Why Museums Don’t Suck for Older Teens and Young Adults

Recently I read an article written by a very smart and humorous 15 year-old named Howard called Why Museums Suck. Mike Murawski from the Art Museum Teaching blog wrote a thoughtful response called Why Museums Don’t Suck. Mike’s article encourages museums to reflect on what we offer for teens. The comments section of his post is well worth a read with links to some great teen programs trying to address the gaps museums have in offerings for this group. I have been thinking about these issues ever since reading these articles – a sign of a good thought provoking read!


Sisters enjoying FNL at the ROM

I am currently in Toronto, Canada and when deciding where to go out this past Friday night settled on Friday Night Live at the ROM. I went with a group of self proclaimed “museum geeks” – my masters of museum studies alumni friends. While at the museum I ran into my sister and her friends who are the opposite of museum geeks. Now I must preface this with saying that my sister and I are rarely ever found at the same night life location. She likes to party and I like things a bit mellower – think club versus pub. But here we both were with our respective friend groups all having a FABULOUS time combining drinks and dinosaurs (to see that it isn’t just my sister and me loving the event you can read reviews of FNL on Yelp). This got me thinking about how museum events like this one can bring disparate groups together and offer something for everyone. I also got to thinking that these events, because we are in Canada, include teens (here in Ontario that is 19 year-olds only but in other Canadian provinces and in some other countries this also includes 18 year-olds – the legal drinking age).


Me holding a meteorite at FNL at the ROM

The 3D’s – Dancing, Drinking and Dinosaurs

I should clarify the events I’m talking about. These are evening events where museums open up to young adults by charging a reasonable cover price, offering drinks, food and music. Those are the common denominators but from there museums can get really creative with offerings that suit their collection. The ROM’s version – Friday Night Live – is more basic with bars in different areas of the museum, music including DJs and live bands depending on the gallery, talks by artists or curators, and roaming volunteers offering touchable objects and information. I also attended another young adult night last March – Jurassic Lounge at the Australian Museum. The CEO of the ROM, Janet Carding, actually came from the Australian Museum (she was Assistant Director there prior to starting at the ROM). The Jurassic Lounge is more established than the ROM’s FNL. The Jurassic Lounge has music which includes DJs and live bands like the ROM but also includes a silent disco, drinks which are not restricted to certain areas, food, live performances by artists (which are often risqué things like burlesque) and interactive games. Both FNL and the Jurassic Lounge remind me of an event I attended in Los Angeles called MindShare whose tagline is “enlightened debauchery.”

Image of Jurassic Lounge Sign with Natural History Display

Jurassic Lounge at the Australian Museum

Both the FNL at the ROM and the Jurassic Lounge at the Australian Museum are a series of events (i.e. they run once a week for a series of weeks) which allows the museums to sustain their involvement with the young adult group. Some museums, like Vancouver Art Gallery, have young adult nights sporadically once or twice a year (VAG’s is called FUSE). This is all that some museums can afford because these nights can be expensive. Something is better than nothing but if a museum is able to do a series this will be more effective. I know many people who have attended or are at the very least aware of FNL at the ROM but only a small group who know about FUSE at VAG.

Digital Media for Sustained Relationships

These events don’t address the day to day visits to museums that Howard found boring and complained about, but they do offer a sustained relationship with the youthful audience that attend. Digital media makes a big difference in engaging this young audience. At the ROM they had a twitter wall projected in a few different areas around the museum. Attendees could tag their tweets with #FNLROM which would automatically get them included in the cycle of tweets projected onto the wall. Selected tweets were re-tweeted by the ROM’s twitter account. I can tell you from first hand experience that it captured many people’s attention – giving them a thrill when they saw themselves up on the twitter wall (and by them I also mean me). The ROM also had a twitter contest with the winner getting a membership. Last week the contest was to be the first person to tweet one fact from each of the four Gallery Exploration Tables (tables set up with touchable objects relating to the gallery they are housed in) set up around the museum. The hashtag #FNLROM was also used for instagram (users can search the tag and see other attendees’ FNLROM photos).

The Australian Museum also has digital media involved in their young adult night. There is a Jurassic Lounge blog dedicated to artists and events at the Lounge. Attendees can upload their photos from the Jurassic Lounge to the Facebook page to enter into a photo contest (the photo with the most “likes” wins) and they can add their photos to the Jurassic Lounge Flickr group where there is also a place for discussion.

These nights are more than just turning the museum into a nightclub. The events and the digital media used in them create a sustained connection with the young adult audience that might not come during the day (perhaps because like Howard they find it boring). There are educational opportunities such as the twitter contest I mentioned. These could be increased.

Do you think having a young adult evening event series is worth the museum’s time and money to engage this group? Are there additional forms of digital media your museum is using to make these evenings more educational? Is this enough or do we need to do more for the day-time teen visitor?


4 thoughts on “Why Museums Don’t Suck for Older Teens and Young Adults

  1. Mike Murawski says:

    I was lucky enough to speak with the now 26-year-old Howard about his article (written in 2001), his thoughts about museums, and what he thinks about all this attention surrounding his article so many years later. Here is the link to my notes and thoughts from my short but very interesting phone conversation with Howard Hwang:

    “Epilogue: Connecting with Howard Hwang” – http://bit.ly/10js0Or


    • Mairin says:

      Thanks for sharing your epilogue Mike. Wow how neat to be able to talk to Howard about the difference between his teenage and young adult view of museums. I think we are all grateful for how candid his 15 year-old self was in explaining why, in his opinion, museums suck. It’s interesting that today he attributes guides and docents as the reason why he enjoys some museums. If I recall he seemed to like good-looking museum guides in his original teenage post so maybe some things have not changed.


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