Public Engagement Guide

This public engagement guide was created by Turnstile Studio in collaboration with OHNY.

Making the Most of OHNY Weekend

Open House New York promotes unparalleled access to the city—to the places, people, projects, systems, and ideas that define New York and its future. In this Public Engagement Guide, we explore the three key ingredients that make OHNY Weekend so special and memorable—both for the general public and for partners who open their doors during this annual festival:


While each ingredient is important on its own, together they create a powerful format for unleashing the magic and possibilities of the city, and they center the experience of participants. The sections below include inspiration from past OHNY Weekends, and detailed guiding questions to get you thinking about the ways you can feature these essential elements. 


A sense of discovery is a defining feature of OHNY Weekend, giving the public “behind-the-scenes” access, whether you’re in a private home or on a public street, to spark curiosity about a place, a neighborhood, and the breadth and diversity of New York City. As a Weekend partner, you help New Yorkers discover something new, whether you are offering access to a space exclusive to the Weekend, or sharing new insights or stories about a place visited countless times before. 

As you think about what the public will experience, use these guiding questions to foster discovery:

  • What spaces, objects, or collections not normally open to the public can you open up for OHNY Weekend? The best of OHNY Weekend offers behind-the-scenes access. Share a private space with the public that’s beautiful, interesting, or has a great story—even if it requires a hard hat to explore!
  • What programming or activations have you always wanted to do? Test it out during OHNY Weekend! The audience, volunteers, and experience of OHNY can help you pilot activities that might not be possible otherwise, and for many partners, these pilots have grown into year-round programming.
  • What connections do you have to OHNY programming and theme-based series? OHNY organizes some programs around year-long or multi-year series, including “Building Capital: The Value of Place,” “Radical Knowledge: Libraries as Community Catalysts,” and “Factory Friday” tours.

Get Inspired by past OHNY Weekends: 

  • Exploring the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant with experts from the NYC Department of Environmental Protection
  • Descending three stories below ground to the storage area for opera scenery at the Metropolitan Opera 
  • Being invited into the family home of architect and contractor Adam Kushner to see and learn about his uniquely transformed Minetta Lane Residence
  • Seeing the gantry crane, cantilevered balconies, and rail cars inside the massive railroad atrium at the Brooklyn Army Terminal 
  • Walking in the shoes of a “Googler” on a tour of private workspaces at Google
  • Learning about advanced manufacturing and high-tech design on a factory tour of Nanotronics
  • Creating open access inside a workshop to see the glassmaking process at Brooklyn Glass
Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant
Nanotronics, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Credit: John Ng


OHNY Weekend connects people to their city and to each other. These connections are often spontaneous and happen because partners like you bring together people who share common interests and are curious to learn more about a specific place in the city. OHNY Weekend is a reflection of our city’s dynamism and diversity, welcoming people from all walks of life. 

As you plan to welcome the public to your space, consider what connections you can foster between the place and people—whether it’s the people who helped design or build it, the people who currently manage or utilize it, the people who live near it.

TWA Flight Center, Credit: Nicolas Lemery Nantel
Coast Guard Cutter LILAC
Use these questions to unpack some possible connection points:
  • What people have been integral to the story of the place you are sharing and how can you involve them? This includes everyone from the architects, designers, and craftspeople involved in the building and its maintenance to the people using the space today as workers, clients, community members, or residents.  
  • How can you share expert knowledge with the general public? These “integral people” often don’t get to share with the general public, so consider how you can incorporate them into your programming with guided tours, lectures, or Q&A sessions.
  • How can you create opportunities for Weekend participants to meet one another? This might be on the check-in line or by being invited to introduce themselves during an activity. 
Get Inspired by past OHNY Weekends: 
  • At the New York and Brooklyn Public Library Book Ops Sorting Facility, the librarian shared their contagious enthusiasm for the mechanics of the book sorting system
  • Pilots, flight attendants, and travelers turned out to see the former TWA Flight Center and shared their memories while Weekend participants got a “first look” at the plans for the adaptive reuse of the modernist masterpiece from architects and JFK staff
  • Local residents spontaneously stopped by to share with the architect and OHNY Weekend participants at the Northeast Bronx YMCA how excited they were to watch the building’s construction through the fence and how blessed, grateful, and happy they are now to use the Y as members
  • Tours of the Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Center brought together project architects and librarians to highlight how this new building meets community needs
  • Weekend participants were so inspired by their OHNY experience on the Coast Guard Cutter Lilac that they signed up to become volunteers for the museum ship


During OHNY Weekend, New Yorkers experience a place—and their city—in a variety of ways that deepen and enrich their lives and their appreciation and understanding of New York. When participants are invited to see, create, smell, touch, listen, or otherwise actively engage, they are likely to develop emotional connections and lasting memories.

