Museum Hack provides non-traditional tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. The tour guides are professional, well-educated and outrageously funny. They also have a lot to teach the museum community about digging deep to get the best stories, respecting audiences and having fun. Join me as I talk with Founder & CEO Nick Gray and VIP Tour Guide Ethan Angelica.
-Carol Bosset, The Museum Life on VoiceAmerica
See below to read a transcript of the interview.
Carol: Good morning this is Carol Bossert on a very, very cold day here in Washington. But I guarantee you that this discussion will warm you right up, no matter where you are in the country or in the world. We have been talking about some really serious subjects over the last couple of weeks, and I thought it would be good to shift gears a little bit. To have a little more fun and I can guarantee you that my two guests today: we’re going to have an absolutely great time. Some of you may be aware of a program, an organization called Museum Hack based in New York City. They provide non-traditional tours, currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. The tour guides are professional, well-educated and truly outrageously funny. In all seriousness though, they have a lot to teach us in the museum community about loosening up, having fun, truly respecting audiences and digging deep to get the best stories. With me today, Nick Gray who is the founder and CEO of Museum Hack, based in New York City. I am going to let him – he will have an opportunity here in a minute to share little bit more about his background and about what started this wonderful organization. And with him is Ethan Angelica, who is the Museum Hack tour guide and head of VIP partnerships. And also I’m going to let Ethan give a little bit of his background and his journey to what has brought him where he is today. Nick and Ethan, welcome to the show today.
Nick: Welcome, I’m so glad to be here. Thank you so much.
Carol: It’s a pleasure. Nick I’m going to start with you. Can you give us a little bit of background about how Museum Hack got started?
Nick: I would love to tell you that. First, I want to say if anyone listening now if you are a museum professional I want to thank you for your service to museums. We love museums and were excited to share that message with a whole new type audience. I don’t come from a museum background actually, I didn’t grow up going to them and never really took an Art History class. I moved to New York City about seven or eight years ago, and I knew of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Have you been to the Met before Carol, by the way?
Carol: Oh yes many times.
Nick: It’s like an amazing institution and yet for me it really was more of a tourist attraction than a place I had a relationship with. Do you know what I mean?
Carol: Absolutely. I think the challenge particularly with art venerable large museums whether it’s the Met, or let’s say the Louve, or the Prado is that they are so large. And while they try to be welcoming it’s a little tough with all of those marble columns.
Nick: It’s hard right? Its ginormous. The Metropolitan Museum of Art takes up 13 acres of Central Park. That’s like 50 soccer fields, I think. And so I had been there before but I didn’t have a relationship. Long story short, a woman brought me there on a romantic date. She suggested that we go there. It was a Saturday night in the middle of December, and was very cold and it was very snowy out. The Metropolitan Museum is open late at night on Friday and Saturdays which was awesome to me. And as she walked around and showed me paintings, and sculptures, and Egyptian artifacts, I really began to have a different feeling about the space. And I got to feel like maybe I moved to New York for things like this. So the following weekend I went back again. I fell in love with the museum, I started going back on my own, just really as a tourist who is really interested in the museum. And I did every single thing I could. I did audio tours. I followed guided tours. I joined the young members program. I went as many times as I could, and I started to find things that I love tucked away in little hidden corners, and I researched them. And then I would try to do tours for my friends to show them just for free, for fun, the favorite things I found that the Met.
Carol: Wow. How very timely that your museum obsessions started on a date and here we are so close to Valentine’s Day.
Nick: I love it. Ethan is laughing, because he hates Valentine’s Day.
Carol: Oh Ethan, come on. Virtual chocolates to you.
Ethan: Well thank you. I’m giving three tours at the Met this Valentine’s Day so were going to have a lot of fun. All the heart chocolates to everyone.
Carol: Nick did you want to follow up?
Nick: Well, that’s kind of where I got started with museums and how I fell in love with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I begin doing these tours for my friends for free. One weekend a blog wrote about us, and over 1000 people emailed me wanting to join my tour. At that point I realized I needed help and I needed some friends to help me give the tours. Eventually about two years ago, I figured that I wanted this to exist beyond just a hobby project. At the time I was working for an aircraft electronics company. And completely not related art, I did that all during the week, and on the weekends I did these tours for free. Anyhow I think I mentioned I left my job about two years ago. And have been working on Museum Hack full-time since then. Today is grown beyond just me. We’ve got a great team of people with Ethan, and we just did a new casting call the other day. We’re going to hire a whole new crew.
