Monthly Archives: October 2011

Guest post: Felicity Plent on planning and marketing Summer at the Museums in Cambridge

We receive a lot of press releases at Culture24, but one from Cambridge Museums stuck in my mind for the simple, ingenious series of photos that accompanied it. I asked coordinator Felicity Plent if she’d write a post explaining how her team planned and marketed this season of events, once her busy summer was over.


Cycling to work the morning after Twilight at the Museums (when 3,000 parents and children descend after dark!)  I started thinking about an idea that became Summer at the Museums.  I was feeling evangelical! I wanted us to grab hold of all the extra people we had encouraged to visit our museums through Twilight and get them back here for the summer.

What I wanted was a great big bag of fun, family things to do at Cambridge Museums – offering summer days out that parents would choose as an alternative to London trips, or instead of costly outings to the cinema /bowling/swimming on poor weather days. But I also really wanted to know what children choose to look at when they visit our museums, because so many of them had used torches at Twilight to look at exhibits differently.  In previous summers we had used trails linking all the museums, but actually all we needed was an umbrella of publicity that supported the brilliant events that were already running.

A poster featuring a sunglasses-wearing sculpture and penguin eating icecream

A colourful poster combining art with fun summertime images

With a plan formed, I asked our designer, Kath Lees, to create a poster, events calendar and ‘Draw What You Saw’ postcard competition entry form inspired by seaside postcard images, end of the pier slapstick and sunshine.  The result was a downloadable calendar showcasing over 60 events for children over the holidays. It was available on the University and Cambridge museum websites, and sent out to schools to circulate via parentmail.  The postcard competition, which could be entered at all museums, would then give us feedback on what children thought was worth looking at.

A postcard to enter a museum drawing competition

The back of this postcard has a space for children to draw what they saw at the museum. Courtesy Cambridge Museums

I persuaded Crayola to give us the prizes and we posted our favourite entries on a Flickr gallery. Weekly and overall winners gave us something new to talk about on social networks each week as the entries came in.

But it was Kath’s sunglasses imagery for the campaign that really tipped the balance. Again on my bike one morning, I had one of those shiny moments – Sunglasses = Look! A quick shopping trip furnished me with 14 pairs of novelty sunglasses.  A round of emails persuaded our Museum Directors to let us use the sunglasses as props on exhibits.  And, with the help of a brilliant local twitter diarist and photographer, Sir Cam, we used the resulting images across social media and the web to promote our calendar and competition.

A stone lion outside the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge rocking a pair of blue plastic sunglasses

The iconic lion outside the Fitzwilliam Museum, rocking a pair of sunglasses - a simple but effective image to create

4,200 people attended the family events at our museums over the summer and over 900 children entered our competition. Oh, and we’ve already been offered a woolly hat for the lion in case of snow this winter.

See the whole museum-objects-in-sunglasses photoshoot here, the children’s illustrations of their favourite museum objects here, and the full Summer at the Museums programme here.

A smiling woman wearing sunglasses

Felicity Plent

Felicity Plent is the Marketing Co-ordinator for the University of Cambridge Museums: you can follow them on Twitter at @camunivmuseums.

Successful Museums at Night event ideas: The Big List

A Museums at Night event can be as simple as keeping your doors open later than usual into the evening, or allowing free entry to exhibitions that usually charge an admission fee. However, take a look at the list of inventive events that venues have staged in the past: do any of these ideas resonate with you, and could you adapt them to suit your space, collections, exhibitions, and team?


A man and a woman dance in a museum after dark

Dancing at Museums at Night (c) Pal Hansen

  • Site-specific performance art / twilight promenade
  • Dance inspired by artworks in collection
  • Live music from local bands and DJs / cabaret / choirs / juggling
  • Poetry reading
  • The Wake of Lost Souls: eulogies for fictional characters
  • Storytelling, e.g. hear Conan Doyle’s Egyptian stories in the Mummy Room
  • Graffiti artists creating mural throughout evening
  • Magic lantern show, Victorian entertainment, shadow puppet workshop
  • Costumed re-enactment: meet characters from the past / ghosts / historical characters as tour guides or coming to life amongst artefacts from their lives
  • Horror / historical / family film screening, short films, documentaries, local moving image artwork, artists films
  • Meet the artist- or writer-in-residence
  • Talk by or interview with designers / artists / experts / curators / authors
  • Re-enacting night-time events that took place in the venue in the past
  • Courtroom drama
  • Recreated air battle


  •  Help record a sound collage
  • Writing workshop
  • Open mic jam session
  • Craft activities: all-night printmaking, life drawing, sugar crafting, knitting, Stitch’n’Bitch, pottery, brass rubbing, balloon modelling, 3D sculpting, the chance to make lanterns / masks / origami / rag rugs / lace / felt
  • Build a beehive
  • Make a clay or mosaic tile, or patchwork quilt square, for a community project
  • Games programming night
  • Try Roman skills e.g. writing on wax tablets
  • Help create The Longing Archive: a participatory artwork made from old love letters, favourite songs and stories of rejection

