Many art museums are facing a challenging question: how do you get millennials in the door?
With a new director at the helm, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts decided to try something new this past year. They threw open their doors to host four free all-night parties.
Each of the "MFA Overnights" drew over 5,000 visitors.
Before entering the MFA's Contemporary Art Wing the guests stand in a startlingly long line. It winds past food trucks and around the parking lot. On the last of the Friday night parties, it’s below freezing but the chilly visitors don't seem to mind.
"Two of my favorite DJs are playing. It's great!"
Inside, things are much warmer. In the cafeteria-turned-dance-floor, the music is blaring.
“We’re here to dance. Mostly to dance. Sweat. After standing in that line for two hours, now I just want to sweat,” says Heather McCormick before heading onto the dance floor.
Standing nearby, Manny adds: “They’re open from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. There aren’t that many clubs or bars in Boston that allow you to really have that much fun.”
Many of the people here said they’d never been to this museum—or any museum—before. They came for the DJs and the dancing.
The art? That's just a chance encounter.
But the MFA is hoping their exhibits get more than a passing glance–and it seems to be working.
Felicia Figueiredo has been standing in line with friends for about an hour to see an art exhibit called The Clock.
It’s a twenty-four hour film featuring thousands of movie snippets all stitched together. Whatever time it is in real life, it is the same time in the movie. So, it’s 11:14 p.m. at the MFA. In the film, there’s a man who’s just missed his 11:14 p.m. train.
Most people can only see what happens during the museum’s normal hours – that’s about half the movie. But tonight, Figueiredo and the other nightclub-museum-goers are the lucky few who get to see what happens at the strike of midnight.
"It's like a Harry Pottery premiere,” says Figueiredo.
There's also live model sketching, performance art, and groups decorating the museum’s white walls. All the while, they’re eating, drinking, and dancing.
“We wanted it to be something you couldn’t do at another space, so something you could only do at an art museum and creative space,” says Katie Getchell, the Chief Brand Officer and Deputy Director of the MFA.
These events are attracting a whole new crowd.
“It’s a much more diverse audience in age, ethnicity, gender, income, education level,” says Getchell.
The MFA’s membership is growing old. So getting younger people in the door is key. However, Getchell says it’s not the only goal. They also want to be a community gathering place – where people connect with art and with one another.
Yet by 4 a.m. most of the people on the dance floor have grown tired. But not long after the last Uber drives away, the minivans start pulling up.
The MFA wanted a younger crowd – this is a much younger crowd.
“Maybe they’re magical! They’re magical,” says Taylor Capitanio, who is in pre-school. She’s transfixed by Jonathan Borofsky’s sculptures suspended mid-air in the atrium.
Taylor is here with more than 100 other children and parents. For these early risers, there’s collage making, breakfast, and story time.
In one gallery, the children are practicing their quacking to get in the mood for reading Make Way For Ducklings.
From 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., museum-goers can quack and dance, drink and draw.
As the last of the MFA Overnights comes to an end, the MFA is left hoping this new crowd comes back for future parties—and for the art.