What constitutes a good event? Is it a gathering that brings in the biggest number of people? Is it something that people come to for fun? Is it something that people come to for a chance learn? These are a few of the questions that we pondered when thinking about what it takes to makes an event an all-around success.
We attended the Portraits After 5 event at the National Portrait Gallery to try to get a better idea about what draws the young professional audience into the museum. Held in the Kogod Courtyard on October 1, 2010, from 5 to 8 PM, the event did its best to attract a young crowd. The event itself was free with a cash bar, a DJ, a pop-up photo booth with photographer Rob Northway, and guided tours of the Americans Now exhibit.
After asking a number of people at the event what kind of museum events they would be interested in attending, nearly every person said that they would consider events involving alcohol. In fact, only two people that I spoke two even mentioned venturing out of the courtyard and into the museum. I found it curious that the event drew such a good crowd because the courtyard is always open during museum hours and the café sells alcohol. These people could be having happy hour at NPG whenever they choose to do so.
It got us wondering: Is alcohol the best way to draw young adults into the museum? Is there a way to make events involving alcohol more mission-related? And do young adults want to learn?
The Minnesota Historical Society has come up with a solution to this problem. Over the past few years, they have successfully implemented programs that they call History Crawls. Each crawl is focused on a particular neighborhood of St. Paul or a specific time period. Participants board a trolley at the museum, drive around town, stopping at different pubs and restaurants while learning about the city and the people that built it.
While the History Crawls are not directed towards young adults, they could easily be targeted for greater participation. The price tag is high ($20 for members, $25 for non-members) but if they were able to utilize websites like Groupon or BuyWithMe, MNHS would reach a broader demographic.
I sincerely hope that young people, especially emerging museum professionals, explore options outside of happy hours at museums. While alcohol is a surefire way to get people in their 20s and 30s to attend, they are not likely to be repeat visitors during regular business hours. Integrating education into the events will display to the participants the worth of the museum and why they should continue to be supporters as they continue to mature.