Museums at Night at the Galleries of Justice, Nottingham

Museums at Night

Rebecca Atkinson, 14.12.2012
The UK-wide festival is helping museums of all sizes hold late-night events
More than 400 museums took part in this year’s Museums at Night festival in May, resulting in 121,000 visits to a range of very different museum experiences.

Coordinated by Culture 24 since 2009, Museums at Night is a weekend of after-hours activities held at venues across the country.

“The idea is to come up with a new offer and something different for audiences and for the venue,” says Nick Stockman, project manager of Museums at Night.

For many museums, it is the ideal way to host a late-night event thanks to the power of critical mass.

For visitors too, Museums at Night is an opportunity; in 2012, 36% of all visitors had never been to the venue before while 4% of all visitors (about 5,000 people) had never been to an arts or heritage site.

“Museums at Night is aimed at a complete range of people as there are so many events held during the weekend,” says Stockman. “But there is an element within many of those that appeal to a particular type of audience.”

Culture 24’s role is that of coordinator (which includes marketing and PR activity, see separate article), but it is up to participating museums what they do during their late-night event as there is no overriding theme.  

Stockman encourages venues taking part to think about what they want to achieve. He also recommends events that present collections, buildings and stories in a new light.

“There’s a level of progression for organisations that do Museums at Night for the second or third time,” he says. “They often start to bring in new events and rather than arbitrarily doing stuff, they try things that link back to collections.”

One element that Culture 24 is keen to encourage is arts activities. This year it introduced Connect 10, a national competition for cultural venues to win one of 10 well-known contemporary artists to appear at their Museums at Night event.

Stockman says arts activities help freshen up venues and attract young adults. Sleepovers, on the other hand, appeal to families keen to do something different as a group (see separate article).

“Connect 10 was a good way of us providing content to venues – it also provided a great marketing opportunity and attracted new audiences,” Stockman adds.

“We have to find ways of making sure events are as high quality as possible without intervening too much – it’s a learning curve. But Museums at Night is an opportunity for venues to try new things, take a risk and do something that they wouldn’t normally do.”

One of the big changes for next year is a shift of dates, with the festival running from Thursday through to Saturday evening. “We found that no one really does events on the Sunday, but Thursday is increasing a big going out night for people now,” Stockman says.

Key figures from Museums at Night in 2012:

  • 537 events took place across 416 venues in 216 UK towns
  • 121,000 visits were made to events
  • 95% of visitors rated their experience between seven to 10 out of 10
  • 94% of visitors were inspired to visit other arts and heritage venues
  • 95% of venues said they would take part again