The Big List of successful museum Lates event ideas

A couple dancing in a sculpture gallery at night
Dancing in a museum at night, image courtesy Pal Hansen

An after-hours event can be as simple as keeping your doors open later than usual into the evening, or allowing free entry to exhibitions that usually charge an admission fee… all the way up to a sleepover. However, if you’re looking for some inspiration, take a look at this list of inventive events that venues staged in the past as part of Museums at Night: do any of these ideas resonate with you, and could you adapt them to suit your space, collections, exhibitions, and team?

Performance

  • Site-specific performance art / twilight promenade
  • Contemporary dance inspired by artworks in collection
  • Live music from local bands and DJs / cabaret / community choirs
  • Poetry reading
  • Performance in unexpected spaces, e.g. a harpist playing in the lift
  • The Wake of Lost Souls: eulogies for fictional characters
  • Storytelling, e.g. hear Conan Doyle’s Egyptian stories in the Mummy Room
  • Graffiti artists creating mural throughout evening
  • Magic lantern show, jugglers, Victorian entertainment, shadow puppet workshop
  • Costumed re-enactment: meet characters from the past / ghosts / historical characters as tour guides or coming to life amongst artefacts from their lives
  • Horror / historical / family film screening, short films, documentaries, local moving image artwork, artists films
  • Meet the artist- or writer-in-residence
  • Talk by or interview with designers / artists / experts / curators / authors
  • Re-enacting night-time events that took place in the venue in the past
  • Courtroom drama
  • Recreated air battle

You’ll find more detailed resources about hosting a band, a puppet show, running spooky events and creating not-too-scary family-friendly ghost tours in our downloadable Guide to running museum Lates.

Creative

  • Help record a sound collage
  • Creative writing workshop
  • Open mic jam session
  • Try playing a new (or ancient) musical instrument
  • Craft activities: all-night printmaking, life drawing, sugar crafting, knitting, Stitch’n’Bitch, pottery, brass rubbing, balloon modelling, 3D sculpting, the chance to make lanterns / masks / origami / rag rugs / lace / felt
  • Build a beehive
  • Make a clay or mosaic tile, or patchwork quilt square, to be part of a bigger community project
  • Games programming night / Make a Minecraft version of Hadrian’s Wall challenge
  • Try Roman skills e.g. writing on wax tablets
  • Help create The Longing Archive: a participatory artwork made from old love letters, favourite songs and stories of rejection

Physical activities

  • Go on military manoeuvres after dark with former soldiers, and try out night vision equipment
  • Silent disco on light-up dancefloor
  • Dance marathon
  • Greek dance workshop / Regency ball
  • FitBod fitness challenge

Interactive

  • Torchlit tour
  • Treasure hunt
  • Murder mystery / live action Cluedo
  • Sleepover
  • Pyjama party followed by toy sleepover
  • Speed dating / singles night
  • Tudor / Regency / 1940s historical dance
  • Play games from different historical periods / croquet
  • Taste food and drink from the era
  • Medieval feast
  • Try playing the shawm and gittern (Tudor musical instruments)
  • Karaoke
  • Pub quiz
  • City-wide challenge game involving local businesses and heritage sites
  • Board games / word games / giant Jenga / Twister / vintage video games
  • Twilight-themed night giving fans sparkly vampire makeovers
  • Victorian school lessons, try writing with dip pens
  • Sample gruel in a workhouse
  • Above and below stairs social history tour
  • Learn to lay a dinner table with a Georgian butler
  • Historic house trail hearing the sounds of a 1910 dinner party
  • World War I trench experience
  • Learn first aid during a recreated World War II air raid
  • Cook and eat food sculptures
  • Wine, beer, tea or coffee tasting
  • “Bushtucker trial” eating insects
  • Dinner or tea party in venue / midnight feast
  • Create a giant glow-in-the-dark sculpture from LED throwies

You’ll find several case studies about running sleepovers in our downloadable Guide to running museum Lates.

Collections- or exhibitions-based events

  • Preview or launch of new exhibition / “Last chance to see” a closing exhibition
  • Astronomy night / planetarium show / learn to use telescopes
  • “Open cockpits” evening among historic aircraft
  • Playing old 78 records from collection
  • Model train running evening
  • Object handling / object identification / conservators explaining their work
  • CSI Friday: investigate the conservation challenges the housekeeping team face
  • Hear a Victorian post horn played
  • “Night flights” on flight simulators
  • Helicopter rides
  • Fire up steam engines
  • Ride on steam trains
  • Canal trips on historic narrowboats
  • Sunset hovercraft rides
  • Historic tunnel tours by lantern-light
  • Sunset naval ceremony
  • Firing historic guns, cannon and mortars, or the chance to try archery
  • Bring objects from your collections, and volunteers happy to talk about them, in to somewhere central such as a marketplace or library

Collaboration with outside experts

  • Craft market with stalls run by local artists
  • Family tree research with genealogists / local history society experts
  • Dissection night / learn surgical suturing / amputations
  • Skull identification night with a facial anthropologist
  • Paranormal investigation
  • Young Chefs challenge
  • Glass-blowing cocktail glasses, part of a 1980s-themed cocktail party
  • Blue Badge guided tour
  • Fashion show
  • Collaboration with local hackspace where visitors can try Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets

Making use of your building, grounds and surroundings

  • Video art or live art displayed in windows
  • Community-made short films projected on to building
  • Illuminated grounds / animated projections on to building
  • Atmospheric interior lighting
  • Candlelit installations
  • Nature walks discovering moths and bats / learning to use bat detectors
  • Nocturnal animal talks, getting up close with creepy-crawlies / snakes / bearded dragons
  • Atmospheric night walk
  • Graveyard tour
  • Discover the rainforest biome
  • Find the fairies in the gardens

Join these suggestions up!

You can bring together a whole evening of themed activities by combining a selection of the ideas listed above: for example, one Thunderbirds-themed night featured an exhibition of rare models, music from the 1960s, screenings of the TV series, and an interview with voice artist Sylvia Anderson followed by a book signing session.

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