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Consider a Successful Model: Learning from the “Roadshow”

One of public television’s most entertaining shows painlessly educates the American viewing public about antiques. “Antiques Roadshow” offers some tricks for combining education and entertainment that museum educators might do well to consider.

During its first year, “Antiques Roadshow” traveled to 13 cities in 17 weeks and managed, by the end of the season, to entice 1,000 people to bring their treasures to be discussed and appraised. As they enter their fifth season in the U.S. (they are derived from an equally successful BBC production), the “Roadshow” is the most-watched series on Public television with more than 14 million viewers each week and attracts as many as 7,000 people at each taping location.

Peter Cook, executive producer, says this current season should “provide . . . broader and deeper explorations of our diverse and sometimes paradoxical cultural history.” What are some of the secrets

of their success that docents might consider as they seek to make their educational tours more entertaining?

Selecting the object

On the “Roadshow,” people bring the objects that they are most interested in. They may be family heirlooms or tag sale treasures, but their owner has a personal interest in each object. In a museum setting, instead of pre-selecting the tour objects, docents might allow their visitors to select objects to discuss with which the visitor has some immediate curiosity or interest.

Telling the story

“Roadshow” visitors are usually asked by the appraiser to tell all they know about the object before the “expert” fills in the blanks. According to Chris Jussel, a former host of the show, most people are not primarily interested in the monetary value of their object. “They are much more interested in the other questions: Who made it? When was it made? Where was it made? How do I care for it?”

Try encouraging visitors to your institution to share their knowledge and to tell you what they would like to know about an object in the collection.

Establishing the value

While monetary value often provides the “Wow” for the “Roadshow,” most of the objects brought in to the show turn out to have a nominal extrinsic value.

  • “Well, I’d never sell it.”
  • “It’ll be passed on to my children.”
  • “I just fell in love with it.”

Comments such as these indicate the real value of the objects to their owners. Allow time in your tour to let your visitors tell you which objects are most valuable to them and why. You may be surprised at the connections!

Jackie Littleton , Associate Editor

Littleton, Jackie. “Consider a Successful Model: Learning from the ‘Roadshow,’” The Docent Educator 10.4 (Summer 2001): 6.


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