6 Innovative Programming Ideas for Kids, Adults and Communities

It’s one thing to get people through the door, it’s another thing to meaningfully engage them. Offering a series of public programs at your arts and culture organization is a great way to attract visitors and build a lasting connection that goes beyond the highlights tour.

 Arts and culture organization visitors come in all shapes and sizes. With such a diverse range of visitors, having a broad program offer is essential for engaging people at various stages in their cultural journey. In this article, we’ll highlight some incredible programming ideas from museums and educational collections around the world. Read on to be inspired and think about how to weave these programming ideas into your own offer!

PLAY Live at The Whitworth Art Gallery

Aimed at early years audiences (0-5), these sessions use song, dance and art to engage  children and their parents in a playful way. “PLAY Live” is hosted by Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery in the United Kingdom. The Whitworth operates under Manchester University and is driven by an ethos of getting creative together in order to build connections and community.   

“PLAY Live” started as an in-person program but made the pivot to online sessions in 2020 due to Covid-19. Now, the popular Zoom sessions have become a staple in the Whitworth’s program. The program’s popularity stems from the flexible and convenient method of being able to engage children and parents in their own homes. “PLAY Live” is a great example of an intergenerational virtual program that embraces organizational principles and is just plain fun.

Virtual Birthday Parties with Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History has found a brilliant way to take their educators and critters out of the museum and into the world – through birthday parties! In January of 2021, the museum announced a lineup of new virtual programs including four field trips as well as virtual birthday parties to make their collection more accessible globally and to meet a growing demand for digital educational programming.

 What’s included in a virtual birthday party? The Carnegie Museum packages include activity supplies, museum party favors for guests and a themed present for the birthday boy/girl as well as an onscreen museum educator to introduce animals/objects and lead activities. This program model presents a great way of generating income via virtual avenues which are very accessible and fantastic for marketing.

Muddy Meetups at The Gibbs Museum of Art

Motherhood can be beautiful, fulfilling, and joyous, but it can also be messy, frustrating, and isolating. This sentiment is something that The Gibbs Museum of Art in South Carolina recognizes and addresses in a dynamic way with their program “Muddy Meetups.” These hands-on pottery workshops are for moms to work with clay and connect with one another in a healing and social environment. Leading up the workshops is an artist in collaboration with a perinatal healthcare or mental healthcare professional. This program is baby-friendly and run in a very casual way. It’s ideal for moms at any stage in parenthood to come together, connect and create.

Packed Lunch from The Wellcome Collection

London’s Wellcome Collection offers a series called “Packed Lunch” that affords adults the opportunity to spend their lunch hour listening to a conversation between a museum programmer and scientist about their current research. Guests are encouraged to bring their lunch which makes break time a little more exciting.

 This series complements the organization’s mission as a free museum and library that aims to challenge how we all think and feel about health. There is an opportunity for guests to ask questions during the session and share their own thoughts which offers an educational participatory element. The Packed Lunch events are a wonderful example of an organization bringing in an outside collaborator for a fresh perspective and innovative programming twist.

Mindfulness sessions at Phoenix Art Museum

Scientific studies show the art of mindfulness can relieve anxiety, depression, pain, and stress and can actually change the way you feel, think, work, and play by opening new pathways in the brain. Phoenix Art Museum understands the power of mindfulness and promotes a culture of health and wellbeing within their community by offering regular mindfulness sessions.

Partnering with another organization is an effective way to expand programs and add credibility. These mindfulness sessions are presented in collaboration with Hospice of the Valley and are free to attend. These sessions were previously held in their Dorrance Sculpture Garden, but now are hosted virtually on Zoom.

Programming tools

Having great ideas isn’t enough to take your programming to the next level. A comprehensive management system is KEY to successful programming. Just as events and attendance increase, so will your need to keep track of bookings and statistics. Blackbaud Altru  is the leading cultural management solution built specifically for general admission organizations. It’s cloud-based technology offers comprehensive ticketing, membership, and fundraising capabilities.

Even if your programming is incredibly dynamic in-session – it’s falling short without easy ticketing, helpful statistics, and convenient follow-up methods like integrated email etc… Utilizing an all-in-one system like Blackbaud Altru will ensure that no detail gets left behind, and visitors are welcomed in and connected throughout their programming journey with your organization.

Wrapping it up

Without visitors, arts and cultural organizations are just rooms with objects and old buildings with history. It’s the visitors that make museums, heritage sites, zoos and aquariums come alive and operate with purpose. Programming is an essential part of the visitor experience and deepens the connection with arts and culture.

Whether you are working with children, adults and/or communities, it’s essential to remember to plan with your organization’s mission and collection in mind. Comprehensive platforms like Blackbaud Altru can help to capture and document visitors’ journey with your organization from the first time they walk through the door, to becoming program regulars. Now that you’re armed with innovative ideas and tips for tools of the trade, it’s time to go forth and engage new audiences with dynamic programs. Good luck!