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The line up can be a resource

March 1, 2011

Standing in line outside the museum

There is a new fashion in Milan: lining up to get into exhibits. It’s so hip, someone even noticed it on Beppe Severgnini’s Italians. The Milanese are doing a good job of it lately, especially in Piazza Duomo, where the new Museo del Novecento and the Palazzo Reale next door are drawing big crowds.

As I stood, bored, shifting from one foot to another for a whole HOUR outside the Museo del Novecento the other week, I thought: can’t a museum do something to entertain me, involve me, enlighten me while I stand in line?

Why is it that the first museum staff member that I encounter is the person at the door, blocking my entry? Why is it that my “real” museum experience takes place only after I cross the threshold of the museum sanctuary? (And a bad experience at that – read my review.)

Museums: turn that queue into an advantage! People standing in line are a captive audience. Control, engage, and entrap it. Here are some ideas in order from most basic requirements to most innovative possibilities:

  • At minimum, establish the form and direction of your line with soft barriers and signs. Use signs to indicate estimated wait time until entry for each point.
  • Use friendly museum staff or interns to come by, greet visitors, and hand out the museum map or pamphlet.
  • Is there some way to work seating into this line up?
  • Take advantage of the captive audience to inform them of membership deals or sign them up for a newsletter.
  • Provide screens with short films or other rotating forms of information about the exhibit or museum.
  • Partner with local actors and entertainers who can offer distraction or even interact with the crowd on a theme related to the museum’s offerings. Hire a classical guitarist, or a street musician who can get people to sing along.

I’m sure there are many more things you can do with people while they line up. Just use your imagination. What would you add to this list?

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