Carol: I think that is fabulous will come back to this too, the terminology you use, instead of calling it a docent training program to call the casting call. I think that that says an awful lot about your philosophy.
Nick: Cool, I love to talk about it.
Carol: We will, but Ethan I want to get you in into the discussion a little bit. Could you just say then how you became involved in Museum Hack?
Ethan: Sure so I come from performance, and Renaissance man background. My degree was originally theater and Middle Eastern studies. And when I moved to New York City what I realized I like to do was tell people stories about awesome things that I had researched. And I had a long career as a performer, toured all over the country. But while I was doing that I continue to work as a museum educator whenever I’d be back in New York City. And I realized as I was doing that I was getting a lot more fulfillment being on the ground people in Museum settings. Telling them things that I was truly passionate about, and getting them as excited as I was about different objects are different concepts. And so about a little over a year now I read an article about Nick and Museum Hack on a blog called Llifehacker. And I was reading about what he was doing and some of the things that were starting to happen and I said I can get on that one. So I went to one of Nick’s casting calls. Which in this case was actually at a grocery store! And Nick asked me to talk two minutes very passionately about some food object that I had found there. So I told him about coffee and why I love coffee. And things sort of moved on from there and I’ve grown with the company. I’ve had some pretty incredible opportunities with them to not only lead tours, and get people as excited about objects at the Met and at times the Museum of Natural History as I am. But also to start to take some of the techniques that we have created in order to engage new audiences, or teach people to reignite their own passion about objects and things they talk about in the museum. I’ve had the opportunity to bring that to other places that are interested in what we’re doing and learning some of our techniques.
Carol: Great, and I want to come back to those teaching a projects that you’re doing workshops, because frankly as you and I talked a little bit before, that is really what drew me to the potential scalability of Museum Hack.
Carol: But before we get we get there, Nick could you help us understand the business model you’ve created, clearly you took a leap of faith, but you knew through the responses you are getting to the blog and your own friends that there was certainly a need out there.
Nick: Yeah, so many people really connected with the style of museum tour that we were giving. That we figured there is a business out of this. To be honest, when we started this company and still today we make use of a lot of part-time labor. Because most museum tours are you on Friday, Saturday and Sundays. And the original business model for us was just to do museum tours on Friday, Saturday, Sundays, and we would hire individuals who can help us out on the weekends. And that would totally sustain the business. Now two years has passed, and we’ve been approached by museums all around the world, who want us to lead workshops, produce special events for them and things like that. And the business model has shifted as well. Should I talk about how the business model started? Or where it is today?
Carol: Yes. Why don’t you just give us a little bit of a background about how it started, particularly, and working with say on the Met and then expanding. And then we can talk about how it’s a scaled up, and where you’re going today.
Nick: Great! I would love to talk about that how we work with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, is we go through their group services office. So, we are a third-party tours supplier basically. Similar to how a foreign language tour group might show up with a bus full of tourists, and operate their group entirely on their own. Museum Hack goes along the same routes. Now, we do all of our own marketing ahead of the time we sell all of our own tickets way in advance. And so were bringing an entirely new audience into the museum. And in our ticket price, now, includes the cost of admission and our Museum Hack fees as well. So that’s kind of business model. Let’s suppose that we have a $59 price of the ticket, $20 of that goes right to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the rest of it goes to Museum Hack, and that’s how we pay our staff in our marketing, and all those fees.
Carol: And not to put you on the spot but how does that that fee compared to other say third-party vendors, who are you bringing their busload of people for instance to the Metropolitan? Do have a sense of where you fit into that market?
Nick: That’s great point. I think were about on par with other high-end entertainment, and tour type experiences. But Museum Hack is not a bus load of tour company. All of our groups really feel more like a private tour. On average we have a about six, or seven customers per guest [tour]. So it really is a small intimate and we like to think that we joke we say these are VIP museum tours and our customers really do feel that way.
Carol: Right, so in in a way it would be analogous to say instance when I was at the Prado about a year ago where I walked in, I purchased my ticket and in that situation, a guide came up to me and ask if my husband and I would like a private tour of the Prado. Of course for a fee.
