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Recently, I went on a Museum Hack tour — “unconventional tours of the world’s best museums” — at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Mine was an “un-highlights tour” which — according to their website — put “an alternative spin on the museum, featuring other sides to the highlights we love, as well as some of the strangest, wildest, sexiest stories hidden throughout the museum.”

The tour didn’t disappoint.

So, here are 8 reasons why — if you ever get the chance — you should definitely hack a museum!

1: Laugh, play and even curse… IN A MUSEUM

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 1.34.20 PMToo often we associate museums with serious whispers of art historical jargon… but museums are places to laugh, cry, play and yes, even curse. After a museum hack tour, you will never think of museums — or the art housed inside — as stuffy and boring. You’ll think of them as what they are: places for HUMAN experiences.

2: Have fun, even if you hate museums

I went on the tour with someone who is usually done with a museum after about, oh, twenty minutes, but at the end of the two hour tour, we were both ready to go again. I think it’s because we weren’t just standing in front of paintings, listening to boring lectures. We were moving, exploring, laughing… we were having FUN.

3: Learn something new, even if you’re a museum junkie

I have a confession: I’m a tour snob. I like engaging with the art on my own terms; I know what I know, and the rest I want to discover on my own, not have some snotty guide tell me some lame story I’ve already heard a thousand times… but on this tour, we didn’t get the usual fare. We got new stories — told in new ways.

4: New details about old favorites

Yes, we visited many of the museum’s standard highlights — but the STORIES about those masterpieces were different. I’d read about how Leonardo’s Ginevra de’Benci’s made her way to DC, but I didn’t know that she had her own first class seat on the airplane ride over! Yes, we stopped at the El Grecos, but I never expected to focus on the two figures in the paintings NOT Laocoon or his sons. And the details about Napoleon… well, those are too hysterical to spoil (you’ll just have to hack the museum yourself).

5: See pieces not usually highlighted

Marie Antoinette's Desk

We also stopped at many pieces of art that aren’t listed on any highlight reel. I visit the National Gallery of Art AT LEAST once a week, but on this tour, we visited paintings that I usually stroll right past. We even made it down into a part of museum I’d never explored where we got to see Marie Antoinette’s writing desk! How cool is that?

6: Go on a scavenger hunt

IMG_1746Yes, the tour guide sent us on a literal scavenger hunt during the tour (we were to find a new lover for Ginevra de’Benci. My choice was Rembrandt Peale’s son Rueben — with his geranium), but the whole tour also felt like a scavenger hunt. We were on a hunt through the museum for funny faces and funny stories and secret treasures of museum appreciation…

7: Add your own spin to the old masters

IMG_1751My favorite part had to be all ways we were encouraged to engage with the art — to find ourselves in it and have a conversation with it. We posed with the art, told our own stories about the art, yes, even re-enacted the art… but most importantly, we felt like the art wasn’t just a part of history, but a part of our lives. Today.

8: Be inspired TO GO BACK

Most importantly, we didn’t feel worn out by the tour. Indeed, we wanted to head back into the museum to see what new adventures we could drum up on our own. And there’s no higher praise I can give to a museum experience than inspiring participants to go back to a museum.


Museum Hack currently gives tours in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and, of course, Washington, D.C.