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Hack the Museum

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Photo from MuseumHack.com.

Last weekend, two Museum staffers traveled to New York City for a three day intensive boot camp with Museum Hack, a company whose calling card is irreverent tours at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. What began with rogue tours of the museum has now grown into a respected - although still playful and avant garde - leader in engaging museum experiences. Museum Hack also now regularly provides tours of the nearby American Museum of Natural History, just across Central Park from The Met, and has expanded to Washington D.C. and San Francisco.

Julian Rankin with Museum Hack’s Dustin Growick.

At the boot camp, Director of Engagement and Learning daniel johnson and Marketing Director Julian Rankin experienced the tours firsthand. Who knew that Jackie Kennedy played an instrumental role in acquiring and preserving the complete Egyptian Temple of Dendur? The massive structure is housed inside The Met, surrounded by a canal representing the Nile River, flanked by a wall of clear glass that makes it visible at all hours from the park. Mrs. Kennedy even had a high-rise condo from which she could peer down at the Temple at all hours.

Ever wanted to know about the sordid sex lives of your favorite artist? Ever been asked on a museum tour which piece you loved so much you would steal? Which you despised so much you would burn? This type of play is what characterizes Museum Hack tours.

After touring both The Met and the Museum of Natural History, johnson and Rankin were prepped – along with other museum professionals in attendance from across the globe – to give their own subversive tour to a paying public. Rankin performed a cheeky routine in front of a folk art painting by Edward Hicks, weaving in Tupac, two dollar bills, and Quaker Oats. johnson capped the tour off with by presiding over a reanimation ceremony in the galleries of ancient Egypt. “We’ve been walking for two and half hours,” johnson told the attendees. “I know we’re tired. So I think to really understand the Egyptian ceremony [and the Book of the Dead], we should reanimate one of our own.” He called for a volunteer who laid down on the floor of The Met for an eye-catching an educational performance that reflected the Egyptians’ beliefs on travel into the afterlife.

“Being in New York with the Museum Hack Team for 3 days was an exhausting and exhilarating experience,” johnson reflected. “At the end of the day, all of our efforts here at the Mississippi Museum of Art boil down to helping every member of our community have a deeply personal connection with our art works. Museum Hack really helped us unpack some strategies and techniques for livening up and personalizing our tours in ways which will feel fresh to brand new faces as well as to our friends who come every time.”

Armed with the hands-on New York experience, johnson and Rankin plan to find ways to build upon existing programs with new and exciting methods of engagement.

“I was impressed with how much these tours transformed the museum experience,” said Rankin. “By altering language and loosening some of the conventions of how we traditionally talk about and interact with art, a guide can cut through the perceptions of museums as boring, static, or stale and create an atmosphere where the galleries become an adult playground for discovery.”

Museum Hack tours are designed to attract museum audiences who don’t typically visit, and the company agrees that for many traditional museum goers, things are just fine the way they are. But for a growing population of young professionals and thrill-seekers, changing the paradigm on tours shares the magic of the museum to a whole new community. Plus, as Museum Hack ensures, it’s a whole lot of fun. As it says on their website, it’s “Museum Tours… For People Who Don’t Like Museums.”

Well, at least not yet.


Soon after returning from NYC, the Museum’s Engagement and Learning Department implemented their own version of the subversive tour. The Museum’s “Daringly Different” tours took visitors through the galleries of our blockbuster modern art exhibition where they played games, posed like the artworks, invented their own story lines, and even experimented with close looking at a Mark Rothko abstract while listening to Taylor Swift blaring from an over-sized boombox.