Museums at Night – a rookie’s reflection
Like many museums having a go at Museums at Night for the first time, Pontypridd Museum’s inaugural event was a bit of an experiment. Originally mooted as a simple evening of atmospheric lighting and music medley, it soon ballooned into a hotch-potch of activities, designed to try and bring a number of different audiences together, and achieve several different objectives.
Firstly, 2016 was Pontypridd Museum’s 30th birthday, and we wanted to inject a celebratory undercurrent into the event. It was also used as the launch event for our Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund Project, so we wanted a number of collections-related activities. Lastly we just wanted to give people the opportunity to discover the fun that they can have in the Museum, so it took on a bit of a circus-like character, with side shows alongside main attractions.
All together there were nine activities, including pumpkin carving, storytelling, a murder mystery, live music, light painting, a magic lantern show, and a cabinet of curiosity. That in itself was a lot to take on, but between three Museum staff, some enthusiastic volunteers and brilliant support from Pontypridd Town Council, the evening was a huge success, even if it has left us with a lot to live up to for the next year!
One of the highlights for many of our visitors was the light painting, done by a local photographer whom I had seen running the activity at another local museum. Light painting involves using a hand-held light source to draw ‘pictures’ in the air, which are then captured by a long-exposure photograph. Visitors were wowed at the sight of their designs appearing from nothing, and kept coming back again and again.
The siting of this activity gave us some issues, as it needed to be sufficiently dark for the trails of light to be exposed, but our lack of suitable broom cupboards or vacant dark spaces meant that it was put next to the musical performance area on the ground floor of the Museum. This gave it great visibility which drew a lot of people over, however as with a number of different activities on that floor, it disturbed the audience for the musical performances to a degree.
This probably has more implications for how we decide on target audiences for events and arrange the Museum space, as well as having a handle on the ‘kid in a sweet shop’ mentality when deciding on which activities to run! Nevertheless the popularity of the light painting means that we’ll definitely try it again, and if you can recruit a friendly photographer and stretch to buying some torches it makes for a cheap but extremely enjoyable activity.
Who came to the event?
The event attracted 62 people over the two hours, which in comparison to our usual daily visitor figures for the time of year was very good. The demographic of visitors was mainly family groups, however there were also a number of individual young adults who visited with a partner or friends. We even had some first timers, which was especially pleasing for a dark October night’s event.
Based on visitor evaluation, all the activities put on were enjoyed, but if anything, there was a bit too much to fit into the relatively short time! The hustle and bustle of people all over the three floors of the building created a really fun atmosphere, and has definitely inspired us to look at putting on more evening events.
Morwenna Perrott is Curator at Pontypridd Museum.