Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Spreading the word about carts

On March 3, 2011, Rich Faron of Museum Explorer teamed up with Heidi Moisan of Chicago History Museum to lead a roundtable discussion at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Smithsonian educators gathered to hear Rich and Heidi's presentation "Wheeling Visitors In: Customizing Carts to Connect with Audiences."

One of the roundtable attendees channeled her enthusiasm into a lovely blog entry, which we share with you here. Thanks to Jennifer Brundage, National Outreach Manager for Smithsonian Affiliations, for her kind observations!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to Connect with Audiences in Real-Time Situations? Use CARTS!

Public programmers in museums today face huge challenges. With reduced staff and shrinking budgets, they must nevertheless manage a public trust and an institutional commitment to provide visitors with content, relevance and inspiration. For any given exhibit or event, they're
expected to creatively:
  • Invite exploration and inquiry
  • Target audience interests
  • Appeal to awareness
  • Inspire personal connections
  • Engage visitor curiosity
  • Encourage interactive learning
  • Facilitate discovery and sharing
  • Drive attendance
  • Develop repeat visitors
  • Enhance the bottom line
For museums, zoos and aquariums, the stakes are high. We all understand the real mission: create new market segments and donor interest through aggressive advertising and outreach so we can capture the imaginations of a discriminating public that has ever-increasing options for how to spend leisure hours and dwindling dollars.

To meet these challenges head-on, museum exhibition and education departments have run a nonstop race for the past 25 years or so, looking for new ways to educate--but also to entertain and retain--the people who visit museums. And there's no end in sight. Because museums need a steady stream of visitors and the revenue they generate, we're pretty sure that exhibitions and the related educational programming will serve
as the primary public attraction well into the 21st century.

In order to keep exhibits and programs feeling up-to-date, educators, exhibitors and programmers have had to identify new tools and innovative ways of presenting refreshing, open-ended experiences day in and day out. Lots of them are experimenting with flexible program delivery methods like activity carts.

Carts answer the question of how to provide more activities for visitors while addressing that long bulleted list of expectations. Beyond relating museum mission messages to local school curricula, carts are family-focused, visitor-friendly and interactive. They can move from place to place. They're simple. They're affordable. They're fun.

Maybe the best thing about carts is that they're based on one of the oldest and most reliable forms of audience engagement: direct, one-on-one human contact. A museum visitor meets a museum staff person face-to-face--on the floor, close to the habitat, in front of the painting, next to the tank.

Great exhibits and their related programs inspire audiences to forge personal links with what they see and experience, inviting them to connect with new ideas in memorable ways. Carts help this happen. They bring staff and objects to the museum floor, providing self-contained platforms for open-ended, immediate exchange with audiences. By putting staff, objects and new ideas into direct proximity with visitors, carts become platforms for meaningful conversation.

Museum Explorer has developed a host of program carts for museums and zoos alike. Visitors and museum professionals couldn't be more pleased with the results. In addition, we were invited to present our work with carts at a Smithsonian Institution roundtable this spring. Watch for more details to come!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Speak Up For Museums!

If you've read the latest issue of Museum magazine, what you're about to read here will be old news. If you don't get Museum or haven't gotten around to reading it yet, here's a quick project for you.

The American Association of Museums is holding its third annual Museums Advocacy Day on February 28 and March 1. On February 28, a lot of people who care about museums will gather in Washington, DC, to learn effective ways to make the case for museums with members of Congress. On March 1, these "citizen-advocates" will actually meet with members of Congress to let them know how their legislative decisions will affect the museum community.

We can't all travel to Washington to participate in Museums Advocacy Day. But anyone who loves a museum of any size or shape can speak up for museums. Let your voice be heard! Here's how:

1. Go to

2. Enter your ZIP code in the "Contact Congress" box at the upper right side of the home page.

3. You may need to enter your street address and city on the next page.

4. When you arrive at the Advocacy page, you will see links to your elected officials. You will also see a link on that page for "Issues." Click here for a list of letters on a variety of topics important to museums today. (Our favorites: Why I Love Museums and Museums are Critical Partners in Education.)

5. When you click on the letter of your choice, you will be asked to enter your contact information. When you click the button to "Review Your Message(s)," the text of the letter will appear.

6. Personalize the letter as you wish. Hit the send button, and your letter will land in the inbox of a legislator whose decisions will affect the future of our museums and our communities.

Speak up, and speak often. Let your senators and representatives know how important museums are to you--and why.