Mob Museum masters storytelling as it approaches fifth anniversary

As its fifth anniversary approaches next week, the Mob Museum has come into its own as an enthusiastic keeper of a slice of Las Vegas and American history.

The National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement, its official, less colorful name, has landed on numerous lists of top Las Vegas attractions, including a ranking as the 19th best museum in the country, according to TripAdvisor.

In 2014, the museum ramped up the regular programming schedule, taking advantage of the many living witnesses to this time in history, including former mob members and their families, former law enforcement officials and authors. Now, the museum hosts four or five events monthly.

And while engaging visitors with artifacts, videos and interactive elements is important, those features are not what ultimately makes an exhibit compelling, says Geoff Schumacher, who joined the museum as director of content in 2014.

In fact, they fall second or third in terms of what makes an exhibit really pop. First, though, is the story the exhibit tells.

“Almost everything we do in life derives from a story,” Schumacher notes. “The human race is sort of driven by narrative, it’s driven by story and people want to know what happened and what happens next.”

Over the years, that’s one of the major concepts the museum has worked on improving — filling in the holes in the narrative.

This is reflected in the exhibits themselves, which have branched out of the physical museum space into the digital realm. Online, the museum offers virtual exhibits such as prohibitionhistory.org and tours with “Moe-Bot,” a telepresence robot that enables people to tour the actual museum from home.

“You really have to kind of play up the entertainment aspects,” Jonathan Ullman, museum executive director, says.

The museum welcomed 200,467 visitors its first year. The next year, that number increased 11.1 percent, the year after that, by another 21.5 percent. In 2016, 357,363 people visited the museum.

“You sit here, like me, and you create these exhibits and you develop content and programming for the museum, you don’t know for sure whether anybody is going to come, right? I mean you hope, and we do things with a great deal of forethought,” Schumacher says. “But you don’t really know. Every day, I am absolutely gratified to see large numbers of people coming into our museum and enjoying themselves.”

Read more from Sarah Corsa at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at scorsa@reviewjournal.com and follow @sarahcorsa on Twitter.

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