Intro 5: Museum Hack, New York

Met ext.

I’ll be visiting five arts organisations (four museums and one tour company) in September 2016 as part of my Churchill Fellowship. I’d like to give a bit more information about each one and why I think their learning programmes, staff and organisational culture are particularly interesting.

My fifth and final stop: Museum Hack, New York

Museum Hack is unlike the other four organisations I will be visiting. For a start, it isn’t an art museum but a tour company; there aren’t the usual parameters of being part of a museum’s working culture and programming solely for its collections and exhibitions, all within one building that has its own quirks and particularities. Secondly, Museum Hack has a more focussed remit – its raison d’être is to devise ‘subversive, non-traditional museum tours’ for millennials. More recently they have diversified into audience development and company team building, but this is still quite specific relative to the eclectic remit of learning departments in museums, that are often aiming for the broadest possible audience and programming across a huge age and experience range. Thirdly, Museum Hack (to my knowledge) is entirely dependent on ticket sales and consultation fees to exist; this is a very different model to the mix of state, charity, philanthropic and retail funding streams that are required to keep museums in the black. I wanted to include Museum Hack because it is so different. I was intrigued by a business that could take the basic building block of any learning programme – the tour – add a twist, and successfully reach a large demographic of savvy 20-somethings hungry for new experiences.

The story of Museum Hack’s creation is well documented; its Founder and CEO, Nick Gray was taken to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a romantic date back in 2011, and his companion told him stories about the artworks that animated the museum in a way that he had never previously experienced. His new obsession with the Met inspired Gray to lead tours of favourite objects for his friends, and the popularity of these tours snowballed from a hobby into a career pathway. A business major, Gray recognised the opportunity and in 2013 Museum Hack was founded. The company has expanded its reach dramatically; by 2015, the team comprised 40 staff across six countries. Regular tours are now available in San Francisco and Washington DC, and bespoke consultation has been delivered to museums across the US and as far afield as New Zealand. What they are doing is clearly a) in demand, b) meeting a need, and c) providing museums with something they feel is missing.

I really enjoy the Museum Hack e-newsletter, Museums are f***ing awesome, which is a great mix of articles, museum tour profiles, mash-ups and selfies that make me laugh out loud, or LOL if you’re that way inclined. Their approach is fun, which isn’t a word the general public always associates with museums. It also works; I have yet to read about anyone who has gone on a Museum Hack tour and not enjoyed themselves enormously. During my visit, I will be tagging along for two different tours of the Met – an Un-highlights tour and a VIP Night tour. I can’t wait to experience the Museum Hack approach first-hand, find out more about the team’s creative processes and how their programmes are developed.

A couple of further pieces of writing about Museum Hack that might be of interest:

  1. Nina Simon interviewed Museum Hack tour developer/leader Dustin Growick back in December 2014 for her Museum 2.0 blog. It was this article that inspired me to include Museum Hack in my Churchill application.
  2. A guest post by Margaret Jennings on the Museum Commons blog gives an insight into the Museum Hack tour experience and includes some thoughtful discussion around the model.

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