Every type of museum should keep working to make their institution accessible and appealing to their youngest visitors.
That is what I kept thinking about when Susie Wilkening of Reach Advisors gave a Skype talk to my Bank Street graduate class yesterday.
Susie shared many interesting findings and insights regarding her Museum Audience research (much of which can be found on the Museum Audience Insight blog) but the one that stood out for me was the notion that if people don't get into the "museum habit" through visits when they are young (by 7 or 8 or so at the latest) they probably won't consider museums "necessary" (not just "nice") when they become adults.
If children don't visit museums while they are still in grade school they simply won't grow up to be "Museum Advocates."
Perhaps these findings struck me because I'm a parent who just naturally wants to visit museums with my family (because that's what my family did when I was a kid.)
Maybe the importance of fostering positive attitudes in children toward museums resonates with me because of the parallels in research studies about children's attitudes toward science, in general, and science careers, in particular. (Basically if you don't make science interesting/fun/compelling in elementary school, you've lost them in the upper grades.)
But I think more than anything, I'm seeing the scary ramifications of the "No Child Left Untested" mindset of current public school education that sees field trips to museums as "unnecessary." As research on Museum Advocates shows, the first (and perhaps) only exposure children from lower socioeconomic households and families with lower educational attainment have to museums is through field trips.
So what happens to the pipeline of early museum visitors that we want to grow up to be active adult consumers of culture if there are no museum field trips? Museums already have a "demographic problem" in the fact that museum visitors tend to skew "Older" and "Whiter" than the way population trends (as projected by the census) in the U.S. are heading.
It's scary. And it makes me fear for a robust future for museums filled with truly diverse audiences, not just the affluent and highly-educated (two groups, regardless of race or ethnicity, that are clearly tied to early family visit to museums.)
I'd say it also reinforces the importance of both Children's Museums and child-friendly offerings in every type of museum.
I'd love for ExhibiTricks readers to share positive examples of programs, exhibits, and institutional attitudes that foster a love of museums in our youngest visitors. Leave your thoughts and ideas in the "Comments Section" below or send me an email and I'll gather all the thoughts up to share in a future post.
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