It’s been interesting to see the kind of content museums are sharing during this year’s #museumweek and how they’re using this as an opportunity to celebrate their roles and connect with audiences anew.
Each day has had a themed hashtag, encouraging cultural professionals and institutions to share images, moments, activities, and collections that relate to that day’s theme. Today’s theme happens to be #familyMW, which has many organizations focusing on creative ways to have a successful and fun family museum visit whether that means playing games in the galleries, knowing where and when to take a break, or finding non-traditional ways to connect with the collections and the museum as a safe community space.
As someone who is passionate about hands-on creativity as a means of connection and education within museums, it is exciting to see so many examples of museums “loosening their ties” so to speak and sharing photos of different ways kids (and big kids alike) can creatively experience museums.
Such a sight as presented in this photo (tweeted from the Smithsonian today) is becoming more common in larger urban art, science, and children’s museums. What I’m not seeing as much of though, but hope to, are smaller history-based museums opening up their spaces in a similar manner. While they may not have rotundas or atriums, I am a firm believer that even the most humble corner filled with inviting kid-size furniture, as well as books, games, and simple crafts that relate to the scope of a museum’s collections, can provide children and families with alternative, but important, pathways towards engaging with objects and stories in a meaningful way.
From my own experience working in a small museum, I know that many families with young children can be turned-off or even intimidated by the formal, crowded-antique shop feel of a historic society’s exhibit spaces. I completely appreciate this in many ways for myself, but realize it often easily dominates the interior space to the detriment of other learning styles. There is so much hyper-localized content awaiting families within their local history museums that could be just as meaningful as the trips they take to the science museum together. Who better to benefit from the personal stories of history than the young?
It’s not enough to let families know that they are welcome or to be open during hours in which they could come—though that is a good start. What’s crucial is that the space itself (or even just parts of the space) inform them, upon arrival, that they too are reflected there and can find accommodation for their learning styles and visitation needs. In pursuing ways to activate a space for a specific audience, we lay the groundwork for magnetic learning opportunities that are not only educational, but fun, memorable, and meaningful. Providing that, to me, is what it means for a museum to truly serve its community.
What space or activities does your small museum have to offer families with children? Is there a corner or shelf that could be put to better use on behalf of an under-served segment of your audience? How about a patch of grass outside safe for active play or even just a feedback wall in the hallway that includes children’s drawings of their museum experiences? I’m going to keep exploring this topic and will share further thoughts as they percolate. I invite you to share yours in the comments below—I love being able to read and respond to them as a explore a topic of interest!