Happy Birthday to …
For museums and historic sites, most attendance is event-driven. The director of one museum in a major urban area, who has worked to transform the organization into a relevant community institution, recently reported that 85% of visitors to that museum attend through events. Exhibit openings and other public programs encourage the media to highlight a museum or historic site and help harness local attention and support.
How can you maintain a regular schedule of events to build and sustain community engagement on a low budget? Public programs are usually more affordable than new exhibits, and simple ideas deployed creatively and strategically can be big hits. Families with young children are an important demographic for most institutions to attract, and programs need to appeal to kids and well as contain some mission-related content.
Hosting a birthday party, for a person that your site honors or another character related to your institution, is a simple idea that can have broad appeal and avoid budget-busting. Recently, Historic Oakview County Park in Raleigh planned a very successful birthday party for its two resident goats—Boyd and Quint. About 150 people attended the event—mostly families with young children—and staff spent less than $200 for food and decorations (including goody bags for kids to take home).
The birthday party theme leaves room for crafts and activities with educational content related to your site’s mission. Games like Bingo and Pin the Tail on the Donkey can be customized to your site. Pin the boutonniere on the birthday boy (a vintage photo blow-up), for instance, could be as fun for kids as the donkey version but would also focus their attention on the person your site commemorates. Goody bags with a few inexpensive take-aways related to your site will surely be a hit with young visitors. Short educational presentations can be effective interstices between playful activities like games and refreshments. For example, the Oakview goat birthday party schedule included a check-up from a veterinarian with a presentation about routine goat care.
Is there a person (or pet) associated with your institution who would make a fun birthday party subject? Do you have other simple, replicable, low-cost public program ideas to share?