How to work together and form a Museums at Night cluster

As part of our Museums at Night briefing sessions, which Nick and I held in London, Birmingham and Bradford (and will also be bringing to Wrexham and Cardiff next week), we invited experts who had run Museums at Night clusters to share their experiences and recommendations.

A family group writing at a table, guided by an explorer

Egyptian Explorers at Blackburn Museum, part of the Pennine Lancashire cluster of Museums at Night activity (c) Bob Singleton, Pixel

Heritage and Audience Development Consultant Laura Crossley shared her recommendations for getting local heritage organisations to work together to plan and market a joint programme of Museums at Night events, using three contrasting case studies from the Norfolk area.

Why does Laura value clusters so much? In her own words,

Clusters are a fantastic way to:

  • Create something that’s more than the sum of its parts. Even very small events become something big when combined with other events and marketed as a complete visitor offer.
  • Attract lots of visitors. People are much more likely to come out if they can attend more than one event in an evening.
  • Get great media coverage.
  • Garner local long-term support by bringing new visitors to your venue who’ll want to come back again and again.
  • Improve partnership working between venues in the same location.

Sounds too good to be true? Here’s the evidence… I managed the Victorian Nights Festival, which saw 12 Museums at Night events across 9 venues in North Norfolk in 2012.

  • 3,252 people attended the festival.
  • 60% of visitors were first time visitors to venues. 
  • 91% of visitors said they would definitely return to participating venues in the future.
  • £50,000 was spent in the local economy over the festival weekend.
  • 32 print and web articles with an AVE of £28,651 were produced about the festival.
  • 138 volunteers supported the festival.

Read more of Laura’s key recommendations for organising a cluster over on her blog.

Lindsey Braidley, Learning & Programmes Co-ordinator for Heritage Services at Bath & North East Somerset Council spoke at Culture24’s Museums at Night briefing session in Birmingham.

Using these slides, Lindsey shared how the Bath cluster of Museums at Night festival activity grew to encompass more venues and different themes over the last few years, and how they’ve overcome funding challenges and collaborated with different local initiatives to keep their activities fresh and interesting.

Her top tips include involving local tourism organisations in planning and promoting your joint offer, and (if you’re organising a succession of events on the same evening) attracting a large group of people to your first event by making it a dinner or a food-related experience, before setting them off across town to explore your other events.

Elaine Lees from Creativity Works in Pennine Lancashire explained how she successfully bid for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create a new Museums at Night cluster of activity in her area, the Festival of Wonders. She covered how she got multiple museums and libraries on board, how they promoted their events, the challenges that they overcame and their plans for the future.

Christina Grogan from Open Culture in Liverpool shared the story of the phenomenal success of Liverpool’s Museums at Night strand of programming, Light Night. She suggested tips on bringing together a range of partner organisations, joint marketing and promotion, and the value of bringing the city centre to life with animation, performances, and hundreds of late openings and special events.

If you’re interested in forming a cluster to work together on planning and promoting Museums at Night events in your area, do get in touch with us: we’re happy to help in talking through plans, and can connect you with people who have made clusters work successfully before.

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