Educational programs are increasingly important in today’s museum world. Exhibitions remain a cornerstone of what we do as museum professionals, but public programs are vital to attract visitors to your facility.
Creating a lecture series is one way to fulfill your educational mission and hopefully raise some revenue in this tough economy.
We have had tremendous success pairing a history program with a meal. Two years ago we started two brand new lecture series: Tea with the Curator and Soup at Six. After building an audience for a few years, it is rare that we don’t sell out these popular programs at 60 people per event.
Tea with the Curator
We hold our Tea with the Curator program on Monday mornings at 10:00. Obviously this program is geared toward older women, who are available at that time slot. When planning a Tea with the Curator, we choose topics that will appeal to this demographic.
We provide what we call “breakfast sweets,” which includes mini muffins, scones and sweet breads. We purchase the baked goods and make a fruit salad to serve. Each table gets a platter of goodies to pass.
We have a number of ceramic tea cups and saucers (NOT from the collection!) that create a pretty, classy table setting. We set up a tea table on one side of the room with an array of tea bags to choose from. Volunteers serve hot water from a real silver tea set.
As Curator, I do most of the programs for the Tea with the Curator series, but every now and then I have a “guest” who does the program. Usually the programs are based on a temporary exhibition, so the Tea includes a guided tour with me. Topics have included the history of fashion, glass and china, the history of chocolate and wedding traditions.
Soup at Six
Our Soup at Six program is held on Thursday nights at 6:00. These programs are geared for a wider audience than the Tea with the Curator series. We choose topics that appeal to a younger, working audience, as well as both men and women (The Teas are aimed at women, although we do occasionally have men attend!).
We purchase bread from a local bakery and a volunteer (who happens to be a chef!) makes a large batch of homemade soup for us. We set up a table with drinks and desserts and ask guests to help themselves. Bread baskets are set on the table and volunteers serve the soup. This program usually does not include a tour of the Museum.
Staff members present most of the programs, although once in awhile we have a guest speaker. Topics have included local history, historic homes and homebrewing (our Facilities Manager presented this program in conjunction with an exhibit on the Roaring Twenties!)
We usually plan at least one of these programs per month. We ALWAYS have the next one planned so we can announce what’s coming up at the program. We have had people come up afterwards and immediately make reservations for the next one in the series!
We keep the cost affordable to maximize participation. Currently we charge $10 per person. Reservations must be pre-paid so we can plan for the right amount of food.
Another museum in the area has a Brown Bag Lunch series where people bring their own lunch and eat while listening to a speaker. If you have a small staff and are worried about planning a meal, you might want to try this approach.
We have found over the years that history programs are much more popular when there is a meal involved. So give it a try!