The Secret Lives Of Museum Tour Guides

Long times readers know that when I was living in Ohio I had a close relationship with a local group called the Creative Cult. We did a number of projects together and I participated in the events they sponsored. The local art museum wisely decided to bring one of the cult’s inner circle, Nick, on staff and he has been making some great contributions to the organization.

This week the museum has made a series of Facebook posts under the title “Things Written At The Front Desk,” with some pictures from Nick’s journal/sketchbook and other projects he has worked on while at the desk. Today was the second post in the series and really caught my attention because it featured Nick’s illustrations of a guide to a gallery exhibit.   At first I was excited because I thought perhaps the museum had reopened for socially distanced exhibitions, but the guide was made for a pre-Covid exhibit.

Regardless of when it was made, the concept of walking into a museum and picking up a guide to an exhibition which was hand illustrated by one of the people greeting you struck me as something that would make the whole experience feel more welcoming and accessible.  The pamphlet Nick illustrated reflects his quirky aesthetic, presenting the visitor with Marty, a cartoon figure who will accompany on your journey complete with a map of Marty’s suggested route through the exhibition.

Then things take a strange turn and some of the illustrations reference to Marty’s diary and a beast being hunted down by a classic mob armed with pitchforks and torches. Clearly the whole guide isn’t depicted so we are missing parts of the story, but that makes you want to learn more, right?

Not only that, wouldn’t you be interested in seeing a museum exhibition framed by an information pamphlet that implied your tour guide may have a monstrous alter-ego….or perhaps it was all just a strange dream?


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 ( 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. (

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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2 thoughts on “The Secret Lives Of Museum Tour Guides”

  1. What an interesting and creative way for the museum to elaborately take the usual and boring pamphlet guide and transform it into a more fun and interactive path toward the ultimate destination, the exhibit. I appreciate Nick’s ability to take us through the museum in a way that stimulates the mind from start to finish. I will say, having Marty turn on us and describe the beast being hunted by a team of people with pitchforks and knives could be a bit of a scary and unexpected thing for a regular patron to come across while strolling through exhibits. But, what an experience if not dramatically unexpected?

    • Nick saw my post and clarified that Marty plays with an artifact he wasn’t supposed to and that is what causes the transformation. (That’s why you shouldn’t touch the exhibits in a museum folks!) I don’t know if he turns on the tour he is leading, but it appears he awakens to find the museum in disarray after the angry mob has left.


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