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The Future of Museum Storytelling

Storytelling lie at the heart of museums, but are they using stories to their maximum potential? This was a core question at the Future of Museum Storytelling Conference which took place in New York in Autumn 2019.

Now you can enjoy all the presentations from this conference with a Virtual Ticket.

The Talks


Karen Palmer,
Storyteller from the future

How is one immersed in the “real”? What can the documentary art form tell us about real world, people and situations representations? Exploring new venues in interactive, immersive, storytelling the experience RIOT asks: how would you fare if you were inadvertently caught up in a riot and couldn’t get away? Would you panic? Would you be able to remain calm and maneuver through a fraught situation? Karen Palmer’s interactive film is a cop in full riot gear who demands to know where you’re going. The same facial recognition technology that powers Riot has been put to use by governments in Berlin and China to track individuals suspected of terrorism, and was enlisted in a recent controversial attempt to label people as gay or straight based on their facial features. Karen Palmer explores the intersections of storytelling, filmmaking and ensuring emerging technology becomes widely available to ordinary people.

Shaping Museum Stories with Neuroscience

Tedi Asher,
Neuroscience Researcher,
Peabody Essex Museum (PEM)

In Spring 2017, the Peabody Essex Museum took the unprecedented step of employing the museum world’s first neuroscientist in residence.

The goal of the Neuroscience Initiative is to enhance visitor engagement. Toward that end, they draw on findings from the neuroscience literature to inform their design strategies for creating art experiences. As all experience is a product of brain function, they hypothesize that learning more about how the brain works will allow them to generate more engaging experiences of art and culture in PEM’s galleries.

Tedi Asher will share what she and PEM have learnt from this pioneering work.

Panel: Making Digital Stories

Join a panel of digital experts as we talk about digital storytelling and the tech that is reshaping narrative both online and on the gallery floor.


Shannon Darrough
Director of Digital Media

Laura Kleger
Director, Interactive and Digital Media

Jeff Martin
Communications Manager
Philbrook Museum of Art

Fransje Pansters
Digital Communication Advisor
Van Gogh Museum

Panel Chaired by

Sarah Berckenkamp
Cultural Entrepeneur
Bureau SBB

And Other Duties as Necessary

Adam Reed Rozan
Director, Programs and Audience Development
National Museum of American History

Cultural organizations have historically shied away from taking on complex social issues through their collections and the stories they tell, choosing the safer path instead. But can they still afford to take the safer path? Many are choosing not to.

In his talk, Adam Rozan will explore how cultural institutions are either preparing for or dealing with drastic, global changes. He will highlight specific examples, particularly from the corporate world, and the lessons that all organizations can glean about what’s working or not.

How tech can bridge the arts access divide

Dupé Ajayi
Intersectional Marketing Strategist
The Shed

It is only recently that the country’s largest museums have begun to seriously consider the fact that their collections should better reflect the demographics of their communities.

The tide is turning. Yet, there is still a gap when it comes to diverse communities entering these spaces. Barriers which are physical, economic and more keep them out. Additionally, most don’t feel these spaces are ‘for’ them. Technology has the ability to open doors (virtual and real) and expose those who are most disenfranchised to all of the benefits which are connected to the art.

This chat will focus on those who are moving the needle in this space and how others can adopt their best practices.

Practical storytelling for the incurably curious

Alice White
Digital Editor
Wellcome Collection

Kirsten Riley
Head of Social Media and Digital Editor
Wellcome Collection

How do we approach storytelling on digital platforms in a way that makes best use of the various mediums available and competes against all the other content around to grab people’s attention and hold it?

In this talk, we’ll share our editorial approach and how we go about finding the right time, place, and method to tell a story.

This approach has enabled us to better connect with people and to fulfil our aims as an organisation – it’s also encouraging people to visit in person too.

What’s a museum for?

Seth Godin
Bestselling author and Agent of Change

Seth Godin, author of 19 worldwide bestsellers, brings us tales from the revolution. Now that your patrons, members and visitors have a thousand alternatives via the phone in their pocket, how will you serve them? By examining who the experience is for and the change we seek to make, we can turn the digital revolution into an opportunity, not a threat.

Marketing isn’t advertising, it’s the work we do and the way we do it. And this moment in time is the perfect opportunity to show up and make a ruckus.

A self-professed museum nerd, Godin will challenge us to amplify our work, turning the museum experience into everything that we need it to be.

Making History Relevant

David Eng
Chief Marketing and Communications Officer
Tenement Museum

At a time when issues surrounding migrants, refugees, and immigration have taken center stage, the Tenement Museum is a potent reminder that, as a nation shaped by immigration, our brightest hope for the future lies in the lessons of the past. We’ll explore how the Tenement Museum through storytelling, guided tours, use of our historic buildings, multimedia, primary sources and media shared on our website; and interactive online experiences such as Your Story, Our Story, podcasts and more engages and connects audiences and visitors to history and brings the story of American immigration to life.

