Educating Adults about the Mysterious World of Espionage through Creative Events

Meet Amanda Ohlke, the Director of Adult Education at Spy Museum – a museum that educates the public about intelligence in an interesting way.

A passionate museum professional, Ms. Ohlke has been developing creative programs and exhibits for museums and the museum field since the 1990s. She seeks to engage and excite audiences by shedding light on lesser-known individuals and topics. From working with contemporary artist Fred Wilson to recontextualizing history collections, to helping former spies tell their stories safely and provocatively, she has done it all. Talking about her milestones, she says, “When the pandemic began, my team and I began offering free public programs on topics ranging from Mata Hari to Valentine’s Happy Hour on lie detection. Ultimately, our goal was to bring joy and escape during the pandemic.

Amanda had a happy and holistic childhood; she grew up on a farm surrounded by a beautiful natural landscape, cows, horses, and a truly imaginative mother!

Ms. Ohlke has always loved working at and with museums. She says, “I’ve worked in the museum and collection field since the beginning as an undergrad in the early 1980s. People want to learn about the past in a friendly, funny way – just like hearing stories about people you know, and I enjoy giving that information to them.” She has been a popular speaker in the media and believes that she has gotten to put her approach to work in developing the new exhibits at the re-opened Spy Museum. Working in the museum has really worked out for her!

The organization that Amanda works for, The International Spy Museum, educates people about a little-known and vitally important subject – espionage, intelligence, and national security. It explores the successes, failures, challenges, and controversies around that topic, and educates people. She says, “Educated members of the public can make better choices about what they believe and how the world works.” Since the museum is a non-profit organization, it provides objective information and is an apolitical forum for the explanation of these concepts and a healthy discussion around them. About her department, Amanda believes that The Spy Museum is the perfect place for adults to dive into the shadowy world of espionage. It presents a wide array of free educational programs for adult audiences like Spy talks, Spy School Workshops, Spy Chat, Spy Seminar Series, Spies on Screen, and Parade of Trabants. The museum has an extensive collection of related artefacts in the permanent exhibit, provides interactive experiences where one can test their spy skills, and also offers virtual events for those who cannot visit the museum in person. These virtual events not only increase the knowledge reserves of adults, but also act as virtual team bonding sessions due to personalized activities like a private virtual tour, spy trivia, scavenger hunts, or a cocktail hour with a spy. In addition to this, the International Spy Museum also offers a “SpyCast” (Podcast) featuring interviews and programs with ex-spies, intelligence experts, and espionage scholars, every week!

Amanda is satisfied with her job and the opportunities it brings with it every day, but she also has to overcome a few challenges. One such challenge is time management. Explaining, she says, “For me, the challenge is always time! There is always more to do, and the desire to do even more than there will ever be time for. It’s also difficult to get people to view you as an expert when you don’t have a Ph.D. in history, but know a ton of stuff and how to share it!

Because of the collective efforts of Amanda and her team, today, they have had guests attend their virtual program from all 50 United States and more than 40 countries. Amanda believes in doing whatever one’s heart wants and then using it to do good and spread smiles. She preaches the same to others and motivates, “Whatever your work is, you can lift others and brighten lives!