by columnist Madeline Karp

Last week, I did something totally new and different: I participated in the Philadelphia Business & Technology Center’s first annual charity jigsaw puzzle contest.

I’ve never been much of a contest person, and frankly, fundraisers make me a little uncomfortable because I always feel a little out of place. But I am into puzzles, so when my friend Claudia asked me if I wanted to participate, I shrugged and thought, “Why not?”

Team Space Duck (which we named after the contest was over, mind you) worked tirelessly over two and a half hours to assemble a 750-piece puzzle to win both a cash prize and a $500 donation to the charity of our choice. As Claudia and I both work for the Please Touch Museum, we agreed to send along our donation to the Please Touch Museum’s Children’s Fund, which helps fund trips for schools and groups unable to afford museum admission.

When all was said and done, the members of Team Space Duck agreed that the puzzle contest was a great way to not only raise awareness for charities and museums, but also a great way to involve young people in networking opportunities and host social events.

Team Space Duck: Tom Lombardi, Claudia Setubal, Madeline Karp, Dennis Lee


So of course, I’ve started thinking of other ways we museum folk could put the FUN into fundraiser.

Puzzle Contests, with a Twist
What if museums took the idea of a puzzle contest, but twisted it to fit their institution? Maybe there are puzzles that feature a famous painting hanging on your walls. Maybe the image on the puzzle is of the museum itself. Maybe we get really crazy and do a 3-D puzzle, or use Legos instead of jigsaw puzzle pieces. The possibilities are endless.

In our case, there was a $25 registration fee per person, and given that we were supplied with both the puzzle and unlimited pizza and beer, we felt this was totally reasonable.

Scavenger Hunts
A friend of mine in high school participated in a scavenger hunt where she had to interpret clues like Find the Breakfast of Champions (beer and a cigarette), Find 50 cents on the floor (picture of two people listening to 50-Cent on their iPods whilst lying on the floor), and Stage and film a Kung Fu battle in the lobby of a fancy hotel (bonus points if you involved a stranger).

The Please Touch Museum already has a Hide and Seek of the Week challenge encouraging visitors to find a certain toy on display. It wouldn’t be too hard to create an event around a larger, more interpretive scavenger hunt. Teams pay a registration fee to play, and the team who finishes the hunt first wins a prize.

Dance Marathons
Does your museum rent itself out for weddings, B’nai Mitzvot or Scout Troop overnights? Then why not host a 24-hour Dance Marathon?  Plenty of my college friends have participated in Dance Marathons just for fun. What if museums did it to raise funds? Teams could easily pay a registration fee, and we could open up a hall or gallery to dancers to use for 24 hours, provided they understand the museum’s rules about overnight rentals.

Tactical Capture the Flag
If re-enactors get to play in historical fields, why can’t I? Again, this is a team registration kind of deal, but imagine if history museums or national parks opened their space up for historically themed games of capture the flag. To make this one a little more educational, the game itself could reasonably be preceded by a lecture, or guided tour of the museum with a focus on military tactics.

Modern Art Paint Parties
Paint Parties are huge here in Atlantic City – everyone comes dressed in pure white and they leave covered in paint. It really makes the partiers look like human works of modern art. It’s a little messy, for sure, but what if an art museum rented a space and invited young people to come and party like a Pollock? Artists in residence could be in charge of the people painting, and museum staffers could help stage photo-ops with famous reproductions of modern art. Of course, art photos would be available for purchase, in addition to charging an admission fee.

Fork You! A Historical Dinner
For those of you who know me from graduate school, you may remember this suggestion: Host a dinner in which each course takes you through the historical evolution of the fork. Variation: maybe instead of a utensil, the museum could serve historical variations of one kind of food or meal. You’d have to work hard to keep me away from the History of the Chocolate Chip Cookie tasting lecture. For real.

What do you think? Would having an offbeat event make you want to attend a fundraiser? If you had unlimited resources, what kinds of unusual fundraisers would you put on in your museum?