As we begin looking ahead to Museums at Night October and the spooky event planning opportunities it offers, our latest guest post describes how Vestry House Museum planned their first Halloween Late as part of Museums at Night October 2015, and what Amy Pargeter’s team learned about their audience’s willingness to donate at events.
The photo shows Vestry House Museum staff acting in the Workhouse Murder Mystery, courtesy Mhairi Muncaster.
For years we had wanted to host a Halloween event at Vestry House Museum. Built in 1730 as a workhouse, and later converted into, amongst other things, a police station, we felt it could be the perfect spooky location.
The difficulties we faced included trying to create a fun yet tasteful atmosphere, and deciding who to market our event to. We have always felt it is important for our events to encourage people to engage with our collection, and before now have had trouble finding connections to Halloween. However, with our current Workhouse exhibition it seemed the perfect excuse to take the plunge and create a workhouse-themed murder mystery.
Targeting an audience
As we are quite a small local history museum, with limited experience of after-hours events, we weren’t really sure who our audience was going to be. In an attempt to cover all bases we very ambitiously decided to cater for people of all ages and designed an event for adults that would also be suitable for children to attend. However, as time progressed we decided to aim the event more at families, as we felt our daytime family programming was our most consistently successful style of event.
This led to a few of our more ghoulish ideas being abandoned along the way to ensure the event was fully family friendly. In the end we settled for:
- a family trail
- glow-in-the-dark T-shirt printing
- a children’s dance competition
- and a murder mystery trail designed for the groups of adults that we hoped would decide to come along to the event.
We expected roughly 100 visitors to attend the event, as we have held very few evening events in the past. We also decided to ask for a £3 donation on the door for adults, with children entering for free.
This was a new policy for us as we usually don’t charge for our family programming, and we were slightly concerned that this might put people off attending. It has always been the expenditure specifically related to evening events, such as increased staffing costs and the initial outlay for refreshments, which has been an obstacle to us holding after-hours events. This year it was decided that rather than not holding evening events at all we would trial asking for donations.
Our expectations versus the reality
What we discovered is that families love evening events, particularly during the school holidays, and particularly Halloween! Towards the beginning of the event we had so many families streaming through the doors that we were unable to get exact figures, although we estimate that throughout the evening we had roughly 450 visitors.
We also found that not a single person objected to being asked for a £3 donation, allowing us to not only break even, but to make a small profit towards our future events programme.
What I learnt
The most important thing I learnt from my first Museums at Night experience is that the prospect of a safe, fun environment for children, with opportunities for parents to relax and socialise, is a very attractive proposition for families during the holidays. If this can be provided at a low cost, with a small donation at the door and reasonably priced refreshments, everyone will be happy.
Amy Pargeter has been a Visitor Support Assistant at Vestry House Museum and the William Morris Gallery for over 3 years, and has gradually added to her responsibilities by becoming a Volunteer Supervisor, Wedding Liaison Officer, Learning Admin Assistant, and most recently Events Co-ordinator.
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 [email protected].