First, an update on my grumblings of overworking last month, it turns out the automatic people counter worked its hardest month too! This was a glimmer of reward after a month of activities which stretched our tiny team and resulted in the perfect event storm of a university storytelling fortnight, a Halloween eve talk on witchcraft and a family Halloween day with zombie make up artists courtesy of the local Heart of Worcestershire College.
It goes to show that running a small exhibition doesn’t have one right way and many wrong ways, but has many right ways, as well as the many wrong ones.
This month has included planning events and activities for 2016 and brings dilemmas regarding the past years’ failures and whether it was our fault nobody came – in which case we can make changes to get people here – or is it simply not the right offer for our existing or potential audience? One of these dilemmas is the Reading and Recuperation at The Infirmary a bimonthly book group that considers classic and modern novels through the lens of medical history.
We thought sitting in the gallery discussing Bram Stoker’s Dracula would be a draw, literally behind one of the participants was a trephining tool, an instrument which features in the book when Dr Van Helsing operates on Renfield to reduce pressure on his injured skull. The few people who came were well known to us and while we had great discussions on three books it is something we were disappointed wasn’t more popular.
So do we do it again this year? When should we call it a bad idea instead of bad execution? Planning events annually allows time to consider the target audiences we wish to reach and devise attractive events for each segment. Also, introducing changes means we can attempt to draw in new audiences and adapt marketing channels and materials to build more numbers.
Delivering a high quality product is important to us as we aim to entice visitors back and build loyalty. In a small venue we can recognise faces and chat to the many people who visit, however my experience is that audiences are harder to grow in smaller venues because our surveys tell us many found out through word of mouth and therefore a smaller audience attending events means a slow organic growth.
We are going to continue the book group and spend more time marketing to the target audience and focus on classic novels with medical content, how many can you suggest?
Other elements to consider have been the direction of the museum; the Heritage Lottery Fund project completed 12 months ago and, with their agreed Activity Plan delivered, it means we can focus on the core target audiences which have evolved in the three years since opening. We are wishing to deliver events and experiment with more science-based topics.
The Infirmary Museum is within the University of Worcester and we have contacts in all its six institutes to build relationships and encourage joint working.
Through a failed arts project application to Wellcome Trust last year we met two scientists at the Institute of Science and the Environment who, apart from being a super double act on music from the 1970s, they are great communicators in their respective topics. They have agreed to deliver a talk each (one on cancer cells and the other on medicine in the post-genomic age) which we hope will be a huge draw for the student audience and also local science buffs.
Having said that, making decisions on the next year of activity fills me with trepidation, excitement and doom all at the same time. What if nobody likes the topic or idea and it doesn’t attract the audience? What if it clashes with an unforeseen event? However, the upside is the excitement that comes with introducing more science based content to an audience who can then visit our exhibition and see the changes in medicine since 1745.
Or the pleasure in seeing the same faces visit all family activities and still be enthusiastic about our interactive saw exhibit. Selecting suitable pictures to include in the leaflet is definitely a pleasure, evidence of the hard work contributed by staff and volunteers and also seeing lots of happy faces does put me into a good mood!
The leaflet goes live on the new website we have been building with George Marshall Medical Museum in January and copies will be distributed near and far to our target audiences, however if you are intrigued about the final decisions, or would like to Skype in for the Book Group, please let me know.