Engage Visitors by Making (April) Fools of Them

by Mairin Kerr, Communications Specialist at the Royal BC Museum

How do you keep your core galleries interesting for repeat visitors? Over half of the Royal BC Museum’s visitors are locals so we’ve come up with a few ways to keep them engaged. 

Our Learning Staff have developed a huge variety of programs. They conduct research, experiment with new programs and build on existing popular ones. One way of reaching a broad audience is to create targeted programs for a wide range of groups including families (Wonder Sunday), young professionals (Museum Happy Hour) and boomers (Unexplored Highlights). This approach has led to deeply engaging programs with dedicated followings.  Want to know more? Follow our Learning team on Twitter: Chris O’Connor (onsite), Kim Gough (outreach) and Liz Crocker (online).

Sometimes it’s the informal things that resonate

Our Exhibits staff, who create and maintain the beautiful immersive displays of BC’s natural and human history and culture, have a great sense of humour. Long ago they started putting a taxidermied mouse into the exhibits and moving it when visitors let them know they’d found it.  It feels a bit like a local’s secret because we don’t advertise it. You have to be “in the know” (like ordering an In-N-Out burger animal style).  This makes our local visitors feel special and it keeps them coming back.

But what about something to engage both our repeat local visitors and ones that might come seasonally?

Creating a cult following

Our April Fool’s scavenger hunt didn’t begin as a conscious effort to engage visitors with our core galleries. Like the taxidermied mouse, it started with our cheeky, creative exhibits department, who would slip things into the exhibits around April 1st. In 2011 it became official, with Kate Kerr, a fabrication specialist at the time, managing the annual event. A few years ago she passed the torch to another fabrication specialist, Cindy Van Volsem, who continues the tradition.

We now have a structured scavenger hunt with a handout visitors can pick up at the Box Office, challenging them to spot the April Fool’s tricks we’ve played. Over the years, it has grown into a cult phenomenon among our regular visitors who enjoy the challenge of spotting what doesn’t belong in the displays they think they know so well. It even draws repeat visitors from nearby cities who come specifically for this scavenger hunt.

How do we keep the ideas fresh?

Cindy explains one way she has generated new ideas year after year: “We have day camps during Spring Break. I went up and let the kids tell me what they thought. Some of their ideas were phenomenal!  Those fertile brains just popped with ideas as to what would be great and what they would want to see.”

One of the kids suggested putting a lion mane on our sea lion. Cindy thought this was brilliant and was really keen to do it. Unfortunately due to conservation concerns it wasn’t possible.

What are the limitations?

As illustrated with the sea lion, the safety of our objects comes first. Everything has to be reversible. We stay away from attaching anything to artifacts and put barriers between fake things and the permanent display items so there can be no damage.

Other limitations are about finding the right balance of making the scavenger hunt the right level – not too hard or too easy. Years of experience has helped the team come up with the right balance.  

Your turn

Join in the fun! We’ll be running our April Fool’s scavenger hunt from Friday March 30 to Monday April 2 and using the hashtag #museumfool to track the fun our visitors are having. Share your April Fool’s events with the same hashtag!



Mairin Kerr is the Communications Specialist at the Royal BC Museum where she works with traditional and social media to tell the story of BC's natural and human history. She draws upon a foundation of knowledge gained from a Masters of Museum Studies from the University of Toronto and work experience at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world–the V&A Museum in London and the J. Paul Getty Museum in LA. 



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