Not your Grandparents’ Museums

One of SAM's monthly REMIX parties

One of SAM’s monthly REMIX parties

I recently spent a week in Baltimore attending the American Alliance of Museums‘ annual conference. We’re looking forward to hosting their 2014 meeting in Seattle next May. Which is cause for its own article, but that’s not my topic for today.

Immersed in the sessions and conversations of nearly 5,000 museum professionals, at a conference themed around “The Power of Story,”  I found myself thinking a lot about our museums. About how lucky we are to have such a diverse collection in our community, telling all sorts of powerful stories. And perhaps most importantly,  I realized that the outdated image of museums as stuffy, or boring, is just not true anymore. At least not here.  Our museums offer programming and events that are just plain fun.

Center for Wooden Boats

A nice day for a visit to the Center for Wooden Boats. Photo by T Wickersham.


For instance: Our Center for Wooden Boats offers the Cast Off! free public sailing program every Sunday throughout the summer. You get the chance to sail on Lake Union in classic boats, including a Bristol Bay Gillnetter, a Friendship sloop, an Egret Sharpie, a long-boat, or a New Haven Sharpie. Before you sail you can take a walk on the docks and watch the volunteer crews rigging the boats. They’ll be happy to answer your questions, and might ask you to lend a hand.

EMP Museum has always been known as a place to have fun. In addition to ever-changing and fascinating exhibits on music and pop culture, some of EMP’s most popular features are the interactive ones.  Ever dreamed of performing a concert on stage in front of hot lights and screaming fans? You can do that. (Ok, the fans are virtual. But you’re guaranteed no boos!)  Or invite your inner musician to come out and play in Sound Lab, soundproofed booths where you can drum, strum and sing to your heart’s content.  EMP says you can “explore the tools of rock ‘n’ roll through electric guitars, drums, samplers, mixing consoles, and more.” But we know it’s also just fun.

MOG's Hot Shop team in action.

MOG’s Hot Shop team in action. Photo by R Dahms.

Or take Tacoma’s Museum of Glass. Not only can you marvel at inspiring collections of glass in the galleries, you can feel the heat as you watch a team of artists work with molten glass in the world’s largest hot shop housed inside the iconic 90-foot-tall stainless steel cone. Watch professional artists at work as you see close-ups on the big screen and listen as the interpreter explains the process, the art, the science and the history of making glass. And yes, you can ask questions—and sometimes even offer input to help design a piece.

In addition to all of the excellent discoveries awaiting in the museum itself, the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific Experience also offers Chinatown Discovery Tours. Explore the surrounding neighborhood with a friendly and knowledgeable guide, themed around such gems as “Taste of Chinatown” or the “Bitter and Sweet Tour,”  based on the NY Times bestselling book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

One of Seattle’s top visitor attractions, the Museum of Flight is full of immersive, interactive experiences, but the newest is notable.  Who hasn’t wanted to be an astronaut at some point in their lives?  A 30-minute tour of the NASA Space Shuttle Trainer Crew Compartment allows you to go where very few have gone before. After a safety briefing and history overview, you step aboard the Space Shuttle Trainer where U.S. astronauts trained for every Space Shuttle mission and get to spend approximately 20 minutes exploring both levels of the Crew Compartment.

Summer at Olympic Sculpture Park, operated by Seattle Art Museum, offers food trucks, live bands, free yoga workouts, and free drawing classes with the likes of acclaimed cartoonist Ellen Forney. Nothing stuffy about that.

Remix at SAM

Remix at SAM

And can our museums throw a party. Seattle Art Museum’s monthly “REMIX” sells out every time. Held on the first Friday on the month from 8-midnight, these parties burst at the seams with art, performances, talks, djs, dancing and more in a late-night creative explosion. Here’s a tip: the next #SAMRemix is coming right up on June 7 and you can save $5 on general admission with code: blogremix0613.

Stuffy? Boring? I don’t think so! And these are just a few ideas. Feel free to add your favorite museum experiences in the comments below!


About the Author

Tracey Wickersham

Tracey Wickersham is the Director of Cultural Tourism at Visit Seattle. In her off hours she’s the host of a weekly music program on KBCS 91.3 FM and a board member at 4Culture, supporting arts, heritage, public art and historic preservation in King County. She lives in West Seattle with her husband, one headstrong elderly Australian Cattle Dog, heaps of books and music, and an unwieldy garden.

More Posts By Tracey Wickersham
Tracey Wickersham


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