Monthly Archives: July 2012

Museums Showoff comes to Brighton – sign up to take part!

Museums Showoff: open mic for anyone who works in or loves museums

Museums Showoff is great fun: it’s an open mic night where people who work in arts and heritage, or who just love museums, galleries and archives, get together to celebrate and share quirky or entertaining stories.

It’s open to everyone: curators, conservators, librarians, collectors, Museum Studies students, archaeologists, social historians, educators, multimedia developers, explainers, visitors, theorists and everyone else associated with museums, galleries and library special collections. It brings together people from different areas of the museum and gallery world, and gets them to show off their skills, knowledge and passions.

I spoke at the first Museums Showoff about Museums at Night, and was overwhelmed by the sheer loveliness of the friendly, supportive crowd. It had a great atmosphere, more like a Fringe comedy show than any other gathering of museum folk I’d ever been to!

I’m delighted to help bring this special night down to Brighton: it’ll be taking place upstairs at the Temple Bar in Hove on the evening of Thursday 20th September.

You get 9 minutes on stage to do anything you like about museums or galleries: sign up for your 9 minute slot here!

So, what sort of thing might you do with your 9 minutes of glory? At the last 2 Museums Showoffs, I’ve marvelled at and been entertained by things as diverse as a shrunken head that smelled like a goat, songs about dinosaurs, a collection of preserved tattooed human skin, and interpreters from the Roald Dahl Museum performing a pantomime version of Cinderella.

Here are some suggestions from the Museums Showoff website for what performers might choose to do:

Show and tell:

Your new acquisition
Your favourite or a ‘star’ object from your collection
An interesting find from the stores
Something you’ve conserved
Your current research
Run a group handling session
Tell us about something you’ve dug up
Describe the weirdest thing in your collection 


Ideas for your next exhibition
The most recent object your collection should acquire or dispose of
Road test ideas for exhibitions/public programmes/galleries
Tell us what a museum should be collecting and how
Tell us about research into what museums are doing and why
Demonstrate new digital projects/ideas/concepts

Or generally show off:

Showing a film or oral history project you’ve just made
Trying out a new demo or interactive exhibit
Practicing a new museum-based comedy set
Reading your latest poem/performing an interpretive dance about your museum work
Performing a 9-minute play aimed at museum audiences
Play your new song about the Tudors
Re-enact a historical event
Tell us about the latest behind-the-scenes goings on at your organization…

Or anything else!

If reading this has got you feeling inspired, please join me and sign up now to grab yourself a Museums Showoff slot! You’ll need to leave a short comment explaining what you’d like to talk about, but it really is that simple.

If you can’t make it to the Brighton event, Museums Showoff will be back in London this autumn too – but I hope to see lots of you at Temple Bar, whether or not you decide to show off!

Guest post: London Transport Museum on attracting audiences to late events

Today’s guest post comes from Lyndsey McLean and Laura Hilton of London Transport Museum, who explain what they’ve learned about attracting audiences from three years of running after-hours events.


Like all specialist museums, London Transport Museum attracts a specialist audience. People love us when they’re children, and when they have grandchildren of their own – and we love them, no matter what age they are!

But we know that the appeal of London Transport goes beyond transport enthusiasts. We have amazing design and fine art collections, and a keen interest in transport technology and the future.

Museum visitors at dusk in front of a digital map installation

As darkness falls, Museums at Night visitors discover interactive digital installations. Photo by Maryam Mazraei (c) London Transport Museum 2012

When the people in the middle, in their 20s, 30s and 40s find us, they are often incredibly excited to discover that there is more to the Transport Museum than buses and trams. And when they come to a Late, they are more than happy to discover those buses and trams with a drink in their hand.

The role of the Public Programmes team is to widen the appeal of the museum, to run events that appeal to our core audience, and also to run events that will tempt other audiences – people with an interest in art, design and technology.

A couple doing a craft activity

Craft workshops are always popular at Lates. Photo by Maryam Mazraei (c) London Transport Museum 2012

We are now into our third year of Late events and have experimented a lot and learned a lot. Embarking on Lates back in 2009/2010 was both exciting and a little daunting. The museum operates as a charity and social enterprise so our budget for such events is derived solely from ticket sales, and we are working alongside some fabulous museums running late events for free.

We do have an audience for Late events, and they give us amazing feedback when they come in. We’ve tried:

  • free Lates
  • linking in with an exhibition opening
  • inviting social groups to come for a discounted rate
  • packing the night with events
  • and letting the museum speak for itself.

Some strategies work better than others, but successful events are dependent on many factors, ranging from season and weather through to content and pricing.