Use these guiding questions to consider ways to enrich participation in OHNY Weekend:
  • How might you stimulate the sensess? Integrate sound, smell, taste, and touch. 
  • How can you make the experience interactive? This includes games, workshops, and art-making activities that draw inspiration from your space or story.
  • What activations are possible? Collaborate with local musicians, artists, dance troupes, theater companies, or food trucks to create dynamic and unexpected experiences.
Get Inspired by past OHNY Weekends: 
  • Learning how to make paper flowers from a family business that has been making them for four generations at M&S Schmalberg in the Garment District 
  • Finding clues in the historic 1887 synagogue at the Museum at Eldridge Street with their family-friendly scavenger hunt 
  • Making Lego structures to contribute to the Center for Architecture’s “Build a Lego City” family drop-in activity
  • Smelling the incense burning at the Hindu Temple Society of North America
  • Petting the horses at Sunset Stables while learning how they support people with disabilities through their therapy programs run by GallopNYC
  • Tasting Kings County Distillery’s whiskey products in their barrel room while learning about their manufacturing process
  • Enjoying a glass of punch made with grapes from the arbor at Voelker Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary and Victorian Garden
  • Eating lunch at a local food truck at CUNY Bronx Community College between visiting the new North Hall and Library and taking a tour of the landmark Gould Memorial Library and Hall of Fame.
  • Watching a choreographed dance performance with original music played by a live band of accordionists at Green-Wood Cemetery, one of the earliest OHNY Weekend activations, which added a special element to this public site
  • Meeting people in period dress who were portraying famous residents of Maple Grove Cemetery in Queens
  • Participating in a movement workshop led by dancers costumed as exotic creatures from C. Eule Dance on the artificial lawn at the Elevated Acre in Lower Manhattan
  • Hearing chamber music played by a string quartet of International House residents and speaking to the students there about their cross-cultural, multi-disciplinary projects
a hallway lined by granite columns
Hindu Temple Society of North America, Credit: Ben Helmer
a person stitching flowers
M&S Schmalberg, Credit: Adam Brand
A covered walkway lined with busts
Bronx Community College

Preparing for OHNY Weekend

What makes OHNY Weekend such a unique and beloved festival is that it brings together a wide array of partners, from world-renowned museums to private homes, local small businesses to multinational corporations, municipal agencies to community-based organizations. Despite their vastly different resources, these partners all welcome the public to showcase a unique corner of New York City. And they have something else in common: good planning and preparation.

Below is a step-by-step guide that will help your organization plan for the Weekend, including defining your goals, assessing your resources, and preparing your team.

Define Success

There are many reasons why people and organizations participate in OHNY Weekend. It’s important to think about your goals and objectives as you’re planning, implementing, and assessing how the general public will experience your place during OHNY Weekend.

Brooklyn Army Terminal, Credit: David Hogarty

Which of the following goals apply to you and/or your organization?

  • Educate the public about a special or noteworthy place that they may not know 
  • Increase exposure to your work and a story it tells about New York City
  • Develop new audiences
  • Share a story about a person or group of people linked to your place
  • Increase visibility about how your place engages your community or neighborhood
  • Pilot programs to engage the public about your place
  • Connect with potential volunteers, donors, or other stakeholders

Defining your goals enables you to plan intentionally around them—it also helps you make informed decisions and curate experiences that are right for you, your organization, and your location. 

When planning and delivering OHNY Weekend, remember to center Weekend participants, and consider what you want them to see, feel, know, and understand when they visit.

Assess Your Space

Capacity considerations vary depending on the size and amenities of your space, and the ways you want the public to engage within it. This assessment is critical for planning and communicating expectations about what you have to offer. To ensure the comfort, health, safety, and enjoyment of participants, consider the following:

How will people move through your space(s)?

