Connecting collections both inside and out

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

A women wearing a black top and holding a phone is facing a Roman statue.

With a dynamic new executive director of education and an ambitious creative team, The Huntington is actively recalibrating for contemporary times. They are dedicated to ensuring the whole cultural center—inside and out—is a welcoming and inclusive experience for visitors of all ages.  

Art Processors was brought in to be a cutting-edge catalyst for change. Our role was to ideate, coach and to train, demonstrating best practices and creating a new in-house voice and style for the museum's future productions.

Why would we "train" ourselves right out of a job like this? Because the key to being an institution's long-term partner is to do everything we can to help them evolve.


Challenge

Our challenges were twofold:

Share fresh perspectives and new voices to engage wider audiences

Our challenge was to develop a strategy for storytelling linking the library, museum, and gardens, appealing to diverse audiences and leading visitors into new areas with topical, engaging and cohesive audio content. 

Placemake by cross-pollinating collections

Most visitors tour the world renowned botanical gardens. Many remain unaware of the one-of-a-kind research library containing rare books and manuscripts, or the significant American and European art holdings housed within the museum.

This disconnect was mirrored in the museum’s working practises: content for the garden, library and museum was developed for their own distinct exhibits and tours without necessarily collaborating across divisions.

By facilitating a new collaborative process for a content team drawn from each collecting area, we helped spot synergies in collections, and create tours that delight new audiences, and gain a fuller picture of what is on offer, indoors and out.

A woman with dark hair wearing a black shirt stand in front of a large plant.
Screenshot of the Huntington digital guide app showing a description of the highlights audio tour
Screenshot of the Huntington digital guide app showing an audio stop
Map of the Huntington Library grounds

Approach

To set an inspiring North Star to help The Huntington team to achieve their aims, we gathered people from across the library, museum and gardens – visitor services, curatorial, education, marketing, development, security, volunteers, and garden experts. 

Through three days of in-depth workshops, we developed a campus-wide approach to engaging visitors. We set goals for a long-term content strategy, got to understand visitors and their journeys, defined standards for experiences and content, established storytelling and media approaches, and agreed on an effective workflow for on-going collaborations. 

With the strategy in place, the content team is now inspired to be great advocates for visitor interpretation and enabled with the know-how to put visitors at the center of thinking.

A hand holds a phone displaying information about the statue Mar, which is blurred in the background.

“Visitors have really loved the imaginative, informative audio tours we created and the team is excited and empowered to continue sharing fresh perspectives from new voices."

Anna Engstrom
   Manager for Audio Programs, Mapel Orientation Gallery, and Gallery Welcome Centers, The Huntington

A stop in the potager garden is an example of an insight on human history only possible at The Huntington. Visitors hear a gardener explain the health benefits of each plant she’s tending. Then it’s revealed that 13th Century recipe books in the library contain similar thinking on the link between food, medicine and wellness. It turns out it has taken 800 years for our thinking on food systems to go full circle!

Learn More
A hand with fingernails painted pink holds a mobile phone in front of a building with a decorative Chinese roof.

 


Solution

With the strategic frameworks at the forefront of our thinking, we conducted an ideation workshop to identify themes and synergies that highlight interesting materials across collections. 

The two themes we centred tours around are "Highlights of the Huntington" and "Behind the Scenes" which is full of unknown stories. 

The synergies which were then developed into tour stops include, for instance, focuses on: 

Japan – The Japanese Garden has a fantastical design while in the library there is a collection of letters, postcards and drawings that Japanese people sent to communicate across California’s World War II internment camps.

Food systems and medieval cookery – This spans the Herlihy Horticultural Pavilion, aka The Kitchen Garden or The Potager, and cook books in the library. 

Arts and Crafts – The William Morris Collection is the most extensive private collection of Arts and Crafts material in the US, while the library has a collection of Kelmscott Press volumes.

We provided brainstorming tools as well as workshops in conducting interviews, audio recording, scriptwriting, and editing. With these skills in place, we co-created two audio tours together as hands-on learning, writing the brief and script, carrying out interviews, and producing the final tour content with music, narration, and sound effects.

To make the audio experience relatable and real for visitors, the tour features interviews with people who have a direct connection to the Huntington, working as gardeners, seed propagators, water managers, library runners, and others. The tours feature non-dominant narratives behind key pieces, focusing on Asian American, LatinX, African American and LGBTQ+ perspectives. 

By collaborating in this way, the team at The Huntington is now empowered to create their own audio tours which share untold cross-collection stories, ensuring the site remains surprising, relevant and ever-evolving in these contemporary times. 

A sign inside the The Huntington promoting the center's audio guide, showing a hand holding a mobile phone.