Nick: Yeah. It somewhat similar to that although the one thing I can say is we never do on-site sales. All of our tickets are sold days, weeks, even months in advance, and so, when we show up to the museum were not skimming off the top of their existing revenue, or their existing customers. I’m not holding the sign out there and approaching, these customers have come to the museum for a special Museum Hack tour. And I think that really plays to the growth of the business. That we are attracting a whole new type of audience. So, when you went to the Prado you were to go to the Prado whether there was that guide their not, is that right?
Carol: Oh absolutely. Cause I’m a museum geek.
Nick: Yes! Because you’re a museum geek. How does it fare with the sort of price that you’ve experienced, Ethan, with other tours and experiences in the city?
Ethan: Yeah, in terms of tours of institutions here we’re very much, I think were on par with some of the group experiences. Although as Nick is saying we are, we do keep that sort of very small, intense group experience. I’ve been looking at other things in other cities, as we’ve been debating what possible next steps might be for us. And honestly, we oftentimes are either on par or slightly below, some of the other experiences out there. But if you’re thinking about, I also work with a lot of people who sell tickets for us in other venues. In terms of an experience, a two hour experience, or of the other two hour or three-hour experiences you can have in New York City. Ones that pop to mind are things like a Broadway show, that might happen on a Friday or Saturday night starting around 6:30 or seven on those are going to run you, you know $150. So, it’s a different kind of experience, but when you look if we think about opening up the market to people who you know might want to instead of thinking about going about going to see a Broadway show, they might do an awesome museum experience for the evening, we are very much on par with what with what people are spending, in this time. And it’s cool to sort of think about trying to redirect some of that attention back to the museum world, and say were a super viable option for your awesome, amazing Friday and Saturday night.
Carol: Yes. Thank you Ethan, I think that is helpful, and sort of it helps us understand the market a little bit better. And as you say, you need to normalize that you are in New York City one of the more expensive markets, for any kind of entertainment and education. So, I do appreciate that. You probably know, what is your percentage of local versus tourist?
Nick: That’s a great question. I love to think about audience demographics, and the makeup of who comes to our tours. We have two types of public tours and we will just look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And there’s two types of public tours that we regularly run every weekend. Number one is our daytime tours this is called an on highlights tour and I would say, correct me if I’m wrong Ethan, but I would estimate that on our daytime tours, maybe 70% are tourists.
Ethan: Yeah, it tends to be of a larger out-of-town market on that one. Although we do get a lot of people who just want to have a fun afternoon, who are locals in the city, who just want coming and hang out with us.
Nick: Right! That’s definitely true. Our daytime tours, while we do get some local New Yorkers, I’d say that the vast majority of our customers are tourists and out-of-towners. However the nighttime tours, that Ethan mentioned, the ones we do on Friday and Saturday nights, those were originally designed for New York City residents, and I’d say still on those maybe 60%.
Ethan: Yeah, it’s decidedly over half, and more likely than not everybody will be from New York or nearby.
Carol: Interesting and do you…are they, I mean, obviously there New Yorkers but are they skewing to the younger group? And realize everyone to me is younger?
Nick: What is younger to you, Carol?
Carol: [laughs] Let’s just skip over that, and I’ll rephrase the question. What percentage of your evening audience would you say are in the 20/30 age range? Under 40, let’s say.
Ethan: That’s our primary demographic. Generally, when I show up everybody is right in my age group, friend group, in the sort of millennial set. So, if I say over 50% consistently most of the time closer to 75%, and very likely 100%. Those are people who are coming to help us experience in the museum with us. And it’s really exciting the idea of being able to have a nighttime event in a peer lead situation, where were all creating and curating experience together. I’ll say it right now, I fight tooth and nail for the Friday and Saturday tours. I think they are so much fun. Both as a as a leader but also as a this sort of team that is created, and this experience that we all get to have together. A bunch of millennial’s in a museum and hanging out and really experiencing it in a new way, it’s the best thing I can do any Friday or Saturday night.