  • Visitor flow: How will people enter, exit, and flow through your space(s)? 
  • Welcome and check-in: Is there a dedicated space and tables available to position staff or volunteers to welcome and check in participants? If possible, we recommend two tables: one for OHNY volunteers to handle check-in and one welcome table for the partner.
  • Accessible pathways: Are your welcome tables and paths of travel accessible for people who use wheelchairs, walkers, or strollers? Make sure desks or tables are positioned at an accessible height (28-34 inches). Relocate any chairs, plants, and/or other moveable items that present barriers to your path of travel or route.
  • Capacity: What is the physical capacity of your space taking into account public health and safety considerations? Think about both your static capacity (how many people can be in any given room at one time) and your throughput capacity (how many people can pass through and experience what you have to offer per hour).
  • Signage: Where can you display signage to let people know where things are and how they can move through the space? This includes signs for welcome and check-in tables, as well as bathroom signage, and marking spaces that are off-limits or things that should not be touched or handled by visitors. Signs should be eye-catching and easy to read in large fonts with high color contrast.
  • Spatial organization: Where would you like participants to gather and linger, and where would you like them to keep moving? Seating, information tables, bathrooms, drinking fountains, and other amenities can signal that this is a place where people can relax and collect themselves; if there are spaces you would rather people not linger, perhaps for safety or capacity reasons, not having these amenities, combined with signage and perhaps gentle reminders from volunteers or staff, can keep things moving. It’s okay to be intentional either way, but plan on organizing your space accordingly.
  • Sound: If you are offering a presentation, video, performance, tour, or anything with sound in your space, consider how best to ensure people can hear and access it. How many people can reasonably listen at one time, and from what distance? Are there competing sounds that might make it difficult to hear? For example, the check-in tables, entrance, or other spaces where visitors might be gathering tend to be noisy, so it’s best to locate sound-dependent experiences elsewhere if possible.

Assess the amenities you have or could bring in

  • How many bathrooms do you have and are there any accessible and all-gender restrooms available? Is there a lactation station or a changing table in your space?
  • Are there drinking fountains or water bottle filling stations?
  • Where is there seating for visitors? If there is nowhere to sit down, is it possible to add chairs or benches? Expect that there will be participants who have difficulty standing for extended periods of time.
  • Where can people take a break? Be prepared to direct Weekend participants to spaces that are typically less crowded or noisy in case anyone is feeling overstimulated and needs a quiet spot to recharge. 
  • Is there an assistive listening system or devices available to increase hearing access at your location?
  • Are there captions and/or transcripts available for information conveyed by sound or audio features? 
  • Are there specific safety requirements of the space where you will be hosting?
Brooklyn Glass, Credit: David Mark Erickson
TWA, Nicolas Lemery Nantel
Kingsland Wildflowers Green Roof, Credit: David Mark Erickson

Prepare Your Team

To make OHNY Weekend participants feel truly welcome, it’s important for them to know where they are, what they can do while there, and how they can navigate your space and the surrounding neighborhood. Your staff* are critical for creating this welcoming experience, and they should be prepared to support and accommodate people with varying needs and abilities, as well as those who may be unfamiliar with your location.

*Note on terminology: throughout this guide, we refer to the volunteers provided by OHNY as “volunteers”; all personnel connected to the partner organization, which may include staff and volunteers, are referred to as “staff.”

Jefferson Market Library, Credit: Kathryn Yu
Essex Crossing, Credit: Michael Lee

Questions to prepare staff

  • What spaces can people access? If there are rules and expectations that need to be followed, how can you communicate them clearly? 
  • Where are the bathrooms, including accessible and all-gender bathrooms? Are there changing tables available? 
  • Where can people fill up water bottles or get a drink of water?
  • Are wheelchairs or assistive listening devices available, and, if so, where and how to check them out and return them?
  • Where are accessible ramps and elevators located, and how can you give directions for routes that avoid physical barriers or obstacles to paths of travel, including steps, uneven ground, and narrow paths to be mindful of? 
  • What are the public transportation options nearby? Be sure to include local subway stations, bus stops, NYC Ferry stops, and Citi Bike stations. 
  • What is the exact address for the entrance or meeting point that Weekend participants can use for GPS navigation, taxis, car services, or Access-a-Ride? This is especially important for large locations with multiple entrances—in some cases, it may be best to use an intersection or an address across the street from the entrance if the location’s street address is not precise enough (for example, the Brooklyn Navy Yard covers 300 acres, has nine entrances, 70 buildings, 500 tenants, but only one street address!).
  • Where can guests eat, shop, and relax within walking distance from your location? Food is important, but so are parks and playgrounds, especially for those with children.

Evaluate Your Resources

There are a variety of ways you can use the resources you have to achieve your goals. What can you do during OHNY Weekend within the unique constraints of your physical space, budget, and staffing resources?

As part of your preparations, consider the following questions:

  • How much time do you have to dedicate to planning?
  • What else is already planned for your space during OHNY Weekend?
  • What unique activity, expertise, or talent can you harness for the Weekend?
  • How many staff members are available on the Weekend?
  • Did you request OHNY volunteers to assist with check-in, registration, crowd control, and wayfinding?
  • Do you have a budget for OHNY Weekend?
Gropu of people standing around piles of black wire cages filled with oysters
Billion Oyster Project, Credit: Steven Dewitt

Clarify Roles and Responsibilities

The best OHNY experiences are when partners and OHNY volunteers have a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities. The key people involved include: 

E-Waste Warehouse, Credit: John Ng
Castle Williams, Credit: Josef Pinlac
Brooklyn Navy Yard, Credit: John Ng

