Why We Asked Museum Hack to Hack reynoldahouse.org

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Why We Asked Museum Hack to Hack reynoldahouse.org

(aka Getting My Sister to Go to a Museum)

By Sarah R. Smith|@SarahatReynolda

“I’m more interested in the people who aren’t coming to Reynolda House.”

We were in the throes of a discussion about our Museum’s audience--was it local, was it teachers, was it people interested in art, was it a certain age group--when Reynolda House Founding President Barbara Babcock Millhouse made this needle-scratching-vinyl observation. Yes, certainly all these segments are a part of the audience we serve, but what of the people who choose activities other than coming to a museum, specifically our museum. Why aren’t they coming?

While no organization can be everything to every person, I share the belief that there are people out there who can be excited by a memorable museum experience - they just don’t know it yet. 

Museum Hack is reaching those people. And my sister is one of them. 

My sister’s last trip to a museum was when she was dragged along by me to Reina Sofía in Madrid several years ago. She has lived in New York for nearly 10 years and is an educated, creative, critical thinker who had never been to the Met until - wait for it - Museum Hack led her sales and marketing team from ESPN on a tour. That's her, pictured above at the Met.*

As children of history teachers, my sister and I were in a sort of constant classroom, just in more comfortable seats. Vacations revolved around historic landmarks. Street names presented opportunities for a who’s-who lesson. Even song lyrics belted out from the back seat of the car were interrupted for context and meaning. So it's no wonder that my sister built a resistance to “being told” what to look at and what for.

For her and others like her, an experience is memorable if she can contribute to it. How can we open up new ways to experience our museum for onsite and online visitors that is less “being told,” more “let’s talk.”

While our current model of shaping the visitor experience has served us well in our first 50 years as a museum, together our staff wants more, and the people who aren’t visiting us are demanding more. How will we connect to visitors tomorrow, and in the next 50 years? That’s the question that interests us.

I wanted Reynolda House to partner with Museum Hack because it would spark discussions among colleagues across Museum departments to begin to answer this question. Because it would make us uncomfortable. Because it would take us one step closer to finding “the people who aren’t coming”; more people like my sister.

Have ideas on the Reynolda visitor experience? Tell us at @VisitReynolda or email us at reynolda@reynoldahouse.org. 

*This was a complete coincidence, by the way. While I was working with Museum Hack in developing Reynolda’s online “hack,” my sister, unbeknownst to me, was planning an on-site hack experience for her team. Sisters think alike; I credit my parents. 

Gallery shot of the author at the Baltimore Museum of Art.


Sarah, pictured above, far left, is the Director of Marketing & Communications at Reynolda House. She is contributing to and learning from discussions on the topic of visitor experience and digital engagement this week at the Museums and the Web conference in Baltimore, at which the Museum's new site is nominated for a Best of the Web Award. Follow the discussion at #MW2014

Reynolda House will continue the discussion about visitor-centered experiences at its 2014 National Advisory Council meeting April 10. Nick Gray from Museum Hack and Jen Oleniczak (aka The Engaging Educator), will present at the meeting. We’ll share updates via @LearnReynolda and on the Curate Reynolda blog.


Dear Sarah - I think this is a GREAT IDEA! I absolutely LOVE the idea of a fellow Deac who has had success in the museum world coming back to partner with the Reynolda House. I love the Reynolda House and it played a great role in my love of Wake Forest when I was a student there - it houses (pun intended) many of my favorite memories from when I was  student. Keep up the wonderful work and I love following all that you and the Reynolda House has to offer on Twitter!  Go Deacs!Nilam A. Patel // @nilamapatel

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