Carol: That’s fabulous and we’re going to take a short break now, and when we come back we’re going to of course more with the Nick and Ethan. But also I’m going to put Ethan on the spot a little bit, to just give us a tiny bit of the flavor of what a tour is really like with him at the Met. So we will be back in a moment. Remember you can always contact me at Carol.Bossert@Verizon.net or you can connect with me on Twitter at @musewrite. Let me know what you’re thinking about. What topics we should be talking about. And just to say hello. I like to get to know my listeners a little bit better. So, we will be back in a moment. This is Carol Bossert for Museum Life.
Carol: Welcome back this is Carol Bossert. You are, of course, listening to Museum Life, and I’m here today with Nick Gray and Ethan Angelica, and they are sharing with us discussions about their business that they are doing, called Museum Hack. Currently it is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and also the American Museum of Natural History. And I know that is going be coming to a museum near you in the very near future. But before we talk, because as I said, I find this business model fascinating, and I think you have so much to teach us in the museum world. I always love for others to come in and help us refine our vocabulary. But before I get back into the nuts and bolts, Ethan as I promised, I’m putting you on the spot.
Ethan: Oh boy.
Carol: Now, remember this is radio. So, we don’t have a painting for you to stand in front of. So, I want to be standing in front of a virtual painting, or sculpture, your choice. And give us just a tiny flavor. Remember we only – it’s an hour program, so give me just a little tiny flavor of how you might present a part of the tour.
Ethan: Well, let me tell you about my favorite thing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So there are 270,000 objects on display at any given time which is about 10% of their collection. My favorite thing is tucked away deep in the back of the Islamic Art section, it is an astrolabe. And I show up with everyone there and I asked them what they think this big piece of metal could be used for, and we bounce around a couple ideas. I say great exactly you have identified the 13th-century Islamic version of your iPhone. So, let’s break that down. I asked people what they do with their phones every single day, and the first thing they say is we are put in my pocket I checked the time. Then I say great. Thirteenth century Islamic world – not going to happen. So, what do we do we take this thing we aim it at the sun, we get an angle, we use some math and boom! You’ve calculated the time. Which is not bad for 1291, right?
Carol: Yes, that’s true.
Ethan: Okay so now it’s the middle of the night. So now you have no sun. You are lost wherever you are. And you would really like to go home. Today if I’m walking around New York City, I have no idea where I am, and I would really like to go home I whip out my phone and the first thing I do is hop onto Google maps, right? I’ve done this tour a couple times for folks from Google including some of the programmers who make the maps, at this point they usually start high-fiving each other, and I say gentlemen, calm it down. You’re about 700 years too late. Because this thing does it too! I show them precisely how you would use the stars in order to geo-locate, and use your map. And then to take it one step further I show them how they can change it if they move to a different latitude, or a different time zone one might say, to adjust it so that they could use this basically all over the world.
Carol: Fabulous, just fabulous and I am, and I having been in, the Islamic wing is one of my favorite areas, wings at the Met. And I have seen the astrolabe and I can guarantee you there is nothing what you said on the label!
Ethan: Well, I think one of the things that I love and one of the things that has been such a joy for me with him with Museum Hack is that as a tour guide, and as a formal educator and as somebody working in the setting, I have been given such freedom by this company. All of our tours are truly driven by the interest in the passions of the guides who are leading them. Correct me if I’m wrong Nick, I think I’m the only one who nerds out over astrolabes.
Nick: You are. You are the only astrolabe nerd.
Ethan: Right, because I’m completely obsessed with the much spent far too many hours learning and reading about them. I even went on a trip recently to Istanbul where there was a room of 30 astrolabe’s and actually broke down in tears I was so touched by the whole thing. So every guide is empowered to do their own research, and required to do as deep research as they possibly can to create incredible stories around the objects that they care about. So if you take a museum tour with one guide it will be different from the tour you take with the next guide, the second guide. Because we are the ones who are developing the route in creating what we’re talking about, based on the things that truly appeal to us. Which is which is which is been such a joy, because it is this ultimate freedom to just literally play in a museum and explore in a museum. And I feel like some of the excitement and passion and energy we get as we discover new things dig even deeper, do even cooler research, really is transported into our tours to our guests. And it is also just tons of fun for us..
