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Tours & Transitions

Tuesday, April 8, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jenette Purdy
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Whenever I begin training volunteers for tours, the most common feelings volunteers
express to me are enthusiasm, quickly followed by trepidation and nervousness. They worry they won’t know enough or that they won’t get everything in during the tour.

These feelings are common for a reason! I have felt them every time I have started a new job and am faced with new histories, objects, and content areas. I have found, in both my own museum tour development and training others for museum tours that a useful tool in approaching a tour is to think about the transition.

When I hear the word transition, I think about one of my favorite time periods in Park City’s history: the 1960s and 70s. Park City had been a thriving silver mining town beginning in the 1870s, and though silver prices rose and fell over the years, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Park City completely entered a new phase of their history—the economically depressed era. People in Park City were losing their jobs, the mining companies were consolidating, and Park City was on track to become a ghost town.

In an effort to revitalize the economy, mine owners applied for a federal loan to build a ski resort. The loan was granted, Treasure Mountains Resort (now Park City Mountain Resort) opened in 1963, and as they say, the rest is history. Mining didn’t return, but Park City thrives in a new economy. When you look at the quaint ski town today, it seems inevitable that this successful change would come. But in the 60s and 70s, the future (as we know it today), wasn’t a given. There were rough patches between the locals (the “miners”) and these new ski bums (“hippies”). The rest of Utah didn’t really want much to do with Park City. It was a time of transition.

It’s in these transition times, both in history, and I might add, in my personal life, that some meaningful development occurs. There are some pretty awesome stories from this time period in Park City history! And so it is in the tour.

We know the history. We know the objects. We know the stories. But getting from point A to point B to point C and onward can be daunting. Start your tour development with a theme, a few key concepts and stopping points within the museum, an introduction and a conclusion. This becomes the story we are telling. Transition points come when we are moving from one stopping point to another. It’s easy to overlook this point in a tour, but by creating smooth transitions, we can keep a cohesive story in play. It might be helpful to think of these transition points as topic sentences for what is coming next. Engage the visitors by asking them a thought provoking question, or have them take a close look at the next object at hand to make that transition.

I have found that using transitions helps my tours turn into a conversation about Park City history and a wonderful story unfolds.

Source: I first encountered this idea about transitions in a book called The Museum Educator’s Manual: Educators Share Successful Techniques. AltaMira Press, 2009.

Jenette Purdy is the Director of Education at the Park City Museum. She recently joined the Utah Museums Association Board of Directors.

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