Partners who open their doors during OHNY Weekend. Their team includes staff, presenters, tour guides, artists, educators, and performers or anyone the Partner brings on board during OHNY Weekend. Partner staff should be the ones driving the experience and welcoming and interacting with Weekend participants. Typical responsibilities include:

  • Opening the space
  • Obtaining the relevant approval or permissions to allow the public into the space (*if the place is not typically open to the public, or you/your organization do not own or manage the space)
  • Orienting volunteers
  • Offering a special experience, such as tours, performances, film screenings, and hands-on activities
  • Engaging with and educating Weekend participants
  • Troubleshooting onsite

OHNY Volunteers who are recruited and trained by OHNY to support partners and Weekend participants. Typical responsibilities include:

  • Handle check-in
  • Head counts
  • Greet guests
  • Assist with crowd control
  • Manage lines to limit the number of people onsite at one time
  • Pass out printed materials
  • Gather visitors in advance of a tour
  • Help block off areas that are not publicly accessible
  • Checking for COVID-19 vaccination status
  • Enforcing masks and social distancing

Volunteers cannot replace partner staff and are not there to act as professional security guards or be relied upon to give tours or provide information about your location. 

Volunteers are generally assigned in four-hour shifts: 10am–2pm, 12pm–4pm, and 2pm–6pm. Volunteers are instructed to arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled start time of their shift so that they can confer with partner staff and/or with OHNY volunteers from an earlier shift to determine where they should be stationed and what responsibilities they should cover. It is important to plan around this schedule so that partner staff can be available to check in with and provide a brief orientation to each volunteer shift.

District Coordinators are OHNY volunteers who supervise and coordinate volunteers within a certain area of the city. Typical responsibilities include:

  • Communicating with partners within their district before and during the Weekend
  • Visiting partner locations to observe how the experience is proceeding and whether additional volunteer assistance is required
  • Coordinating volunteer assignments within their district
  • Providing backup and support to volunteers and partners
  • Being on call to troubleshoot issues during the Weekend

Equip Your Team

Prepare your materials, supplies, and equipment that you’ll need on the day of in advance. Below are examples of materials and signage to welcome, inform, and engage the public during OHNY Weekend.

Signage and Wayfinding

  • OHNY posters will be sent to you to help direct Weekend participants, but this should not be the only signage you use.
  • Other signage that might be helpful to prepare includes signs that help people navigate your space, mark activity spots and or amenities, and signs that let people know the rules and expectations, such as “please touch” or “please don’t touch.”
  • Have tape, string, or other materials for affixing or displaying signage, and always have a dark-colored marker and paper on hand for making signs on the fly.
  • Visible attire that helps to identify staff such as a badge, certain colored hat or garment, or something else easily identifiable for the public.

Welcome Table and Check-In Materials

  • Dedicated table for OHNY volunteers to check in and greet Weekend participants with chairs for them to sit on. Some people also choose to have a second table where partners are stationed to answer questions and provide guidance.  
  • Printed sign with QR code for visitors to check in themselves 
  • Phone or ipad with Airtable form for check-in
  • Printed copy of registration and waiting list in case there are wifi outages or technical issues
  • Information sheet for staff and volunteers preparing them to answer visitor questions about the space, amenities, and the surrounding neighborhood (this handout could also be distributed to Weekend participants) 
  • Contact sheet with phone numbers for staff, volunteers, and the district coordinator
  • Pens and paper 
  • Schedule detailing what other tours or other activations are being offered nearby
  • PPE like masks and hand sanitizer 
  • Keep a log to track attendance, notes about what is working, any issues that come up, and information that the next shift of volunteers should be aware of 
  • Handouts you want to distribute (e.g. information about the place or an upcoming event)
Sure Iron Works, Credit: David Mark Erickson
TWA, Yi Ching Li

Welcoming and Engaging the Public

With hundreds of locations and activations happening simultaneously across the city, there is no ideal Weekend experience—it is, in fact, the diversity of experiences that makes the Weekend so rich and unique. In this section, we set out some guidelines that will help you to welcome Weekend participants effectively, and create and deliver engaging experiences. Because so many partners offer excellent guided tours, we have also included specific guidance for them. Throughout this guide, we have also included spotlights of past Weekend experiences that we hope provide some lessons and inspiration.

Set Expectations

While some Weekend participants spend weeks planning out their Weekend, carefully plotting out routes and schedules, and reading through all of the details and descriptions of every entry in the Weekend lineup, most do not, and some may even come to your place by chance with no knowledge of OHNY at all. That is why it is so important to take advantage of the first point of person-to-person contact to inform Weekend participants about what they can expect to see, do, and learn when they arrive.