Carol: Yes, I can tell absolutely. Thank you so much for that little impromptu tour. And I now know all of my listeners are going to be running to know little bit more about astrolabes, because they probably just thought it was a really pretty little sculpture. But I wanted to just a little tiny bit deeper, adjust to also assuage that the concerns of perhaps some of my listeners, or even my own curatorial instincts, which are well that’s all fine and good but what do the curators at the Met think about your tours? Do you have any chance to interface with them or do you get any pushback?
Nick: I love talking to the curators at the museums that we work with. We did a college event recently at the Williams College Museum of Art, and we met with one of the curators on the night of the event. And we posted a video on our website which is museumhack.com and she was so happy to see our audiences interacting with the pieces like they never had before. People moving around in the space, laughing, taking pictures of it with their phone. I think what people don’t necessarily realize about us is that while we may start with entertainment, we think that for today’s audiences to truly be educated they have to be entertained first. And so we start with entertainment and then we educate. And I love talking to curators because for us it’s really an experience to learn more about the objects and to share the enthusiasm that we have with all the hard work that they do.
Ethan: I will say this, is I’m researching in the museum is I’m doing to develop my own skill and digging even deeper in the pieces that I already love, if I come across a curator, it makes my day. And we are the kind of people who will just keep asking questions until they can’t go anymore. Because we truly, we are so we love them so much, and we honor the work that they do so much that we just want to absorb as much of that because their passion is infectious to us. And our goal is to transport that to our guests.
Carol: Very well said. I’d like to go back to something Ethan I think that you had said, it may have been Nick, about the idea of co-creating the experience. I mean when you were talking before about a 2 hour program. I mean that’s a lot of time to be standing around listening to somebody talk – even you Ethan, I’m sorry, my feet are going to get a little tired. So, and that’s frankly, why I also didn’t want to have the private tour at the Prado, just because I want to go at my own pace and I want to see the things that I’m interested in. So, how do you sort of break this up, and make sure that that the audience is also participating in and getting to see some of the things that they’re interested in?
Nick: Wow, I love this question and I also loved Carol how you phrased it. I don’t know if you noticed but you said how am I going to feel standing around? You used the word pace and interest how’s it going to keep up with my own level of interest? And, I think that what you’re thinking about is a typical museum tour. But what Museum Hack does is a museum adventure. Our tours are not just museum tours they are incredibly fast-paced. We usually see 2 to 3 times as many objects as the average museum tour. And we have activities. We have drink breaks. Our nighttime tours for example usually involve a glass of wine. There is a lot of moving around. There’s social activities within the group. This is anything but a regular museum tour, and oftentimes, on the nighttime tours that Ethan leads it’s common for them the last three or more hours. And the number one thing that people say that we hear again and again after they going to Museum Hack tour, they say I never knew that I could have so much fun inside the museum.
Carol: And that’s what we want everyone to say. And it becomes so challenging. And Nick, I’m really glad that you answered the question I ask in the in the way you did because I… because one of the challenges that, I think, as an industry is that we have a really tough time communicating outside of our little world of few people who love museums to understand that museums are completely social environments. I mean they are they are placed based on experiences that in fact encourage you to think more deeply about yourself and others and share that information. But ironically, we don’t have that reputation sort of outside of our little group.
Nick: That’s really interesting, I want a good breather, to notice that all the people who work in museums are doing really great work. And the types of things that were doing, we constantly are reminded by museum educators they’re not necessarily new activities. Right? There are other museum tours where they do selfie challenges and where they do games. I think what’s interesting is how Museum Hack packages this not only in our marketing material, but really in the live experience – to guarantee that ultimately the number one thing were looking for at the end of the tour is “Did our customers love it?” and “How likely are they to recommend it to one of their friends?”
Carol: That is incredibly important, particularly as you sort of scale up, your business model as you say are only two years old. And if you don’t, if you don’t get that word-of-mouth built, that’s going to keep you a little…well prevent you from doing some of the great things that you want to do.
Carol: So maybe let’s talk a little bit about some of those that do greater things you had talked about earlier in the program. About starting to do some workshops and expanding your… and in the fact that your business model is shifted. So how has the business model shifted?