Physical activities

  •  Go on military manoeuvres after dark with former soldiers, try night vision equipment
  • Silent disco on light-up dancefloor
  • Dance marathon
  • Greek dance workshop
  • FitBod fitness challenge


  •  Torchlit tour
  • Treasure hunt
  • Murder mystery / live action Cluedo
  • Sleepover
  • Pyjama party followed by toy sleepover
  • Speed dating / singles night
  • Tudor / Regency / 1940s historical dance
  • Play games from different historical periods / croquet
  • Taste food and drink from the era
  • Medieval feast
  • Try playing the shawm and gittern (Tudor musical instruments)
  • Karaoke
  • Pub quiz
  • Board games / word games / giant Jenga / Twister / vintage video games
  • Twilight-themed night giving fans sparkly vampire makeovers
  • Victorian school lessons, try writing with dip pens
  • Sample gruel in a workhouse
  • Above and below stairs social history tour
  • Learn to lay a dinner table with a Georgian butler
  • Historic house trail hearing the sounds of a 1910 dinner party
  • World War I trench experience
  • Learn first aid during a recreated World War II air raid
  • Cook and eat food sculptures
  • Wine, beer, tea or coffee tasting
  • “Bushtucker trial” eating insects
  • Dinner or tea party in venue / midnight feast

Collections- or exhibitions-based events

  •  Preview or launch of new exhibition / “Last chance to see” a closing exhibition
  • Astronomy night / planetarium show / learn to use telescopes
  • “Open cockpits” evening among historic aircraft
  • Playing old 78 records from collection
  • Model train running evening
  • Object handling / object identification / conservators explaining their work
  • CSI Friday: investigate the conservation challenges the housekeeping team face
  • Hear a Victorian post horn played
  • “Night flights” on flight simulators
  • Helicopter rides
  • Fire up steam engines
  • Ride on steam trains
  • Canal trips on historic narrowboats
  • Sunset hovercraft rides
  • Historic tunnel tours by lantern-light
  • Sunset naval ceremony
  • Firing historic guns, cannon and mortars
  • Bring objects from your collections, and volunteers happy to talk about them, in to somewhere central such as a marketplace or library

Collaboration with outside experts

  •  Craft market with stalls run by local artists
  • Family tree research with genealogists / local history society experts
  • Dissection night / learn surgical suturing / amputations
  • Skull identification night with a facial anthropologist
  • Paranormal investigation
  • Young Chefs challenge
  • Graveyard tour
  • Blue Badge guided tour
  • Fashion show

Making use of your building, grounds and surroundings

  •  Video art or live art displayed in windows
  • Community-made short films projected on to building
  • Illuminated grounds / animated projections on to building
  • Atmospheric interior lighting
  • Candlelit installations
  • Nature walks discovering moths and bats / learning to use bat detectors
  • Nocturnal animal talks, getting up close with creepy-crawlies / snakes / bearded dragons
  • Atmospheric night walk
  • Discover the rainforest biome
  • Find the fairies in the gardens

Join these suggestions up!

You can bring together a whole evening of themed activities by combining a selection of the ideas listed above: for example, one Thunderbirds-themed night featured an exhibition of rare models, music from the 1960s, screenings of the TV series, and an interview with voice artist Sylvia Anderson followed by a book signing session.

Best of luck! If you’d like to discuss your plans, you can always contact me by calling 01273 623336 or emailing

Download this list as a Word document here

Download this list as a PDF here

Museums at Night 2013 dates: Thursday 16th – Saturday 18th May 2013

Edited 7 August 2013: We’re shifting the dates of Museums at Night 2013 to run from Thursday 16 – Saturday 18 May. Here’s the reason why the Museums at Night 2013 dates are changing!

The Museums at Night logo proudly printed atop a slice of toast

While planning gathers steam for Museums at Night 2012, I was surprised and delighted to be contacted by a venue that’s often booked for weddings many months in advance, wanting to know when Museums at Night would be happening in 2013.

The dates of Museums at Night weekend in the UK, and Nuit des Musées around Europe, tie in with International Museums Day which falls on 18th May each year. 

Working on this basis, the dates for the next few years of Museums at Night weekends will be:

Thursday 16th – Saturday 18th May 2013

Thursday 15th – Saturday 17th May 2014

Thursday 14th – Saturday 16th May 2015

If you have questions about any aspect of Museums at Night, would like some help and support, or would like to talk over your plans, please give me a call on 01273 623336 or drop me an email at – I’m here to help!