Brooklyn Grange, Credit: Yi-Ching Lin
  • All staff and volunteers should be prepared to offer a warm welcome, as first impressions set the tone for the experience. 
  • Provide a clear, respectful, and well-reasoned presentation of the guidelines, rules, and norms for your space so that everyone has clear expectations upon arrival. 
  • Give Weekend participants a sneak peek into what they will experience. Reference the highlights they’re about to experience to build anticipation for what they will see, do, and learn.
  • Avoid mentioning what they are missing. Unforeseen circumstances may force you to adapt your activities or plans. There’s no need to inform Weekend participants about what they aren’t getting to see unless you have had to make drastic changes to what they are expecting.
  • Provide detailed directions using specific references and physical cues. Be prepared to provide directions by using words like right, left, number of steps, up and down, and use these references from their perspective, not yours. Be sure to identify physical markers, such as ramps, signs, stairs, doors, exhibit cases, and people. 
  • Offer assistance to visitors, but do not be offended if guests do not take you up on your offer to provide them with information, guidance, or other accommodations. Some people want to explore at their own pace, and they come to each experience with their own goals, interests, and needs.
  • On a related note, remember that not everyone onsite will be participating in OHNY Weekend. Spaces may have visitors, staff, workers, worshipers, delivery people, and more coming for reasons unrelated to OHNY, so be respectful, be aware of other activities and events onsite (e.g. religious services, an active workplace), and be prepared to direct them to the proper entrance or person that can help them get to where they need to go, if they need help.

Communicate Effectively

Whether you’re leading a tour, introducing a performance, or answering visitor questions, these techniques will help you to communicate effectively in a manner that is accessible for all people. Effective communication is especially important for people who are hard of hearing or deaf, whose first language is not English, and those who may get distracted by crowds or ambient noises.

150 Rivington, Vincent Chih Chieh Chin
Sure Iron Works, Credit: David Mark Erickson
  • Face people directly, make regular eye contact when speaking to them, and keep distracting movements to a minimum. Give Weekend participants your full attention and avoid “busy work” or multi-tasking.  It is important that people have a clear view of your mouth to read your lips and facial expressions. 
  • Speak clearly and do not turn your body away from those you are speaking to, as your voice will travel away from the listeners and your words will not be heard. Especially if you are pointing or gesturing in one direction, try to keep your face towards your audience. 
  • Speak in a moderate tone of voice. Shouting distorts the sound of your voice, making word recognition harder for people who rely on lip reading. Raising your voice can also come across as alienating or aggressive to the listener, even if this is not the intention. Shouting also results in the speaker straining and/or losing their voice. Using a moderate tone of voice, with increased breath support, creates a vocal quality that is pleasant to listen to, even in a busy space. 
  • Use visual aids and gestures to complement your words when communicating. If you are having difficulty communicating verbally, offer to use a pen and piece of paper or the notepad on your smartphone to communicate with Weekend participants. These techniques can be especially helpful if you or anyone in the audience is wearing a mask.
  • Offer to move in closer to the person or move to a quieter space if it appears you are encountering communication barriers. Be careful not to enter their personal space, especially due to present health and safety concerns. 
  • When speaking with staff or volunteers about the needs or requests of Weekend participants, be sure to refer to them as “guest,” “visitor,” or “participant.” Never point at the guest when speaking to other people about them.

Guided Tour Guidance

When crafting and delivering an engaging and informative tour, keep in mind the goals you have set for OHNY Weekend. Effective tours are often the most memorable experiences for Weekend participants, and they offer you an opportunity to capture the public’s attention and distill the very best that you have to offer. Also keep in mind, however, that OHNY Weekend tours are usually short (under one hour, or even shorter), so good planning and technique can go a long way towards maximizing your impact and creating lasting memories.

Building the tour

  • It all starts with the introduction. A good introduction sets the stage both thematically and logistically. Clearly communicate expectations, including the route, timing, accommodations, and rules of the tour, and introduce the overarching themes. It is hard to enjoy and engage if people don’t know where they’re going, for how long, and what they can expect to see and learn.
  • Make it multisensory. Humans engage and learn through different senses and modes of communication. Whenever possible, take advantage of multiple modes of communication, both in your presentation and in your surroundings. This includes using body language and visual aids, and also referencing visual elements, tactile sensations, smells, and sounds in your space.
  • Build the story through transitions, summaries, and callbacks. Provide clear and engaging transitions between stops, using foreshadowing and callbacks, and linking together themes, so that a fluid story develops throughout the tour.
  • Do a walkthrough and test your equipment. Do a thorough walk through of your tour route in advance so that you can anticipate last-minute adaptations. If your tour relies on any technology, be sure to test it. If you are using a sound system, practice using the microphone, and make sure to hold it close enough to your mouth so that it picks up your voice. 
  • Design and deliver tours for universal access. Since disabilities are both apparent and non-apparent and can affect people of all ages and backgrounds, it is important to project a welcoming message. Design your tour to be as universally accessible as possible, be prepared to adapt tours to meet various needs, communicate what accessibility accommodations are available, and equip your staff to deliver them.