Nick: Our business model has shifted in that originally when we were just serving the consumer market, like millennials, selling tours to New York City residents between the ages of say: 20 and 35. Today that represents maybe only about a third of our actual sales revenue. Now, we’ve grown to provide corporate experiences at the museums. We love working with museums all around the world, to help them set up corporate team building tours to bring in new groups. Here in New York we bring in major banks. We brought in huge companies on the software side like Spotify and Google. And then, were also now doing museum consulting work. Leading workshops, and special events at other museums not just in the US but also all around the world. And just to address, maybe what you mentioned before about the price of some of our tours, should I talk about that, Carol?
Carol: Yeah, this is a good time to do that
Nick: You mentioned a lot of people see the price of our tours $59, our nighttime tours are $89, and let’s be honest for people working in museums, in the public sector, I think there’s a sticker shock on a lot of that. That’s a very expensive experience when museums are built on providing free public education. And I completely want to acknowledge that I want to agree with that, and recognize that. Museum Hack to a sense for most museum people probably has an easy job. You could say that if I had $90 per person, and could do tours for eight or nine people, I could do amazing things. And that’s what we’re trying to help people do. We’re starting with the premium model, and then were letting it support and sustain a business that we know can then be around for 10 or 15 years. So, just like let’s look at an example like Tesla, the car manufacturer, have you ridden in a Tesla by the way? I never have.
Carol: I never have. I want to.
Nick: I want to as well. When they first launched their car they came out with a luxury sedan, and a lot of people lambasted them they said “You’re launching an electric vehicle that’s got a price tag of $90-$120,000. How is that going to change the world?” And what Elon Musk said was “Let us build a business for the luxury market first to sustain the operations and prove the model. And then it’s can a trickle down to the rest of the community,” That’s what we’re doing at Museum Hack.
Carol: Great, thank you so much. and thank you for the courage and thought of essentially talking about some of the challenges that you face right now. I appreciate that very much. I do think it is true, that as museum professionals, we want to make sure that all are welcomed in our museums. And you are in fact welcoming a group that perhaps wasn’t feeling it, right now. Even though they may be on our premium side. I think that’s really a valid point. Nick we have to take a break here again, but before we do I appreciate you mentioning the website in this first section, but what if people are now really jazzed, and they either want to come to New York and take one of your tours or perhaps they want to contact you for a workshop how would they do that?
Nick: Oh man, we have an awesome website that we built at www.museumhack.com. I’ll tell you the secret little feature on our site if you go to our website and at the very top in the menu you click “News” it goes into the special blog that we’ve written, that lists funny videos with our staff, interviews with some of our customers, corporate client testimonials, that is my favorite part of her website through www.museumhack.com
Carol: Wonderful, thank you. Thank you so much. Well we still have lots more to talk about and share and a few laughs probably so we will be back in a moment this is Carol Bossert you listening to Museum Life.
Carol: Welcome back this is Carol Bossert, you are listening to Museum Life and we been talking with Nick Gray and Ethan Angelica from the company called Museum Hack. We’ve been having a lot of fun and we’ve been talking about some pretty serious issues having to do with the other museum community, and making sure that we are accessible to all. But I wanted to get back to something that was said earlier, I think Nick you are talking about it a little bit when you are just sharing how the organization got started. And you were talking about having a “casting call” and Ethan responded to a casting call. Which is a term that you use in theater. We don’t often use it in a museum setting, you know, we talk about interviews, we talk about docent training and as my listeners know I am really I harp on the value and the importance of vocabulary, particularly as we try to do new things. So, I’m wondering if you could both, maybe Ethan you’d like to start, just what are some of the tips, or mindsets, that you might share with other organizations, or with other individuals, who want to up their game a little bit more?
Ethan: Sure. So, I have had the opportunity on behalf of and with Museum Hack to do a lot of outreach with museums and to go to some of their spaces and have a chance to work with their staff, and it’s a joy. But, the thing that I always am very clear with everyone is that what we are trying to do is not replace what you’re doing- were trying to offer you more tools, and supplements for your bag of tricks. If I show up in a space, I certainly don’t know the clientele of a museum, or their collection as well as the people who work there. So our goal is always to give you more things that you can play with, that is specific to your audience. So, what I find particularly compelling, and when what I always talk with museums about is we are obsessed with storytelling. And I feel that storytelling is something that is very much in vogue today. If you think about it podcasts. Speaking on one is amazing. What you think about what people are sort of listening to a lot of that takes a storytelling tact. And so we want to try and bring some of that into the museum. And the divine storytelling is that it actually up there been studies done recently that showed that it does it changes your brain it actually releases oxytocin, which is the cuddle hormone. And it makes you feel closer to the person you’re speaking to whatever you’re looking at for the institution in which you are standing. So, I believe that it is one of the best ways in order to bring people back to museum space. So, my encouragement is to find a way to create narrative. Tell a story in the space, get people to see beginning, middle and end, give them moments of spark the at their brains going but put it in that narrative context because by doing that you’re actually chemically changing the brain and making them more receptive to you, to the object, and to the full experience. It becomes a bit of a discussion of minus but spend hours staying up late on I got to get a storytelling workshop last night to sort of continue to up our own game. But, approaching it in that way is so effective. And is the thing that I think really has helped push us forward in a in an incredible way.
