Tag Archives: docents

What can museums learn from the Moth?

I must applaud AAM for turning their keynote mic over to the Moth Radio Hour, produced by PRX and Atlantic Public Radio.   Three storytellers came up to the stage, one after the other, and spoke about their life.  Each was clearly carefully chosen to match the museum professional audience.  One spoke about confronting her preconceived notions of success prior to entering into a life in the arts.  Another spoke of his weird and wonderful tenure as chief docent and caretaker of the Poe house in Queens, New York.  And, a third spoke about how connecting with a particular viewer reawakened his love of performing.  None of these stories were specifically about museum practice.    But, all were clearly chosen for the way they would resonate with the work of museum staff.  

The whole experience made me wonder. What can the Moth teach museums?

Make your choices of stories appear seamless: I would guess that the producers had many storytellers to choose from.  They clearly chose these three became of the way they worked together to create a cohesive package.  But, this was not an overt thing.  It wasn’t like the producer said show will be first talk about understanding personal connections to careers in the arts; second, taken about institutional (and personal connections) to the community; and finally, the role and importance of the viewer/ visitor.  Rather than explaining this structure, they just let us experience the stories.  And, then afterwards, we as viewers are allowed to create our own meaning and extrapolate our own structure for the program.

Get down to business: None of the storytellers prefaced their stories.  They wove their introduction of themselves into the story at hand. 

Let one event, or one moment, be the core of the story: Rather than exploring a whole epic saga, each storyteller developed their content around one clear, distinct core.  One talked about her experience in a studio class, another about a few months in a particular job, and another about a single performance. 

Speak Small but Communicate Big: While the stories from the Moth were bounded in their scope, they really functioned as metaphors for bigger ideas.  In other words, these big themes were embedded in the story—and this is what made those stories resonate later.

Hook it up: Each story started somewhere, took you down an interesting road, and then arrived at a conclusion that basically brought the story full circle.  In other words the introduction was hooked to the conclusion in a satisfying way.

Make it personal: Each storyteller had a different style.  They each really spoke from their own personality.  Rather than making excuses for being Southern or a Geek, they made this an asset in their storytelling.  

Start Strong:  Each storyteller caught our attention from the beginning.  They knew that this was the make or break moment for the audience to check out or connect, and they really put work into making the introduction matter.

Crescendo: While you have to start strong, then you need to modulate your presentation.  There has to be quieter moments, and then finally you need to build up to your final, satisfying conclusion. 

Control Yourself: Each speaker had his talk memorized—but it didn’t seem memorized.  You got the feeling that the storyteller was in the moment, telling this story for you (rather than just offering a boring canned presentation.) 

Prep and Prep again: The MC mentioned that the producer really worked with the storytellers to get them to work in the Moth format. In other words, don’t think that the content will matter to your audience if your performance sucks.  If you choreograph a wonderful experience, that makes the method disappear, then your audience will really understand (and even remember) your content. 

This is the second in a series of posts considering museums and storytelling.  The first is here.

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AAM 2012 Recap

Rather than create a play by play recap of the annual conference, this post highlights broad strokes of the event.

On Museums:

  • Museums are holder of the public good.  Programs should showcase public value.
  • Museums should create memories for visitors. 
  • Museums are community based and community responsive. They are public utilities.
  • Museums serve 55 million kids nationally –annually!
  • Arts and culture are the heart, soul and conscience of society

Community:

  • Create community of visitors through experience that leverage their shared interests and the museum’s strengths.
  • Develop and employ partnerships with other institutions around desires to reach particular visitors. 
  • When using visitors as partners to develop community events create a culture of mutual respect between visitors and staff. 
  • There is not a simple 1+1 equation between community building events and fundraising. 
  • Target market—go where your visitors are to get the message out.  Or even better, invite someone from that community to help you develop the program and then market it.
  • Develop communities within your institution. Brainstorm in selected, though not siloed, groups.

Fostering Connections to Visitors:

  • Understand that each visitor community (casual visitors and teachers) have their own vocabulary and culture.  Own that and then come to a common language. 
  • Don’t assume that everyone wants the same thing. 
  • Understand what your audience wants before developing your program, while running your program, and after your program has completed.
  • Similarly, know the digital habits of your target audience and make sure your digital plan targets the right audience
  • Awareness of your museum can be an important and viable goal for your programs.

Stories, Games and Media:

  • The process of social media and crowd sourcing is what fulfills the mission not the product.
  • Create stories for your visitors.  Stories can make the collections relevant to the visitor.
  • Bring your community into the museum to tell their own stories, so that they can feel like they contribute to your museum culture.
  • Games can create meaning for visitors—often those with a great story. 
  • No all gamers are alike!  
  • Simple and clear can be essential to a good story or game. 

What were your biggest takeaways?