We aim to tie our late events in with an exhibition launch or wider London festival such as Museums at Night or the London Festival of Architecture. The event then receives extra press and PR coverage in addition to our own efforts.

A man reading aloud from a book

Author Craig Taylor reading from ‘Londoners’ in the Mind the Map exhibition. Photo by Maryam Mazraei (c) London Transport Museum 2012

Content needs to link to and promote our temporary exhibition. The event therefore relies heavily on the appeal of the exhibition and we try to be as creative and innovative with the themes as possible to keep up the energy of the lates.

Late openings are hard work and expensive for us to run, but rewarding when feedback from first time visitors states that they found the museum vibrant and exciting and would definitely come back to future events.

Two top tips for income generation

  • Partnership working can bring a new audience, content, and media coverage. In 2011 we worked with onedotzero on our events programme, exposing the museum to a new technologically literate audience. Partnering with Museums at Night in 2012 gave us author Craig Taylor, who read from his new book and signed copies for visitors.
  • Remember your internal partners – our in-house caterers provide a bar at Late events, the Learning Team have worked with young people to provide drop-in workshops, and curators have provided talks and tours … all at no or low cost to the museum.

Cartographer-in-residence Emily Wilkinson maps visitors’ comments about the Museums at Night late opening. Photo by Maryam Mazraei (c) London Transport Museum 2012


2 women smiling in front of a framed picture

Laura Hilton (L) and Lyndsey McLean (R)

Laura Hilton has worked in Public Programmes at London Transport Museum for two years. Previously, she worked in communications and events at London Underground and Transport for London. Laura is a secret Routemaster geek.

Lyndsey McLean has worked at London Transport Museum for two years, initially in the Learning department and as a Public Programmes Manager for the last eighteen months. Previously, Lyndsey worked in museum learning departments in Edinburgh and Glasgow.


Thanks, Lyndsey and Laura!

If you’re reading this and you’ve got something to say about any aspect of audience development, event planning or marketing for arts and heritage venues, I’d love to publish your guest posts too. Drop me an email at

Battling volunteers save the day at the Helicopter Museum

Nick and I are busily working on our evaluation of this year’s festival, and some fascinating stories are emerging from venues explaining what happened behind the scenes of their Museums at Night events!

I was intrigued to receive an email from Lee Mills, General Manager of the Helicopter Museum in Weston-super-Mare, asking “If there is an award for museum volunteers going beyond the call of duty for Museums at Night, please can I nominate my team?

Each year for Museums at Night, the Helicopter Museum combines their annual Flight Simulator Convention with some kind of re-enactment event. This year they’d decided to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War.

But what exactly did Lee’s team do that was so significant? Lee explains:

The event itself was a huge success and will never be forgotten (probably for all the wrong reasons).

A soldier crawls through a smoky field with a gun

Just another day for a regular re-enactor … or is it? (c) Helicopter Museum

As you know we staged a Falklands re-enactment on the Saturday.

We had all the pyrotechnics in place, the Argentine dressed re-enactors were here in costume, we were just waiting for the British re-enactment group.

soldiers with old helicopters amid clouds of smoke

Pyrotechnics create an atmospheric setting for a military reenactment (c) Helicopter Museum

And then – on the day – they cancelled on us. NO BRITISH TROOPS in a Falklands re-enactment!

So, in the greatest sense of “the show must go on”, myself and the museum volunteers (who were luckily all dressed up in camouflage costume for the event) took a crash course in how to work the dummy guns.

Reenactors playing British soldiers with guns

The costumed volunteers bravely clutch their weapons as smoke drifts across the battlefield (c) Helicopter Museum

We then ran the gauntlet of smoke grenades, pyrotechnic explosions, firing caps and overhead mortar fire to capture the Argentine gun emplacement in front of a crowd of over 400 people.

A soldier with a helicopter

Would you have guessed that this soldier in deep concentration was a plucky museum volunteer? (c) Helicopter Museum


Like I said it will never be forgotten.

Wow! What a story. Thanks for sharing it, Lee, and congratulations to your redoubtable volunteers!

If you involved volunteers in your Museums at Night event, like 71% of the participating venues we surveyed, do you have a story to tell about the difference they made? Email me:!

(NB. I’m keen to showcase all kinds of stories from the arts and heritage sector here on the blog – your volunteers don’t need to be doing anything as epic or dramatic as running the gauntlet of smoke grenades, pyrotechnic explosions, firing caps and overhead mortar fire to capture an Argentine gun emplacement. Can anyone top this?)