Peppy, crossover music. Young people embracing the old. Appealing to a more ethnically diverse clientele.
Those are components of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s new 2019-2022 strategic plan.
All while accepting the challenge of telling the stories of the Old West and people like William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody who carved them out.
The current generation of Americans – and foreign travelers – may still hold dear images of bison on the Plains, cattle drives, shoot-’em-ups and famous events in 19th century United States history.
But Center CEO Peter Seibert says connecting to people who never watched “Gunsmoke” or “Bonanza” on television and who want hands-on-experiences in their museums will be “a road map plan” to the future.
“Customers change,” said Seibert, who has been in his leadership position for just past a year.
In a wide-ranging interview the day before Thanksgiving, Seibert spent two hours laying out a vision for a morphing Buffalo Bill Center.
Museum visitation from the 1960s until about 2012 was dominated by the baby boomer generation, he said, but now, as those individuals age out, they are being replaced by Generation X and millennials.
The previous staples of museum attendance were content with “more passive interaction, “Seibert said.
He said for a few years, museum executives and planners thought they had solved the riddle of keeping up with changing demographics by adding apps and computer screens to better connect.
“It didn’t work,” Seibert said. “They can do that at home.”
If it was up to the modern-day visitor, he said, each would like to stick hands into a glass case and try out every handgun and rifle among the thousands in the recently renovated Cody Firearms Museum.
That’s not practical or possible. However, Seibert said the Firearms Museum offers guidelines so the other four museums under the umbrella of the center can better connect.
That’s because a Firearms visitor can shoot a machine gun; can try out laser shooting and the like.
The strategic plan categorizes topics of emphasis under “knowledge, audience, community and sustainability.”
Seibert said a recent idea tried at large-city museums, particularly in New York, and found to be successful, are events called museum hack tours or renegade tours.
Such programs, which the Buffalo Bill Center has already experimented with, are for those over 21, “a little bit on the edge,” Seibert said. The tour guide might tell more risque stories about an Old West figure and beers might be shared.
He called it “Night at the Museum” for adults. Behind-the-scenes stuff. This is not family hour where the children slow up the group or limit subject matter talking points, but is fast-paced.
“Everybody wants to do something no one else has done or seen,” Seibert said.
Something else coming soon is an actual manned saddle shop in the center lobby. Real work will be done in front of an audience, questions answered, classes given.
There have been artists-in-residence at the Whitney, but ramping up of such programs, Seibert said, will not merely allow passersby watching a painter create.
Under the category of knowledge, Seibert noted the Wyoming state Legislature approved a law calling for more Native-American programs to be taught in schools.
“We’re doubling down,” Seibert said of the educational opportunities at the Plains Indian Museum.
He wants the museum to be a resource and aid to teachers.
“This is one-stop shopping for you,” he said.
Community can be defined in several ways, Seibert said. To him it means not only linking to Cody and Park County, but to the entire state of Wyoming. Not solely by opening the doors to woo patrons, but reaching out in various ways.
“I want everyone in the world to come in to tour our four walls,” he said.
But he also does not want this museum seen as “an ivory tower. It’s how can we push the museum outwards.”
That might mean experts visiting other places in Cody giving lectures. It might mean lending museum collections to other institutions in the state, such as an exhibit at Northwest College in Powell, or bringing the Draper Natural History Museum raptors to Meeteetse.
“Go to their space instead of always coming to us,” Seibert said. “I don’t want us to be seen as an island.”
While Seibert may not lead edgier museum tours himself, he did recently make an edgier-than-expected presentation to the Center’s board of trustees.
As an example of how different peoples might view cowboys, Seibert showed the five-minute music video for the song “Old Town Road.”
Featured performers are rapper Lil Nas X, Chris Rock and Billy Ray Cyrus. The wildly popular song – which Seibert told the nearly 50 trustees had been on the charts longer than the Beatles – not only included time travel from 1889, but African-American stars, and a modern African-American neighborhood enjoying the sudden arrival of cowboy and horse.
“It’s both John Wayne and ‘Blazing Saddles,’” Seibert said.
The point was to demonstrate there is more than one way to view the Old West and how those with different perspectives do so.
The task for the Buffalo Bill Center in the coming years is to appeal to fans of John Wayne, that cuckoo comedy movie, and the hot song and video.
“If you don’t, you’re on the road to oblivion,” Seibert said.