A new chapter in museum design

Charles Philipp

MICRO’s fleet of six-foot-tall museums are installed in high-impact public spaces from Rockefeller Center to NYC’s busiest public hospitals, reaching new audiences who would not otherwise have access to traditional museums.

The world’s first physically distributed museum, MICRO is a museum for everyone, everywhere. MICRO’s co-founder Charles Phillipp will share insights from MICRO’s unique approach to museum storytelling and design for new audiences in public spaces, an approach that ensures visitors of all ages and backgrounds can engage with complex topics from biology to physics, engineering and beyond.

Museum as Storyteller

Judy Kim
Deputy Director
Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

What if a visitor saw all art in a museum through the lens of storytelling? What stories would the art tell us? How do these stories connect across time, space, cultures, and medium?

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is a new museum under construction in Los Angeles. Founded by philanthropist, filmmaker, and storyteller George Lucas, and his wife, Mellody Hobson, Co-CEO and President of Ariel Investments, the Lucas Museum is dedicated to inspiring current and future generations through the universal art of visual storytelling.

Through a rich collection of original illustrations, paintings, comic art, photography, and the arts of filmmaking, the Lucas Museum will engage visitors with works that were created (and many extensively reproduced) for the purpose of telling stories to wide audiences. Featuring ancient works of art with figurative narratives to works by Norman Rockwell that graced the covers of The Saturday Evening Post for decades to George Herriman’s Krazy Kat comics and early cinematic storyboards for Star Wars, the museum will pull together narrative works from many places and times which together help tell the stories of our humanity.

Designing compelling museum stories

Join a panel of experts as we discuss how museums can design compelling stories.


Sarah Brockett
Senior Content Developer and Strategist
Gallagher & Associates

Jenn DePrizio
Director of Interpretation
Cleveland Museum of Art

Nick Hubbard
Senior Designer, Content and Activity Design
ESI Design

Tedi Asher
Neuroscience Researcher
Peabody Essex Museum (PEM)

Whose Story? Inclusivity in Storytelling

Bill Adair
Director of Exhibitions & Public Interpretation
The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

Denise Valentine
Professional Storyteller

How are institutions shaping their programming to reflect an increasingly pluralistic museum-going public? As audience demographics continue to shift, representation matters—particularly in highly diverse cities like Philadelphia. Storytelling can become a tool for bringing to light varied and often underrepresented narratives, and can foster empathy and connection.

A Philadelphia-based arts funder and a professional storyteller share approaches to imaginative and inclusive storytelling in institutional contexts, with case studies from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Temple University’s Temple Contemporary art gallery, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Trans Stories in the Museum

Amy Levin
Northern Illinois University

Mirjam Sneeuwloper
Amsterdam Museum

Learn about an exceptional exhibition and programming that involved bringing the stories of transgender and nonbinary individuals into a museum and ultimately transforming aspects of the institution, as well as building continuing relationships between and among museum workers at all levels and local transgender communities. Based on exciting and moving oral histories, this presentation will include practical strategies as well as theoretical perspectives.

5 Elements of Story Telling at the Hip Hop Museum

At the opening night of the Hip Hop Museum DC, the visitors and presenters and inductees created another layer of the experience that went beyond the exhibit. They talked to each other. Strangers stood around exhibits and debated, shared personal stories and relived memories connected to the collection. After the closing of the original exhibition, visitors, fans and artists were asked to send their stories via social media and a bank of oral and visual histories was built that will follow the exhibit and grow with it at each new location. 5 layers of storytelling existed in this experience. The exhibit began the conversation, experts and narrators shared their own perspectives and the audience was able to join in with the narrators and each other to round out the experience.

Ayanna Muhammad
Lead Curator
Hip Hop Museum DC

Critical Thinking and Crucial Conversations

What role can speculative design play in having crucial socially engaged conversations with your audience? How can you encourage critical thinking in young people through art and design? In this talk, Aisling Murray, Exhibitions Manager from Science Gallery Dublin will showcase the innovative ways they communicate with their target audience of 15-25 year olds and how to effectively use your medium to translate conversations into engaging experiences with your audience.

Aisling Murray
Exhibitions Manager
Science Gallery Dublin

Radical Exhibitions: Uplifting Community Voices

Victoria Lee
Community Experience Catalyst
MAH : Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

Ashley Holmes
Marketing & Brand Coordinator
MAH : Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

At the MAH we brought together a group over 4x the size of their entire staff to create an exhibition on a single local issue. Hear the lessons we learned and the framework we developed to make it all possible. Discover how to amplify the voices of a community and inspire action through radical community storytelling and rigorous collaborative design.

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