Moving with your group

  • Plan for good group management. Make sure that you can navigate a group through your space, and identify the best places to gather for stops where the group can see and hear, and that will not be disruptive other visitors who may be nearby. 
  • Communicate and corral. In your introduction, communicate how long the group will be standing, how much walking will be involved, whether there will be opportunities to sit down during the tour. At each stop, tell people where they should stand so they can see and hear you and will not be an obstacle to others. If you need to, “corral” your group with directions and gestures (but don’t touch them!) before you begin speaking. Staff and volunteers can also help with this.
  • Don’t walk and talk. Visitors cannot hear what you are saying if you are walking at the front of the group and speaking. If you are conversing with the group as you walk, you may want to mention some of their questions or comments at the next stop so others don’t feel like they missed an important part of the tour. And never try to walk backwards and address the group, as this is unsafe, ineffective communication, and distracting and worrying to those watching you (despite what you may have seen on college campus tours).
  • Ask people to signal you when they can’t hear you. Invite your audience to use a gesture, such as holding their hand behind their ear, to signal if they can’t hear you, so that you can elevate your voice or repeat any information that was not heard. 

Engaging Visitors

  • Introduce yourself and your connection to this place. Weekend participants want to know why they are exploring this place with you, and what unique insight you bring.
  • Invite tour participants to introduce themselves and why they’ve joined the tour to help build rapport and assess their interests and abilities. With large groups and concise tours on OHNY Weekend, invite participants to raise their hands in response to questions to gauge where people are from and any connections they might have to your place.
  • Create space on the tour for participants to ask questions and share observations. And always repeat back or summarize the question or comment from participants so that the entire group can hear.
  • Adapt to various needs and interests. This can be difficult when you are delivering many short tours back-to-back throughout the Weekend, but consider ways that you can adapt the tour content, route, or accommodations in response to interests, questions, and needs that arise as you deliver your tour.
  • Be precise, vivid, and thorough when you describe people, places, and things. Use descriptive and specific language that includes colors, shape, size, and other features when pointing out a detail, and avoid vague references such as “that thing” or “over there.” Reference common everyday objects to help describe shape, size, and other details to help people get a sense of connection and scale.
  • Use plain conversational language and avoid acronyms, jargon, and technical terms. If you do use this type of language, be sure to offer a definition or description.
  • When one method of communicating is not effective, try another approach. Be mindful that you will be hosting people who do not speak English as their first language, have hearing loss or are deaf, are shy or reserved in nature, or have other communication barriers.
  • Effectively engage children by encouraging them to investigate and explore to find information themselves and develop new skills and knowledge on tours. Provide positive recognition when they ask questions or participate. Ask young people questions. Find out what they are interested in and adapt program content accordingly.
LGA Airport, Terminal B, Credit: Albert Tan
Moynihan Train Hall, Credit: Ben Helmer
Billion Oyster Project, Credit: Ben Helmer
SITU, Credit: Elizabeth Holmes
Selldorf Architects, Credit: Fatih Ergun

Safety First

Many spaces featured on OHNY Weekend are not open to the public because there are safety concerns about allowing unfettered access, and safety should always be the top priority. But through proper preparation of both the space and Weekend participants, there may be ways in which you can provide a safe and unique experience for the public in a “hard hat” environment. The guidance below is especially relevant to factories, construction sites, or other industrial or infrastructure sites with particular safety considerations:

East Side Access, Ted Alcorn
  • What special clothing or gear will participants need to wear or bring? Include clear instructions in the OHNY Weekend event description for what kind of clothing visitors will need to wear; this may include requirements for closed-toed shoes or long pants.
  • What safety gear will be provided and must be worn to participate? Also include this in the description if, for example, hard hats, safety glasses, or masks are required.
  • Like with any space, set clear expectations for behavior and following instructions, make visitors aware of any hazards or obstructions, and make sure you are directing people through the safest possible path, both through verbal instructions and onsite signage.
  • “Hard hat” tours are some of the most challenging environments for sound. Make sure you prepare your tour route and stops to minimize background noise, if possible. In many cases, the best solution is to use assistive listening devices. However, be aware that anyone wearing headphones may be less aware of potential hazards around them.
  • If possible, inform the workers on the factory floor or the construction site that the tour(s) will be coming through. They may be able to assist the guide by mitigating sound during the tour, clearing potential hazards, or even engaging with the group by answering questions or demonstrating their work.

