A night at the Greensboro History Museum Speakeasy
By: Katei Cranford
A secret-password and backdoor entrance. Booze flowing in places it usually doesn’t. Music. Dancing. Gatsby.
The Greensboro History Museum promises playfully shady business at their “Speakeasy Night,” on April 26.
Organizer Erin Blackledge hopes to snuff out the elitist impression often associated with museums. Her plan this round caters to flappers looking to flip with fellas, hooch hounds in search of a gin mill, or really any bright young thing who longs to run around an old, ritzy building in a feather boa.
“I think history museums get a bad rap for being boring,” she said, “so I’d love to shake that up.”
Blackledge is a museum studies masters student at UNCG who began her relationship with GHM as a Gayle Hicks Fripp Education intern in 2018. Though her role at the museum stemmed from an internship creating children’s summer programming, she turned to something more adult for her capstone.
“It’s been fun to say that I was essentially throwing a party to fulfill my graduation requirements,” she said, “but in reality, it’s been so much more than that.”
Museums, in general, are adding more interactive exhibits and after-hour flair, reinventing themselves as a place for more than field trips and family time by integrating regular “adult’s only” after-hour style events.
With the speakeasy, Blackledge hopes to help GHM hop on that ball.
Inspiration struck during Blackledge’s formal internship, where she noticed an imbalance in visitor demographics. “There was a great deal of programming dedicated to school groups,” she explained, “but I didn’t see the museum fulfilling the needs of younger adults without children.”
And in that, she saw an opportunity to party. “As for the speakeasy theme, we tossed around ideas regarding interactivity for adults — everything from murder mystery parties to escape rooms. The overarching themes of fashion, prohibition, and politics was also very much a conscious decision to utilize universal interests.”
Those universal interests perked the purse-strings of downtown businesses, Blackledge acknowledged the support they’ve received from folks at Natty Greene’s, Preyer Brewing, Oscar Oglethorpe, and others who’ve provided prizes for a raffle and costume contest.
Food and drink will flow from GIA: Drink Eat Listen. Booze options include an array of specialty cocktails spirited by the GIA distillery. Hors d’oeuvres will be on hand. Blackledge had a menu set but is tweaking things after feedback regarding vegan options. “This project is steadily encompassing my whole life,” she jested, alluding to her crowd-pleasing dedication.
As for entertainment, live jazz will ring from UNCG’s Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program, with dancing tips and partners from the Piedmont Swing Dance Society.
And then, of course, there’s the museum itself. The speakeasy-proper goes down on the ground floor. But the rest of the galleries will be open for exploring.
Party-goers can “tiptoe through the tulips” upstairs through the paper poppy forest on their way to catch a silent flick at the Crystal Theatre, tickle the keys of vintage typewriters in “Connection Point,” or just engage the museum with a buzz typically frowned-upon during normal operating hours.
The purpose of the party above all else is to give folks the skinny on the museum. “We went into this project calling it a ‘friend-raiser,’” Blackledge explained, suggesting the motivation to be more about people than money.
“It’s all about appealing to a variety of audiences,” she added, “and creating a positive atmosphere of inclusivity while providing forms of ‘edutainment.’“
With that spirit came the conscious decision of a lower price-point.
“Some events seem like an investment,” Blackledge admitted about museums in general. “We wanted a low-stakes way to reach a new audience.”
It’s a surprisingly novel concept for a crowd often underserved. “With all the things to do on a Friday night, you don’t want to drop $50 a person to go to a museum you’ve potentially never visited,” she admonished.
For now, the party is one night only. But Blackledge is hopeful more are on the horizon. “Fingers crossed that this event is successful enough to start a ‘Night at the Museum’ series — that’s my goal.”
Speakeasy tickets are $20 and include two-drinks with appetizers. “Gatsby” outfits or cocktail attire is encouraged to keep up the theme (or for anyone looking to win the costume contest).
Be part of Greensboro’s worst kept secret with “Speakeasy Night,” April 26, at the Greensboro History Museum.
Katei Cranford is a Triad music nerd who loves both jazz-age antics and the Greensboro History Museum. She hosts the Tuesday Tour Report, a radio show that runs like a mixtape of touring bands, 5:30-7 p.m. on WUAG 1031.fm.