• Nature Nocturne

    Who says learning can't be fun? Museums are increasingly reaching out to young adult audiences through after-hours events that include drinks and dancing as well as exhibits and demonstrations. (Photo: James Peltzer Photography)

Nature Nocturne, a monthly after-hours bash at the Canadian Museum of Nature, kicks off its fifth season in the nation’s capital tonight. In keeping with the theme of "Rock n Roll," guests will enjoy special demonstrations and displays including music made with real rocks, rock carvings, crystal-ball juggling — oh, and live DJs, finger foods and a bar on each floor. This is not your parents' museum. 

Events like Nature Nocturne are growing in popularity as museums, long considered the domain of school field trips and bespectacled academics, try to engage the coveted millennial demographic in science, history and art.

Museums, like many esteemed cultural institutions with long histories, are finding that the glow of their legacy is not translating into ticket sales as it used to. In a bid to widen their reach (and boost their bottom line in the process), many have started reinventing themselves through unique live programming and events.

“For a while it seemed like there weren't a lot of ways to engage in the scientific community if you didn’t have children,” says Jillian Steele, head of adult programming at the Canadian Museum of Nature. “People are interested in learning this stuff, but it’s up to us to find a way to do it.”

Nature Nocturne isn’t the only science-after-dark museum event of its kind in Canada. The Royal Ontario Museum’s Friday Night Live (which also kicks off its new season tonight) is ranked as one of the best ways to spend a night out in Toronto, and Science North’s Nightlife on the Rocks makes for a popular and educational good time in Sudbury, Ont.

“For science museums there is a particular necessity to embrace change, as science itself is in a constant state of transformation,” Patrick Greene, chairman of the European Museum Forum and president of the Museums Association wrote in Museum International.

When Nature Nocturne was first starting out, organizers wrestled with the question of just how much access evening visitors should have to the museum’s exhibitions.

“People want to party, they want to dance, but they also want to have that chill time and explore what the museum has to offer,” says John Swettenham, the museum’s director of marketing and corporate advancement.

Despite the success of Nature Nocturne, the museum isn’t resting on its laurels; it's testing a variety of other millennial-friendly ideas, Swettenham adds. For instance, last year’s natureTASTES invited visitors to try different alcohols and learn about the botany behind them. 

Steele thinks Nature Nocturne strikes a nice balance between studious learning and social jollity.

“It’s not just a party where people can get drinks and dance, although you can do that,” she says. "It’s about so much more.”