Destination Planning

While most OHNY Weekend partners are literally on an island, none of them are, figuratively speaking, an island—you all exist within the rich context of your own neighborhoods, and within the growing constellation of OHNY partners across the city. Throughout this guide, we have encouraged you to think holistically about your place and all of the possible experiences and activations you have to offer. Similarly, think about what surrounds you and how you can be a catalyst for activity in your neighborhood, driving business to local eateries and shops, for example, and creating a destination that offers an interesting and fulfilling experience of your neighborhood—and keep in mind that typically Weekend participants have traveled from far away to visit you.

  • Offer materials, such as brochures and maps, that orient people to what’s nearby in the surrounding community.
  • Consider creating a simple guide to your location highlighting all the different activities you and your neighbors are offering. This can also be a great resource for OHNY volunteers as they greet Weekend participants. 
  • This guide can be on a webpage, or you can create printed materials, but they don’t have to be complicated—a simple 8.5”x11” sheet of paper can suffice.
  • Write up a few basic facts and highlights about your organization and location, and include frequently asked questions or information beyond Google. 
  • Also include a schedule of events, a map, nearby OHNY partners, and other local highlights, especially eating establishments, cultural sites, parks, and public transit.
  • Include information about how the public can engage with you beyond OHNY Weekend.
  • Don’t overthink it! You don’t have to be a graphic designer or spend a lot of money on high-quality printing. You can fit a lot of information in black-and-white on a piece of copier paper, and people will definitely take it and read it.
New York State Pavilion, Credit: Josef Pinlac

Building for the Future

This year represents 20 years of partnering and learning for Open House New York. Each OHNY Weekend is strengthened by the insights captured from the years prior, and we are deeply grateful that you are part of this learning journey. We can continue to grow by documenting and sharing our experiences, both internally at your respective organizations, and across the OHNY community.

Document effective practices and issues 

OHNY Weekend can be hectic, as it is usually accompanied by a flurry of last-minute emails, text messages, phone calls, Zoom meetings, and in-person conversations. Whether you are a long-time partner or this is your first OHNY Weekend, it is helpful to plan and document your experience each year so you can learn, adapt, and pass those lessons on to whomever will be your point person for the Weekend in the future. 

AECOM Landscape + Urban Design Studio, Credit: Josef Pinlac
  • Identify a point person who should receive and document all communications and feedback from your staff about the Weekend.
  • Schedule a time to debrief with your staff shortly after the Weekend to discuss and share their experiences and lessons learned.
  • Create a shared folder, email address, or physical folder where staff share thoughts and feedback about the Weekend, as well as photos, materials, and stories to document this amazing experience.

Take the OHNY Partner Survey

Open House New York is eager to hear about your experiences as a partner so that we can share your triumphs, lessons, and challenges with OHNY staff, and other Weekend partners, to grow and develop our partner resources, and support you any way that we can. A Partner Survey will be released soon after OHNY Weekend wraps up, and we will notify you by email when it is available. Thank you again for partnering with us on OHNY Weekend—this citywide festival of adventure and discovery would not be possible without you!

Best of OHNY Weekend

Below are a collection of greatest hits from past OHNY Weekends. By no means is it a complete summary of all the great experiences and activations produced during this annual festival, but it does address some of the major topics and tips covered above. We hope you find useful lessons and inspiration in this range of experiences and activations offered by OHNY partners through the years.

Brooklyn Navy Yard: Building a Destination

The experience offered by the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2019 ticked many of the boxes for a great OHNY destination: it’s a normally closed site that opened its doors for the Weekend, it showcased the inner-workings of the city’s industry and infrastructure, and it offered a wide range of activations. The Yard coordinated with its tenant businesses and artists to open studios and factories, featuring more than 50 for open access exploration, reservation-only tours, and Factory Friday experiences. Visitors could choose to explore at their own pace, or attend more structured timed tours and workshops. The Yard also created a map and guide to help visitors navigate the labyrinthine complex, with staff and volunteers strategically positioned to help with wayfinding, and worked with on-site food purveyors, as well as bringing in food trucks and other pop-up vendors, to create a space for visitors to explore and recharge. 

Metropolitan Opera: Behind the Scenes

While thousands of New Yorkers visit the Met Opera every year, this long-time OHNY partner has been very creative in considering how they can host the public in their behind-the-scenes areas during the Weekend. In 2016, the Met Opera offered guided tours of the costume collection, the set building shop, and the rehearsal rooms to showcase the people and process behind creating a world-class opera production. And of course, no visit would be complete without bringing visitors onto the stage, one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of the Weekend. The Met Opera is also well known in OHNY circles for their thoughtful and effective utilization of volunteers, making sure that they all get the chance to experience the same wonders as the visitors.

