How do I make my museum seriously fun?

August, 03, 2018

Scott Tennent and Mitch Marr from the Hammer Museum on bringing in the fun

By Alexia JACQUES-CASANOVA

 

“Dare to be fun” is the theme of our upcoming Communicating the Museum conference taking place in Chicago next month. In anticipation of these entertainingly informative five days of museum goodness, I had the opportunity to discuss with Scott Tennent and Mitch Marr from the Hammer Museum. Embracing experimentation and retaining serious values while becoming more fun are some of the challenges we examined.

Mitch Marr

Scott Tennent

 

 

Being funny does not mean you can’t have strong values

Before joining the cultural sector in 2010, Mitch Marr served as the director of a human rights non-profit. “As I joined this sector, I wanted to find institutions at the intersection of social justice and the arts,” he says. “When I was planning to move to Los Angeles, I saw the Hammer Museum as one of the top institutions in that regard.” The Hammer Museum has developed various fun-infused programs and events, from multiple concert series to World Cup watch parties and “yappy hours” where people can meet and possibly adopt furry friends while drinking cocktails. Offering those type of events hasn’t steered the Hammer Museum away from the strong civic engagement that convinced Marr to join the staff in the first place. The museum also tried another type of happy hour: “120 people showed up to have a drink, sit at table and discuss topics linked to the constitution,” says Marr. Being a seriously fun museum would imply providing fun entry points to serious content and meaningful engagement.

 

Fun requires practice and experimentation

Scott Tennent, who will be speaking about the latest trends in museum experimentation during CTM, stressed how crucial it is for museums to experiment if they wish to bring in the fun. “If you are not experimenting,” he says, “you are clearly resting on your laurels.” Tennent adds: “the world moves quickly and there is a ton of information and opportunity. People look at how and where they want to spend their time. The more open, nimble and willing to try the institution is, the more they are going to connect with their audiences.” According to him, being willing to try and fail yields much more significant results than just being cautious. “We have seen so many cool, new ideas in museums those past five or even two years; they all come from experimentation!” Why not take a day (or more) every month to experiment and test new things with your team?

 

The fun museum faces challenges too

As a (seriously fun) museum worker, what are some of the challenges you may face? Tennent and Marr agreed that finding time and remaining up-to-date with trends and news are at the top of the list. “Having resources — and not just money — but also time to try new things, whether they are programs or communication strategies” is the first thing that comes to mind for Marr. “Things take time and whatever museum you come from, you probably feel this way,” he says. “The speed of this world is intense,” adds Tennent as he reflects on institutions which, like the Hammer Museum, try and act as engagement and information hubs in relation to current socio-political trends. “Maintaining and keeping up with what is happening in the world so it may reflect in your programming takes a lot of work,” he says. Daring to be fun implies investing time to be aware of social media trends and current events so you may, for instance, initiate humorous (and relevant) newsjacking.

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“Every museum has the capacity to be a fun museum,” assures Tennent, “I have worked with many museums and they all know how to throw a party and use social media in a fun way.” If you are ready to take the leap and bring more fun in your institution, come hear Scott Tennent and Mitch Marr share more insights during the Communicating the Museum conference in Chicago, September 24 to 27.

 

Hammer Museum

courtesy of the Hammer Museum

 

Conversation sparker: if you’d like to start a conversation with either Scott or Mitch during the CTM conference here’s a little help. Scott is apparently a huge music geek, and Mitch is a former Chicagoan who loves coffee and will happily recommend great coffee stops.