Chief Storyteller

We have talked with many museum professionals about ways that they incorporate storytelling into their institutions and a common thread has been that the stories always relate back to the content– through the exhibits, programming, visitor experience– but what about the larger story on the impact within the community?

This topic was touched on by Gretchen Jennings of the Empathetic Museum and, coincidentally, on a blog post published by the American Association of State and Local History entitled Chief Storytellers and the Search for Relevance, on April 24th, by Bethany Hawkins. Much like what Roni White was talking about on our first day of the seminar on an individual level, Hawkins asks:

How can the history field reframe our “elevator speech” or typical luncheon presentation to focus less on who we are and what we do and more on our impact on society? If we can do this, we can ensure our institution’s story lives on.

By framing institutional stories in a way that shows how an institution impacts its surrounding community, not only does the purpose become more clear, but so does it’s stance as a leader in community affairs, as well as starting to move up the scale in the maturity model developed by the Empathetic Museum. This model was created on an institutional level to build bridges with a museum’s surroundings and make sure that what they are doing within their walls connects with what is going on around them outside.

A museum isn’t much without it’s visitor base and by telling the institutional story– even if it is in a negative way to show how much it has grown– helps more people get the feeling that the museum is “for them.”


This exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History is a great example of an institution becoming more open with their public to create an institutional story. All of the objects are displayed in a way that lets the visitor feel like they are going behind the scenes and are connected on a deeper level with the museum 


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