After joining the Indiana Historical Society team in February, it’s been an amazing 4 months of opportunities and some challenges.  The most inspiring part of where we are in public programs right now is that there is encouragement to experiment and develop new programmatic offerings.  But, I’ve also been a bit apprehensive being new to a place and am feeling my way around new policies and audiences!

We’re expanding our summer programs this year to include Sunday programs and new offerings for Thursday nights, turning out nineteen programmatic offerings.

How could we use nineteen separate moments to test the waters on some ideas and learn what our visitors want in future programs?

First and foremost we ruled out the idea of having nineteen distinct programs, for our sanity if nothing else.  Seriously, we realized this was an opportunity to repeat program concepts over a couple of months and adjust where needed.  We also want to learn whether certain programs resonated for repeat or targeted audiences.  And we wanted to be sure that the programs connected back clearly to our mission and core activities. Some of the nine different programs include:

  • Enlivening the senses using paper-based collections, a local chef took recipes from our archives, reinterpreted them for today and did a select tasting.
  • Based on a historic photography exhibition we have on view, we partnered with our local newspaper’s photography department for lessons on taking better Smartphone pictures.
  • Highlighting the work of our museum theater department and first-person interpretation-based exhibitions, we combined a happy hour event with an improv coach.

We’re a few weeks in and we’ve already learned from our experiments.  We intentionally spread the nine programs over the summer, meaning they aren’t consecutive offerings, so that we would have time to adjust as necessary.  In hindsight, we are questioning if we made messaging the programs more difficult since we can’t advertise each one easily as a series.  Will participants really remember that the next installment of that program is 3 weeks away?  Time will tell on this one.  Like many peers, we are also trying to reach that “younger professional audience” (no age defined in this), but we’re learning how hard it is to get off the ground floor — and we learned that in Indiana we can’t say that beer is free, although we can say it’s complimentary!

Another major take away has been the excitement that experimentation creates. Several colleagues in other departments have enthusiastically supported testing new ideas and expanded outreach via social media.  They’ve offered their help and stayed to be a part of the new programs. New ideas are being proposed and we’ve developed an idea board to hold onto these for future program offerings.  I really want the momentum of this to carry on long after the summer as it is an invaluable opportunity to develop more creative programs with lots of help.

I’m excited to see how the rest of the summer goes.  What else is in store for us as more of our program ideas become reality?  I’m grateful to have landed in a place where experimentation is supported.  We’ve been told to take a risk and that failure will not be punished.  So, what about you? What programs do you want to test out at your sites?