Wednesday 17 – Saturday 20 May 2017

Museums at Night

11-14 May 2016 / 27-29 Oct 2016

Our latest case study comes from Catherine Robins, who explains how the Thackray Medical Museum take advantage of their atmospheric Victorian location into a quarantine zone for zombie fright nights!

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141 Beckett Street started as the Leeds Union Infirmary, went on to form part of St James’s Hospital and now houses Thackray Medical Museum. It’s a big Victorian building, full of some fairly unsettling objects, and has the potential to be a pretty scary place.

For the October Museums at Night 2015 we utilised this scary potential and transformed the building into an infected Quarantine Zone littered with zombies, and invited brave members of the public to come inside.

Three nervous teenagers in a museum at night

Visitors nervously step into the quarantine zone (c) Ben Gwynne

During the event

On arrival guests were told the tale of how the building came to be quarantined, warned about the infected that lurked inside and advised how best to make their way through the galleries. Those who dared were then granted entry.

A terrifying zombie clown with sharp teeth

A zombie clown with pointed teeth (c) Ben Gwynne

Apart from some dim lighting the only extras in our galleries were the zombies, so we really relied on them. They each developed their own character and ways of scaring people.

One dressed in pyjamas, accessorised with pigtails and a child’s doll and sung out of tune nursery rhymes before intermittently screaming in the faces of passers-by.

We had around 30 zombies in total, they were all volunteers and we couldn’t have delivered such a successful event without them. We also transformed the conference centre into a zombie Safe Zone with an undead disco, refreshments and Halloween themed games.

Advance planning

This is the 4th year we have run this sort of event. What’s great is that they are high impact and fairly straight forward to run on the day. There was a fair amount of preparation in the lead up, though next year we will be able to recycle much of this.

We started vaguely talking about the event in the summer then got into the bulk of the planning in September.

One key aspect of planning was Health and Safety and by the day of the event we had Risk Assessments coming out of our ears. It was definitely worth it, though, as it meant we could invite people to the event knowing it was a safe event, as well as one with great atmosphere!

The lessons our team learned

As with every event there are some definite lessons to be learnt. Planning could probably have been started sooner – a few of the craftier aspects of the preparation were still being completed on the morning of the event. Whilst it all worked out well, it would have been calmer to have got things finished earlier!

Our catering team also ran a happy half hour which was really popular. It did, though, encourage visitors away from the galleries which shut before the bar, so this year we will definitely review timings.

Developing the event in 2016

This year it would be great to increase the event capacity. We might try gamifying the event more, opening up more rooms on route with challenges inside. But we’ll wait and see how that works out when we start planning, a little sooner than last year!

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A woman with dark hair smilingCatherine Robins has been Assistant Curator at Thackray Medical Museum since November 2014. She is passionate about facilitating the engagement of diverse audiences with the museum and its collections and believes the Museums at Night events play an important role in this.

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Thanks, Catherine!

If you’d like to write a guest post or share a case study about any aspect of audience development, event planning or marketing in the arts and heritage sector, please email rosie@culture24.org.uk.


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Wednesday 17 – Saturday 20 May 2017