On Sunday, October 15, the McMullen hosted Museum Hack, the New York City-based renegade group whose team aims to give “unconventional tours of the world’s best museums.” The company is based in several locations, including Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago and L.A., providing over 20 tours per week and consulting with over 50 museums around the country. Among some of these uniquely-crafted tours are the “Badass Bitches of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” a feminist tour celebrating depictions of women and women artists in the museum, or “The Un-Highlights Tour at The Getty Center,” which features untold stories behind the museum’s art collection with an off-the-beaten-track tour.
Museum Hack representative Hannah Saloio, who is based in the Washington D.C. division of the company, discussed how the company got started and how it crafts unique tour experiences. Following a Q&A discussion, Student Ambassadors gave tours of the permanent collection as well as interdisciplinary tours of the exhibit through the lens of different majors, including philosophy, economics, communications, and environmental studies.
Saloio offered constructive feedback and advice on how to give an engaging tour as well as attract a wider museum audience—particularly the millennial generation. Here are some of her most notable tips and tricks of the trade:
- Have a goal in mind when you look at a painting. What catches your attention? Why is this interesting to you? Your passion and enthusiasm for a subject will make what you’re saying more compelling to those listening.
- Catching yourself saying “I” as you talk about a work is likely a good sign, as this means you are relating the subject to your own experiences, which in turn, means the work overall is relatable.
- Use faces in paintings to craft a good story. Telling human stories allows people to engage on a more social level. People mostly remember a good juicy story rather than dates.
- You don’t need to point out the obvious. For example, to explain “this is a picture of the Madonna holding Christ set in a landscape background” is superfluous, as people viewing the painting can see it for themselves.
- Create a fun game you can play with people on your tour. Saloio uses the example of asking visitors to seek out faces in works by famous artists, after which she asks them to share with one another and craft love stories between the faces they’ve found.
- Challenge yourself not to use the word “interesting” when describing a piece of art. It may be interesting to you, but not to others. Explain the interesting things about it and let the visitors decide if they think it’s interesting or not.
- Set descriptions and explanations in a modern context. Using pop-culture references, for example, will help people better understand what you are talking about.
Saloio concluded her talk by reiterating that these enlivening, unique tours do not point fun at objects or subjects in museums. On the contrary, it elevates museum collections by by reinforcing a stronger human connection to the stories being told, creating a memorable experience for visitors. After all, “You don’t need to be a millennial to have fun. People [including adults] always want to have a good time.”