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Nick Gray
Photograph: Supplied

You are visiting museums wrong

Herewith: a guide to visiting museums for those with short attention spans

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Nick Gray knows a thing or two about museums. He is the founder and CEO of New York-based walking tour company Museum Hack (slogan: Museums are fucking awesome!), and he's made it his personal mission for you to enjoy museums and cultural institutions as much as he does. 

But you know how museum visits go. You get bored, your feet hurt, you're hungry, you're tired, your back hurts, you really want to go check out that cool bar you've heard about or even just watch Netflix on your couch for a bit. But Gray is here to help beat museum fatigue and combat all those problems. 

Here's the thing. You are doing it wrong. You probably enter a museum and start looking at the first display you encounter. Because you're fresh, you probably even read that little info plaque too and nod sagely at some of the tidbits you've learnt. Then you move onto the next display, rinse, repeat. 

That, according to Gray, is amateur hour. He says the first thing you do when you enter a museum is get a map, then go for a stroll through the entire place. Don't stop, even if you see something you want to know more about. The detail will come in the second pass; right now you're just doing a reccy. 

"Unless I’m on a very tight timeline I walk through the entire museum to get a feel for the space," says Gray. "I make notes – both in my notepad and quick mental notes – on which areas I want to take a closer look at."

After you've done your whirlwind tour, it's time to sit down, have a cuppa and ponder your next move. "Then, of course, I go to the café. I’m a total tea junkie. But I heard Melbourne has excellent coffee, so perhaps I will switch to coffee during my visit."

Gray will be presenting his radical approach to museum-going at the Creative State Summit, which will be held at Melbourne Museum June 14 and 15. 

So what happens after the tea break? You double back through the museum, pausing only at the things that piqued your curiosity and learning things that interest you. "Between museum fatigue and the physical fatigue of walking around a large space, it’s not practical to see every single object," Gray says. "Instead, I recommend choosing a few objects that catch your eye or you see a recommendation for, and then doing a deeper dive into these. Think of it more like a tasting menu, and less like a buffet."

Gray says don't stress too much about missing things. "Always leave before you’re tired! You want to leave the museum or gallery on the up, not tired or exhausted. I think that is important so you’ll be willing to come back again and develop a relationship with the space. Or at least see more great stuff." 

Museum Hack makes visiting cultural institutions, well, fun. "On the average museum tour, you might see three or four or five objects. But the average Museum Hack guide will show you 10, 15, sometimes 20 things. And our guides are hired for their storytelling abilities. They are so good with groups to make people laugh and helping them to ask questions and be engaged," he says.

"One of our favourite things to do on tours is to play games to help our guests engage with the art in new ways. Example: it’s fun to plan an imaginary museum heist in your favourite gallery." 

And don't be afraid of social media. "We encourage selfies, and we know where the Instagram thirst traps are. We’re not afraid to swear on our tours or call things out as bullshit."

Museum Hack runs tours for all kinds of people with short attention spans: tourists, locals, hen's parties and corporate groups, like Google, Facebook, Lego and Etsy, which want to do a bit of team bonding. Gray says while the initial audience was millennials, now it's "people who are millennial-minded, like Boomers with short attention spans".

People who go on the tours often get a new appreciation for specific museums and art and culture in general, says Gray. "We have a saying around here. One of our first tour guides, Mark, said, 'People have been people for as long as there have been people.' By allowing our visitors to see the art differently, and relate to the artists, they quickly begin to see that the people and places represented in the artwork are a lot like themselves."

In addition to taking part in the Creative State Summit (and trying Melbourne's coffee), Gray is hoping to organise a networking cocktail party for entrepreneurs and creative types. Hit him up over email if you want to participate. If Gray can make museum-going this fun, just think how he'll spice up a party.  

The Creative State Summit will be held at Melbourne Museum June 14 and 15. 

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