Carol: Thank you, I agree with you, whether it’s the term of the moment. But we do also know historically that we are as human beings we are innately storytellers.
Carol: However, something can happen. Sort of a bad alchemy happens, where the nicest people that I’ve known, can stand in front of, well whether it’s a painting or whether it’s museum diorama. And all of a sudden all of that nice warm, cuddly, passionate feeling kind of like goes away. And all of a sudden you start talking about the taxonomy of the objects, that your you’re looking at instead of telling a story. How do you? Wha….Help! Help!
Ethan: Sure! Absolutely, at Museum Hack we have a storytelling format that we have created that we call our elements of the hack. But really what it boils down to is reminding yourself why you love this thing. Because you know you yeah maybe we need to talk about the way the taxonomy works, and all that. But those are elements that are important elements that need to be there. But really, what people are going to connect to and what’s going to keep you driving forward is reminding yourself why you’re here and why you love this. I mean, no one gets into museums to become rich let’s be honest. You know, we are all here because we have a genuine love and passion for that. And I feel like reminding yourself what it is. For me, what I like to talk about is that I love Manet, and I hate Monet. Sorry, I feel like we’re going to get emails about that one. If you take my tour, I’ll be completely upfront about it. But, why do I look Manet? He was an amazing crazy, weird human being, who has all this awesome scandal in his back life and was doing things to just mix it up. That’s what gets me invested in him. Once I get back on that train, I talked about Manet hundreds of times. Once I keep reminding myself, and my audience, of what it is that I truly love about him and start to tell his story that catapults me right into a place where I can continue to talk about what he’s doing with form. What he is doing in terms of moving forward in our history. Where he is bringing us to use beginning to moves into the Impressionist Period. You know, that kind of passion and energy that ignites me, and ignites my personal love for the subject matter brings that narrative. So, I always tell people when I’m working with museums, and actually I was doing workshop this past weekend, it is about finding your honest truth, and what you love. And start with that. Start with it get yourself engaged, get yourself connected, and your audience engaged and connected. Once you’ve all once we’ve tipped yourself off of about what is expected of an experience, and we’ve all engaged yourself in what we truly love about this object, you just start flying.
Carol: Thank you. I that that that that’s a great testimonial but the other thing that I might add, and Nick I think he would agree. Is you and Nick are extremely courageous because you give of yourself in the environment, face-to-face with people, and you don’t even have to do it on an elevated stage, you are really right there in the middle of it. So, I just want to applaud your courage. And I hope that as part of your workshops you can also help the rest of us to find our courage as well.
Ethan: I think it is a scary thing but I also feel that it is an incredible reward. And I think most of museum professionals who may be listening agree, that there is truly nothing better in that moment when you see a group of people get as excited as you are about whatever it is you talking about. There is…again and I come from a performance background in the theater background it’s really hard to do the same show a times a week when you’re standing in a darkened box and you can’t see anybody in the audience. But I’m standing in front of my astrolabe, and I am back on talking about how much I love this thing. And all of a sudden I see everyone’s eyes spark up, and they are truly as excited people taking pictures, and they’re asking me about them and they want to know about Ted Talks and they wanted to their own research. There is truly nothing better, and reigniting that passion for me over, and over, and over and over, is the thing keeps me doing this because I can’t imagine a better way to experience life.
