SmartBar round-up

by Kate C
Publish date
20 March 2012
Comments (3)

On Thursday 1 March, hundreds of people gathered outside Melbourne Museum from 5pm, apparently as curious as we were to see what would happen at the adults-only SmartBar event.

Crowd at SmartBar at Melbourne Museum Crowd waiting outside Melbourne Museum for SmartBar to open.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

The idea of adults-only museum events is not a new one, but it's new to Museum Victoria. All over the world, history and science museums like us witness the same pattern: young people in their twenties don't visit much. Many museums have started holding special events to cater for the interests of this group. The Australian Museum launched their Jurassic Lounge three summers ago and it's a hit in Sydney. Closer to home, NGV and ACMI have launched successful adult programs, but would such a thing work for us?

Mark Norman with a female argonaut Mark Norman talking about strange sex in the deep blue sea. Here he shows the SmartBar crowd a female argonaut or paper nautilus.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

David Perkins works in the museum's Public Programs department and helped organise SmartBar. "The whole point was to find if people were interested in coming to this type of event," says David, "And they were, more so that we ever expected." Online tickets sold out days in advance and people waited patiently to grab the last remaining door tickets. Over 1,000 people attended SmartBar and we were delighted that 83% of the audience were between 18 and 34 years old.

Erich Fitzgerald talking to the SmartBar crowd Erich Fitzgerald addressing the age-old question: just how accurate was Jurassic Park?
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

"The presentations were the most popular thing," says David. The talks covered the bizarre sex lives of deep-water animals, spotlights on specimens and chats with preparators, curators and animal keepers. They all had a blast giving visitors direct access to the museum's research activity and to talk about their work. The Science and Life Galleries became a social space and all kinds of enthusiasts came out of the woodwork, many of them commenting that they liked being in the museum with no kids around.

Crowd at SmartBar at Melbourne Museum Bird's eye view of the crowd watching Wayne's demonstration in the Science and Life Gallery.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

The phenomenal success of SmartBar is encouraging and the museum is exploring how we can hold it regularly. Because we weren't sure what to expect, there were a lot of surprises – mostly good, but there were some aspects that we didn't get right. The queues at the door were too long and it was difficult to get the sound right in the Science and Life Gallery with so much going on. A survey, a comment board and feedback on Twitter, provides us with lots of information about what to improve next time, and what was spot-on. We'd like to thank everyone who gave us feedback as it will help us get things right in the future. At this stage we are planning to have four a year to follow the seasons – so watch out for our winter SmartBar.

Nearly a quarter of the attendees had never been to Melbourne Museum before. What was it about this event that attracted them? And what has stopped them in the past? David thinks the focus was just right for this crowd. "Adult education is a dirty phrase. If you asked a bunch of people to sit in a class after work, it would be a hard sell. But if it's easy and casual you can take it at your own pace. You have a nice night and you've learned something."


Comments from the pinboard on Pinterest

SmartBar photos on Melbourne Museum's Facebook page

Comments (3)

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TG 21 March, 2012 10:36
This was a terrific night out and it was excellent to see what the staff do to make the museum such a cool place to visit. My favourite was Mark Norman, he's an awesome presenter!
Lauren 21 March, 2012 10:58
Great round-up Kate. I loved working on this project, it was brilliant to see such a different crowd in the museum!
Ashlay McLean 22 March, 2012 11:49
We wanted to come but we missed getting tickets in time. When will you have another?
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