From Concept to Creation: How a Themed Museum Tour is Made

Carly Syms - VIP + Marketing Manager

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As humans, we’re attracted to stories. We like seeing parts of ourselves reflected in the lives of people who lived centuries ago. Stories help us understand and feel connected with history’s great artists, philosophers, and thinkers.

Utilizing a theme in a museum tour helps show visitors what to expect and offers the opportunity to experience a familiar collection in a new way.

What makes our themed museum tours special? How do we do it? How do we create a themed tour that’s engaging, interesting, subversive and relevant?

Here’s an inside look at how we make our custom tours at Museum Hack!

Kate, creator of the Badass Bitches tour, shares stories of kickass women throughout history.
Kate, creator of the Badass Bitches tour, shares stories of kickass women throughout history.

How To Build A Themed Museum Tour From The Ground Up

Kate found inspiration for the Badass Bitches tour while researching interesting stories about other pieces in the museum.
Kate found inspiration for the Badass Bitches tour while researching interesting stories about other pieces in the museum.

Step 1: Come Up with a Killer Idea

The inspiration behind our Badass Bitches tour began when our Creative Lead, Kate Downey, and other tour guides researched pieces at the Met for our regular Un-Highlights tours. As they dug into the art, they noticed an obvious disparity in gender representation in the museum’s collections and started asking questions. 

Where are all the female artists? Why are they so underrepresented?

Building upon the groundwork laid by feminists like the Guerrilla Girls, Kate and other guides honed their research on female artists and badass women in history — and had their minds blown by the amount of gender inequality in the museum.

There was work to be done.

Telling great stories is one of the best ways to ensure guests have a memorable experience.
Telling great stories is one of the best ways to ensure guests have a memorable experience.

Step 2: Build Strong Stories that Speak to a Broader Truth

After compiling research, Kate and several other guides uncovered the stories that would become the backbone of the tour — tales like that of an ancient Greek sculpture that may hold evidence for women being the main artists in the Paleolithic era.

Because of the truths they expose about women in their era (or about women today!), pieces like this help create a solid foundation for discussion of current feminism or historical events. They illuminate the lives of women our guests might not have heard of before.

Getting guests engaged with the art is a huge part of what we do on all of our museum tours.
Engaging guests with the art is a huge part of what we do on all of our museum tours.

Step 3: Use Existing Framework

Games and engaging activities are a big part of our tours.

To work this element into our Badass Bitches tours, we took an existing activity from another of our Met tours and reworked it to fit with the theme of the new experience.

Our secret?

It’s all about adjusting the structure we’ve already spent years developing and modifying it to fit the new theme!  

We're never afraid to encourage guests to have fun in the museum.
We’re never afraid to encourage guests to have fun in the museum.

Step 4: Utilize Your Existing Target Audience

There’s nothing wrong with using resources you already have, and that’s exactly how we suggest you approach the introduction of a new tour.

Try out a new tour for the first few times with groups that aren’t just regular museum visitors — call upon targeted groups that will be a sympathetic audience to the message you’re trying to convey.

We ran one of our first-ever Badass Bitches tour for a group of women who worked together in a female-empowered workplace. Since we already knew they were on board with the tour’s messaging, we were able to celebrate with them rather than educate them on a topic they weren’t yet familiar with.

We also ran an early Badass Bitches tour for a group from a women’s health organization. After the tour, they had a lot to say about the way we talked about certain elements of women’s health and feminism. Their informed feedback helped mold the tour into what it is today.

These tips will help set you up for success when crafting a custom themed museum tour.
These tips will help set you up for success when crafting a custom themed museum tour.

Final Thoughts: What to Do (and What Not to Do)

  • Be specific with your theme, but let it naturally expand outward. In creating the Badass Bitches tour, we started with simple stories of badass women from history and it naturally grew to include current feminism, museum politics, and the way curators determine what art will be seen.
  • Don’t play into stereotypes of what people will think the tour is about. Kate and our Badass bitches guides tell attendees up front that this experience is not about “man-bashing.” We make it clear it’s a feminist tour, but it’s not about “women hating men” and we welcome men on the tour, making sure it won’t be uncomfortable for them.

“We don’t waste time wallowing in the oppression of male action (from history and the present), because we’re too busy talking about amazing women!” – Kate D.

  • Avoid playing into people’s expectations. In curating tour content, we chose to forgo stories about the museum’s most popular female artists in favor of highlighting a few lesser-known pieces. While Mary Cassatt is awesome, she pops up in a lot of feminist museum tours. Instead of including her in the stories we share, we aim to include stories about other fantastic women that museum-goers might not have heard of before.
  • Have a sense of humor, even if the topic you’re dealing with is a serious one. In the battle to keep audiences engaged, lightheartedness trumps stuffiness every time. We know gender equality is a serious issue, but the way we approach the topic sets the tone for the tour. Which title playfully captures your attention and makes you want to head to the museum: “Feminist Art Tour” or “Badass Bitches?”

Themed tours help museum-goers explore and appreciate pieces they may normally have passed by without a second glance and engages audiences that normally wouldn’t consider the museum to be a place relevant to interests or lives.

When creating custom themed tours for your own museum, we encourage you to think outside the box; tell your guests stories they haven’t heard before and you’ll help foster a personal connection with art and history.

That’s pretty badass.

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