Jawnty Approach To Museum Tours

A few months back, I wrote about a new approach, inspired by the National Forestry Service, the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, PA was adapting to combat poor impressions visitors might have upon arrival.

About two weeks ago,  I saw a story about their Barnes Jawn(t)s program where they hand over the tours to unconventional guides.  People can choose to take a tour with seven different guides who will provide their own perspectives on the Barnes’ collection.

(It appears technically, there may be 9 guides. According to the article, the first tour was conducted by “Madhusmita Bora, a classical Indian dancer, and Ashley Vogel, a staff member with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.”)

The jawn(t) program is described as:

Join us for evening tours full of make-believe as we play fast and loose with everything you thought you knew about the Barnes. In Philadelphia, jawn is a catch-all word for anything. A Barnes Jawn(t) is an anything-goes tour of the collection with a fascinating Philly personality as your guide. These off-the-cuff, sure-to-run-off-the-rails tours are led by a diverse array of community leaders, artists, and comic-book nerds—all experts in their fields. No two tours will be the same. After taking a Jawn(t), you’ll never look at the Barnes the same way again!

My read on the project is that they are, in part, trying to combat the idea that visiting the Barnes Foundation “isn’t for people like me” by having people with whom you might better identify lead the evening tours.

You may recall a few months back I wrote about Museum Hack which conducts themed tours in various museums around the country, also billing themselves as an unconventional approach.  The Barnes approach seems to be in the same vein, but much more focused on the perspective of the individual guide.

I was wondering if the fact these tours start an hour after closing time was intentionally chosen so attendees’ potentially first visit to the institution would involve a more intimate group rather than interacting with the large number of daily visitors–or just a matter of convenience to accommodate people getting off of work.

Actually, I just noticed all the tours are on Tuesday when the Barnes is closed making me additionally wonder if some portion of experience is being customized and prepared for the tours earlier in the day. (Given the stipulations Albert Barnes made about how the art was to be displayed, I would suspect nothing about the galleries themselves is changed.)

Contributing to the impression that there might be some special customization going on is that they list a local group as the organizer:

Based in Philadelphia, Obvious Agency is an interactive design collaboration between Joseph Ahmed, Arianna Gass, and Daniel Park. The agency works with cultural institutions to explore new ways to engage audiences through custom games and interactive performances. The group also produces the artistic work of its members, including Go to Sleep, a real-life adventure game about insomnia. Commissions include the Diamond Eye Conspiracy through Drexel and Temple Universities.

I was interested to see this partnership/collaboration with an outside group as an indication of possibilities for other arts and cultural organizations.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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