We are always on the look-out for the best new ways to engage our visitors, so when I had an opportunity to attend a New England Museum Association conference session on cell phone tours in museums I jumped at the chance. One of the panelists at that session was the Director of the Bennington Museum in Vermont who spoke about working with local college students to develop informative blurbs on various artifacts on display. These blurbs were accessible by cell phone at the museum, and were posted on their museum website. I was able to speak with this director afterwards and hear these recordings on their website, which inspired me to see if ATHM could work with our local youth on a similar project.
Fortunately, we had a great relationship with the United Teen Equality Center (UTEC), an organization that works with teens to help stem the influence of gangs and deter gang violence right here in Lowell. UTEC staff were enthusiastic about working with us and their teens to create an product all of us would be proud of. With so many local residents having family histories involving the mills, we thought there would be a natural interest for the teens to learn more about textile history, and we hoped they would dive right in.
Of course, we needed funding. We wrote up our concept in a grant request to the Lowell Cultural Council (which distributes funds for the Massachusetts Cultural Council), and were very pleased to find they were as enthusiastic about our idea as we were. They approved our application, and we were on our way.
Though none of us really knew how well the UTEC teens would like the project, they were really involved, and all of them recorded multiple blurbs about the displays they liked most. They worked in teams. One very talented gal with a beautiful voice recorded a couple of songs we had long wanted to make available to our visitors, and she wrote an original piece of poetry about another display in one sitting – the inspiration just flowed out of her. Everyone had a blast recording at UTEC’s own studio, which was set up by the Music Department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML). UML was very supportive of the whole project, as they are also keen to find ways to interest teens in learning about their broader options like attending college and pursuing careers in music.
We were given a great tip about a local cell phone service provider, Spatial Adventures, and they completed the team that created our teen cell phone tour. When the recording was finished and we were ready to go “live,” we invited everyone involved to an all-you-can-eat pizza party in our Ed. Dept., and invited everyone to sample the 16-stop tour. Well over fifty people enjoyed the party and tour, and many have enjoyed the tour since. Visitors from Texas, Florida, Vermont, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, California, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, District of Columbia, Colorado, New Jersey, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, and of course, Massachusetts have heard this fun-spirited tour, answering burning questions like “how did we get that airplane into the museum?” For information on how to take our Cell Phone Tour, click here.
We look forward to working with UTEC teens on other projects in the future. For now, we just need to pick up our cell phones to hear their voices. We may expand on our cell phone tour format, as well, as soon as time and inspiration allow.
Director of Museum Education