American Museum of Natural History. New York City. Meet in front of the giant dinosaur in the main lobby. In the midst of people milling around looking to get into the museum, our Museum Hack tour guide Emily Hoff greeted us, gave us our tickets and whisked us past the lines.
My husband and I were joined by another couple. Once we got to a quiet location, Emily gave us the lo-down on the museum and had us put our hands in like a pre-game rally."Muuuuu-seum!" we shouted. Partly embarrassed and partly excited for this unconventional way of seeing the museum, I knew this tour was going to be a bit different. I admit I was a bit skeptical at first. Geared towards millennials and corporate team-building for tech companies, Museum Hack is about changing the way we experience museums, hopefully boosting patronage and support from the next generation.
On paper, I thought it was a great idea for other people. Despite being at the tail-end of the millennial "definition," I definitely am used to the "old school" way of seeing museums. You walk around, admire some exhibits, read some signs, learn something and keep going.
I'm an introvert and am not exactly into the highly experiential, socially interactive way of being. To me, a day at the museum is a quiet time to relax and not talk to people.
So it was with a bit of apprehension and a sense of open-mindedness that I threw myself into the experience.
Boy, was I pleasantly surprised! Not only did I thoroughly enjoy Emily's storytelling, including some crazy stories about how the explorers over a hundred years ago got the specimens to the museum, I found that I retained a lot more information and had a lot of fun during our two hours together.
Even people who weren't part of our tour tried to follow us around because they were so entertained.
I decided to give three reasons why I enjoyed the tour and why even if you are apprehensive about seeing a museum in this way (especially if you've already been to the museum countless times), I'd recommend giving it a try.
Reason #1: Stories and more stories that stick to your mind.
Each Museum Hack tour guide writes their own tour. As a historian, museum exhibit creator and writer, Emily did some research to find out some of the behind-the-scenes stories that an official museum guide would never tell. Like how some of their most prized jewels in the gem collection were stolen as if straight from a James Bond movie, and the lengths the collectors and curators had to go to get some of the specimens into the building.
Reason #2: How do you best learn? Interactive is the way to go.
I'm a visual learner and also have some vision impairments that make it hard for me to read some of the exhibit placards, especially when it's dimly lit. My husband is a tactile learner and is a learning-by-doing kind of guy. Together, we discovered that we learned WAY more about everything from why Manhattan has taller buildings in some areas than others (think, schist!) to what museum administrators have to think about to maintain their collections and buildings (think, rats). Emily mixed some interactive exercises, scavenger hunts, and role-playing games that really helped us imagine we were back in the 1800s, scheming up ways to bring home specimens that people had never seen up-close before.
Reason #3: See the highlights of the entire museum in two hours.
You forget how big the American Museum of Natural History is until you get there and start walking around. We zoomed through the exhibits, stopping at specific points to gather close and hear Emily's stories before zooming off to the next one. By doing this, we were able to pack in all the highlights -- dinosaurs, ocean animals, gems, space rocks, and all the animals from different parts of the world. In fact, we even spent time at the bird exhibit which I think we never got to in most of my previous trips to the museum on my own!
At the end, we even wrote a postcard to our loved ones describing our adventure that Emily mailed out for us. It's been years since we've written a physical postcard. It brought us back to when we would make a point to share our meaningful experience with people we cared about.
I came away from this tour having learned something new, having experienced something familiar in a brand new way, and even more open-minded to try something out of the norm in the future.
Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.