levels, but also to work with the California Academy of Sciences on visitor engagement.

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“We were pleased with the information and your team members.  They had a ton of energy and really kept the group engaged.”
Cathy Estelle, Director of Sales and Business Partnerships for California Academy of Sciences

We got a chance to interview Ethan and Dustin about their experience. Read the interview below to find out more.

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1. Tell us about your trip! Why did you go to the California Academy of Sciences? 

Dustin:  It was awesome! We were hired to lead a participatory workshop highlighting the ways in which museum professionals can use storytelling and inquiry-based engagement strategies to add value to the work they do with their audiences.

Ethan: Or, in regular speak, “CalAcademy asked if we could come over to play, and we said yes.”

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2. What was your biggest takeaway that you could share with other museums?

Ethan: I think we sometimes forget that using storytelling in science museums is an incredibly effective technique. It works! Seriously! Every specimen, exhibit or discovery has a story to tell, and it’s these narratives that blow minds. It was spectacular to see the staff at CalAcademy light up when they threw their passion behind the stories they were weaving about the specimens and spaces they discuss every day — it’s a great reminder of why we all do what we do.

Dustin: Different museum departments obviously have different needs, but we really experienced the tremendous amount of overlap when it comes to common themes of relevancy, engagement, and approachability.

California Academy of Sciences Location: San Francisco, California Architect: Renzo Piano Building Workshop

 

3. Can you describe any challenges?

Dustin:  One thing I noticed was that the workshop participants were from disparate departments, and some had never actually worked with others in the group. This started as a challenge, but quickly transitioned to be a strength of the group as teams were able to capitalize on each other’s unique knowledge sets. Plus it was great for cross-department team building!

Ethan: Making sure Dustin didn’t steal any of the frozen mice! (Kidding!) In all honestly, a challenge many museums face when bringing in Museum Hack is a sense by their staff that we are here to tell them “how to do their jobs.” That’s not us. CalAcademy’s tours are awesome – we had the opportunity to share some additional, proven strategies for visitor engagement that work with millennial audiences. Lucky for us, the staff members we worked with were game to share, and we’ve already heard that a few have even used some of our ideas in their tours!

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4. What was your favorite thing about California Academy of Science?

Ethan: My favorite memory of our time at CalAcademy was hanging out with their Specialty Tour Guides on the living roof and swapping museum stories. They are true pros, and it was reassuring to hear that we are truly all facing (and conquering!) the same challenges. Also, the Academy has Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches — my favorite animal!

Dustin: The living roof. Hands down. SO AMAZING. The building breathes. On it’s own. And there are whale jaws baking in the sun. I could live up there.

california academy ethan and dustin

5. What was one fun thing you did (in the museum or otherwise)?

Ethan: After grabbing In-N-Out (Double Double Animal Style FTW!), Dustin and I headed for Musée Mécanique, this incredible museum of over 300 penny-arcade games. That you can play. It was like I was six. (Hack coming soon!)

Dustin: I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes tour. I found myself wanting to lead my own!

california academy Ethan in collections

 

6.  Do you see us working again with the California Academy of Sciences (or in California in general) again in the future?

Dustin: I’d love to team with Cal Academy again. They have a lot of really amazing stuff going on, and now that we’ve established a great relationship, I’d love to go back and work with them again. As far as Cali goes, I see tremendous opportunity for us to make new and mutually beneficial collaborations.

Ethan: California — especially the Bay Area — is ripe for a hack. With a wealth of awesome cultural institutions, a hip audience what wants unique, smart, off-kilter experiences, it’s like hitting a goldmine. Watch out, San Francisco! You’re on our radar…

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7. How is this kind of consulting effective for museums?

Ethan: Sharing ideas is the basis of all museum endeavors — it’s what gets us all out of bed in the morning. We are entrusted with stories, and it’s our responsibility to tell them. Storytelling is one of the very best ways anyone can engage audiences. Humans are hardwired for them, A well-told narrative causes chemical changes in our brains, and creates a stronger connection to objects, people and institutions. And millennials expect them. We’ve got a technique that works for us, and we’re eager to share it. Plus, it’s fun!

california academy Ethan and Dustin

Dustin: The impacts are immediate. The tools and strategies that participants learn and practice in our workshops can be implemented the very next day, regardless of whether you work in visitor services, education, are a tour guide, etc. We don’t just talk about change and improvement, we LIVE it.

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Do you work for a museum? Would you love to work with us on audience engagement? Send us an email or read more about our workshops, presentations, and museum consulting work.

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