Brooklyn Glass: Showing Process

While most factory and production facilities offer reservation-only tours due to space and safety constraints, during several past Weekends the artist-run studio Brooklyn Glass has made use of their large facility and classroom space to offer an open access experience that walks visitors through the process of glass blowing and neon tube making. By setting up demonstration stations, visitors can walk through at their own pace, ask questions of the artisans, and see the full production process. Brooklyn Glass also opened their storefront to sell pieces crafted by the artisans the visitors had just met and engaged with. 

How Do You Get to Westbeth? Practice, Practice, Practice

Westbeth Artists Housing is an architectural and artistic landmark that has offered a variety of Weekend experiences to engage visitors. In 2019, visitors were able to explore the dramatic atrium of Richard Meier’s adaptive design and visit the dozens of artists that opened their studios for open access. Westbeth’s staff also offered guided tours, which they had rehearsed and honed since they first participated in the Weekend in 2016. The tours shared a thoughtful narrative of Westbeth’s history and architecture, were well-paced and made good use of space, and took visitors to areas of the building that even Westbeth residents can’t normally visit. Though this was a special OHNY Weekend experience, it gave the impression that Westbeth hosts these tours 365 days a year.

LILAC Preservation Project: Interest to Engagement

A rare 19-year partner of OHNY, the US Coast Guard Cutter Lilac is the last surviving Coast Guard steam-powered lighthouse tender. This historic ship is run by dedicated volunteers, who share their interest in studying and maintaining an 89-year-old vessel, and that authentic enthusiasm and deep dedication is felt by visitors each year. Founder Mary Habstritt has remarked on the value of the engaging and surprising conversations she has had with visitors over the years, and some guests have even gone from OHNY participants to Lilac volunteers.

Nanotronics: Smart Factory Friday

Located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Nanotronics makes advanced optical inspection equipment used in the manufacturing of electronics—really high-tech stuff! Under the roof of their 1865 former machine shop is both R&D and their manufacturing line, where visitors on the first publicly offered tours of Nanotronics’ space in 2021 saw robotic CNC cutting machines at work and met the engineers, designers, and machinists that bring their products to life. The building itself is a great example of adaptive reuse, and the tours also brought in architects from ROGERSPARTNERS to highlight the office and factory modules they designed and built inside the “Smart Factory.”

Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant: Expert Insight

Revealing the city’s infrastructure is one of the founding goals of OHNY Weekend, but it’s not just about providing physical access, but expert insights from the people that make the city work. NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has hosted tours of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, and its striking “digester eggs,” led by DEP staffers, during many OHNY Weekends since 2009. Since they began participating in OHNY Weekend, DEP has gained skill and expertise in hosting the public, and has utilized that experience to craft special tours offered at other times of the year, including their wildly-popular Valentine’s Day tours.

TWA Flight Center: Project in Progress

Over the course of a decade, OHNY Weekend visitors were able to witness this “project in process” as this modernist masterpiece was transformed from an abandoned airline terminal into a new hotel. Starting in 2012, the Flight Center hosted “first-look” walk-throughs with architects and Port Authority managers about the future plans for the building, which had ceased receiving passengers in 2001. In 2015, before construction began to repurpose the building into a hotel, these tours were some of the most popular events of the weekend, with thousands of people trekking out to JFK to not only view the building, but share memories, bring souvenirs from their TWA travels, and some even donning their TWA uniforms. In 2021, OHNY again hosted tours of the new hotel with Lubrano Ciavarra Architects.

Minetta Lane Residence: Building a Home

Architect and contractor Adam Kushner has invited the public into his home on OHNY Weekend for nearly a decade, allowing visitors to see the progress of transforming this West Village townhouse into his “ideal urban home” for him and his family. Seeing projects go from design to construction to completion is a central feature of OHNY programming, but rarely have visitors been able to see this process so intimately, and in a private home rather than a large commercial or civic project. In 2020, with in-person visitation precluded by COVID, Kushner created a video tour that has served archival and promotional purposes and conducted a live Q&A over Zoom as a way to augment the virtual experience with direct visitor engagement.  

Tour group at a rooftop farm with rows of produce
Brooklyn Navy Yard: Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm – Photo: David Hogarty
Metropolitan Opera House
Brooklyn Glass
Westbeth Artist Housing, Credit: Bella Muccari
USCH LILAC, Credit: David Hogarty
Nanotronics, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Credit: John Ng
Visitors in hardhats walk through a plant towards large digester eggs
Newtown Creek Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility, Credit: Julia Xiao
TWA Flight Center, Nicolas Lemery Nantel
Minetta Lane Residence, Credit: Adam Kushner