Cracking the 20’s Code

The Field Museum of Natural History = old + traditional

“There are two very important things to understand. There are two types of institutions – old and young. Old institutions tend to be traditional. There are two sizes of institutions – large and small. Large institutions tend to be traditional. The Field Museum is old and large.” This equation, so eloquently laid out for me during my time in exhibitions, does not bode well for change. And yet, I refuse to believe that change is impossible. What’s the key to getting the twenty and thirty-something age demographic in the door of museums? That has been my personal research question for the summer – and boy, has it been an intriguing task! My mission: Find out how traditional museums, similar the Field, get young people in the door.

My plan of attack: Attend as many “after hours” events as possible at the museums in the Museum Campus area of Chicago. Participation observation can be fun! (Can you tell I was anthropology major as an undergrad?) Here’s what I’ve got so far:

the Adler Planetarium, located on Chicago’s Museum Campus, offers the late-night event Adler After Dark, monthly

Adler After Dark – This event at the Adler Planetarium was aimed at the 21 years and older crowd and seemed perfect for date night! An open bar, DJ, and appetizers dominated the cafe area, which boasted beautiful views of the Chicago skyline. In addition, each month’s event is themed, so there’s always something new! In July, it was the “Adler Olympics” where everyone got a wristband with a team based on a planet (I was team Mars). Free food from around the world was definitely the highlight of the night! I also got to take a ride in the oldest electric planetarium ever made and see a few sky shows on the big screen. Later in the evening, the Adler’s telescopes were made available and different talks took place throughout the exhibit halls. Guests could “compete” for their Planet Olympic teams by participating in events and winning points, though midway through the night the idea seemed to lose its appeal to the masses. But, there was a themed cocktail drink! Conversing with different groups of people was easy because of the different teams and everyone seemed to really be enjoying the ability to move throughout the halls with their drinks! Drinks, food, and activities give this event an A-

the Shedd Aquarium, located on Chicago’s Museum Campus, hosts a weekly after-hours event entitled Jazzin’ At the Shedd


Jazzin’ At the Shedd– I found out about this event via Groupon! Tickets were usually 18$ but it was buy one get one free so I jumped at the chance! The special rate got myself and a guest in to the Shedd Aquarium for the special exhibition Jellies, a cash bar, and jazz music. This weekly event attracts a wider audience of families and younger folks. This was my second trip to Jellies and I really enjoyed it (thought I went a little picture crazy). I also got to explore the coral reef section before relaxing under an outdoor tent with some jazz music. My only disappointment was the lack of food options and crowded venue. It was a HOT Chicago afternoon and I would have liked to see more seating and activities available. One highlight was the fireworks display (Wednesdays at Navy Pier) towards the end of the evening. Being able to leisurely stroll around the

Jellies in the current special exhibition at the Shedd

aquarium with a glass of wine and jazz floating through the air definitely made my museum experience much more relaxing! I give this event a B+

Final report: What is one way to bring the younger crowd into your museum? Follow these simple steps – keep your museum open late, come up with a semi-cheesy title for your late night event, advertise on Groupon, secure music, offer food, and have a cash bar. There are extra points if can come up with some sort of theme and stick to it for the whole night! Even more if you offer free appetizers!

What is your museum doing to attract younger audiences?


About catebay

Informal educator working in the world of art. Interests in public programming and community advocacy. Loves learning about people, collecting blue mason jars, and consuming Swedish fish.
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