At Hancock Shaker Village, Concerts, a Farm-to-Table Menu and Goat Yoga


“To survive, you want more visitors, and there needed to be more ways to experience it, and to show the beauty and value of the place,” Ms. Trainer Thompson, 61, said from her office overlooking the grounds.

Museums of all types are seeking ways to entice new audiences, especially millennials. Many living history museums have added immersive activities. Indiana’s Conner Prairie, for example, offers a nighttime event enabling participants to play the role of escaped slaves traveling through the state’s Underground Railroad.


Inside the laundry and machine shop building. Equipment was powered by a reservoir system that the Shakers created and channeled to the village. Credit Tony Luong for The New York Times

“People, increasingly in the 21st century, are much more into experience,” said Tom Kelleher, historian and curator of mechanical arts at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts and secretary-treasurer of the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums. “It’s not just our field. I think it’s the world in general, and we’re trying to keep up with it.”

At Hancock Shaker Village, attendance had stagnated for the past decade at around 49,000 a year. The museum lost money in 2007 but was breaking even by the time Ms. Trainer Thompson arrived, she said.

The new activities brought in $83,000 last year — a small fraction of the museum’s annual $1.8 million budget. Nine sessions of goat yoga, which allows animals to roam among posing participants, produced $9,000.


A handmade basket in a kitchen. Credit Tony Luong for The New York Times

More important than the revenue, Ms. Trainer Thompson said, yoga attendees’ Facebook posts generated about 37,000 views and prompted their friends, many in their 30s, to discover or return to the village. A few yoga participants bought memberships.

Food seemed an ideal opportunity to Ms. Trainer Thompson, who has written cookbooks and raised chickens. She brought in Brian Alberg, vice president of culinary development for the renowned Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Mass., and a champion of the regional food scene, to overhaul the museum cafe menu. He scrapped several of the salads and sandwiches for Shaker staples like brown bread and locally raised lamb.

“My idea was to bring the village into the kitchen and the kitchen into the village,” Mr. Alberg said.

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