As museums begin to reopen, and eager visitors gear up for new experiences – my thoughts have turned to creative ways that venues can re-engage their audiences and get visitors back in the door. 

Last year was the longest closure of America’s cultural institutions since WWII. So now that your doors have finally opened again, what are you doing to entice someone to visit?

The first place I turn is to temporary galleries. Your venue is typically defined by your permanent collections – which are the fabric of who you are and what your expertise is. But temporary galleries are also important in driving new traffic. By displaying unique elements of an existing collection, you can address current topics and bring new life to art and artifacts that haven’t been seen in a while. 

Sure, a museum can use its temporary space for traveling exhibitions, but with revenues down due to the shut down last year, why not develop from within? It’s an economical way to freshen things up. A  temporary gallery can create a buzz without exhausting your resources and your budget. 

Another idea would be to consider a series of pop-up exhibits. Outdoor pop-ups are popular, and also serve as great marketing tool for your venue. Younger visitors crave “experiences” and “shareable” exhibits they can be a part of. Putting on a pop-up exhibit and having your visitors share it on social media can help drive new visitors to the museum. 

So where do you begin? It all starts with evaluating what you have and researching what your visitors and community are hungry for. The first and most important step is a deep dive into your collections. People come to see artifacts and objects they haven’t seen before, or haven’t experienced for a very long time. Evaluate what’s unique about a particular object, how long it has been archived, and why it would appeal to your visitors. 

Then, organize a small team or committee, and hold idea-generating workshops. Consider bringing in an outside exhibit partner to learn about the space and its offerings. If necessary, hold another round of workshops with museum stakeholders and outside vendors to identify high level themes, ideas and media in order to develop your initial exhibit wish list. 

Now you can start mapping out the overall footprint for the gallery or pop-up experience. Once this work has been completed and all stakeholders agree, you can begin defining the resources you have versus what you need to complete the project and begin working on plans for moving forward.

Have you updated your temporary gallery lately? Have you considered putting on a pop-up exhibit? Now’s the time. Give your visitors something new. Use these ideas to promote your museum’s mission, rotate artifacts that haven’t been on display in years, or address a seasonal topic or current event. Need help with planning? Or simply idea generating? Let me know. We have exhibit planning worksheets that help with lift off. 

By taking a creative and critical look at your exisiting collection and how it can be reused and refreshed, you can give visitors a renewed interest and sense of excitement.

Tim Wren
Director of Museum Services