By Kim Harrell, National Postal Museum Byrne Loft Educator
“The museum needs YOU to create a new program to increase visitation. In your team: examine the museum, identify a target audience, then create a program plan based on the audience’s needs.”
This was the challenge with which I tasked museum professionals in Puerto Rico: to learn by doing! What better way to apply information in a workshop than by testing your skills?
As the new Byrne Loft Educator here at National Postal Museum, I was invited to facilitate a workshop for museum professionals in the beautiful, breezy island of Puerto Rico. The workshop was about creating educational materials and programs based on visitor needs. It was hosted at the Museo y Centro de Estudios Humanísticos, a lovely museum at Universidad del Turabo and Smithsonian Affiliate museum. Their collection boasts a wide array of objects connecting to the local Gurabo Valley, from 2,250-year-old archeological artifacts to political posters from the 1950’s.
After coffee and introductions, I started the day with an overview of what museum education research says are the main strategies to meeting visitor needs. Participants then examined case studies from museums that each focused on different audience types, from teens to teachers to artsy 20-somethings (two of the case studies came from the Postal Museum...I can’t help myself!) Next they broke into teams to solve their challenge: developing a program for the host museums to bring more visitors in the door.
Initially, they were shocked at what I wanted them to do. “We aren’t just going to sit here and listen to you talk?” “No, my methods are different than that-- I want you to take what you have learned and apply it!” The heat was on once they found out there was a prize for the winning group.
Over the next three hours, teams explored the galleries and put together a program plan for meeting visitors’ needs. When it was time to present out, there was a video, skit, Powerpoint and Prezi presentation used to convince the host museum staff to pick their presentation. Winners were chosen, prizes were given, and the day was over. It was a successful workshop in my book.
Although this workshop came to an end, the connections I made with museums in Puerto Rico are still alive. I look forward to creating virtual programs with them and other Affiliate museums in the Byrne Loft. In the end, we educators are all just trying to meet visitor needs, so why not do it together!
About the Author
Kimberly Harrell has been a Program Educator at the National Postal Museum since the fall of 2009. She earned her Bachelors' degree from Johns Hopkins University with an emphasis on museum studies. Her previous museum experience includes the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the Walters Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art.