Carol: I’m speechless which hardly ever, ever happens. But I can’t wait to get to New York and experience this firsthand. Because, even over the radio it’s been just fabulous. I don’t want to let either of you go. I mean here we talked about the scalability and I love it. The idea of Corporate Team Building in a museum you, how cool is that, I but we’ve been really focusing a lot on the Met and I don’t want anyone to get the impression that you really are focusing primarily or on art museums. You are also doing work at the American Museum of Natural History, one of my favorite museums in the world. And as you said Williams College is sort of a smaller institution. So, I just want to give you both an opportunity to talk a little bit about your different kinds of museums, that are getting you jazzed right now.
Nick: Alright, I’d love to briefly speak to, and then I’d like to ask Ethan to talk about one that he did recently. We love working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it’s obviously we’re we’re based out of, and kind of our home base. It is my favorite museum in the entire world. but I think it’s been a real honor for us to be invited to more museums all over, in the last probably four months we’ve been to Germany, to Norway, to California, Massachusetts, were working with a major museum in the Midwest right now. And were excited to take all of the things that we’ve learned here at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where we do 10 to 30 tours per week. We’re not just running the same game over, and over we really think of ourselves more like a live museum think tank. Where we come up with new ideas on a weekly basis, and then we test them on these audiences that come to our regularly scheduled tours. So, we’re excited to share those best practices, and the things that we’ve learned with other museums. Do you want to talk about one of the workshops?
Ethan: So, we had an opportunity to go to a huge science center in California, and do some workshops with their staff. And what I think is so compelling about what we’ve been sort of experimenting with, and trying to share with other groups, is that our techniques are very malleable. The storytelling that that we talk about, and the storytelling that we use isn’t just something that requires a piece of art, because we know we are able to take the stories that are behind incredible scientific discoveries, or animals that have incredible adaptations, or the histories of major players in the field or even you know a taxidermy. Taxidermy is a fascinating thing! The more you learn about the cooler it gets. We can continue to tell the stories and make these things even more human and make them even more relatable. And actually I have a background a little bit as a science educator, and I know that people get a little bit scared by that kind of thing. So the ability to really engage that sort of innate human desire for narrative, and couch what we’re talking about, and what concerts are trying to get across in narrative makes it incredibly accessible. What I also love that working in science institutions is that… I think, you know, when we go to the Met, and regardless of whatever were trying to break down, the people still go in there, and they think “Okay (… you know…) pretty paintings… let’s let the majesty of that wash over us,” I think when you go to a science institution, and there is a huge dinosaur skeleton in front of you, or you got your taxidermy lion staring at you, there the sense of adventure is already inherently there. And the folks who do our tours at the American Museum of Natural History very much embrace the idea of what we are going on a crazy, insane, awesome adventure. And that that translates in a way that at AMNH that is incredibly exciting. And those tours are so high-energy. So our techniques are very malleable, and work very well, and we had a lot of success this weekend working with the institution in California, but I think it it’s somewhat unexpected. Because we think storytelling means art. Well, storytelling also means science.
Carol: Thank you. Thank you so very much to and I’m thrilled that you are beginning to tease out those stories behind the scientific phenomenon, because that, and putting a face on a topic that I love..personally love so very much. We’ve got 30 seconds guys so here’s the lightning round. I want you to both say one thing, and only one thing that you want our listeners to remember.
Nick: Look the online world today there’s so many competitions for visitors attention span. I believe that the future of entertainment is in the live experience. We try to do that with tours that are entertaining and engaging to get people entertained before we layer the base of education. I think museums are the physical space for that to happen.
Carol: Fabulous! Ethan.
Ethan: I am obsessed with creating unique experiences over short periods of time that educate, entertain, or change. I think those people working in museums we are having responsibility and duty to do that with everyone who comes in the doors. I am so honored to be a part of the museum world of people who are already doing that. And I am excited that we are all coming together to collaborate and figure out a way to collectively up our game. Because museums are so important.
Carol: Thank you. And thank you both for being on the show today. And remember you can contact Nick and Ethan and all their wonderful people at museumhack.com. Don’t forget check out the “News” section. Gentleman, it has been a true pleasure having you both on the show today.
Nick: Thank you
Ethan: Thanks Carol.
Carol: Thank you and we will be back next week with another interesting topic. Remember shoot me a line send me a tweet what are you thinking about what should we be talking about on museum life. Until next week this is Carol Bossert thanks for listening.
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