More than a quarter of all children in the United States under 21 lived with a single parent as of 2007 according to the US Census. This is a significant portion of the population to whom museums often neglect to devote specific resources. Single family homes, on average, do not have the financial resources of a “traditional” two parent family. These families can arise out of adoption, divorce, death, incarceration, sperm donation, surrogacy, or other reasons. Single parent families can do and do include children of all ages. As with any family, a museum may be a positive place to spend family time together. Often, single parent families may look to meet-up with other families and museums may provide a place to do so at. This is an area of outreach that museums have an opportunity to step forward and do something for.
My research has shown very little outreach to single parent families from museums. There are a number of zoos and children’s museums around the country that offer discounted membership rates for single parent families such as the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the New Children’s Museum in San Diego, the Cincinnati Zoo, and the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, FL. The New Children’s Museum reported to me that there are currently 126 active single parent memberships of about 4000 total memberships. They may also have single parents purchasing two adult memberships and naming a caretaker or grandparent as the second adult. This may not seem like a large percentage, but it comes at minimal cost and helps the families who take advantage of it. Some of these families might very well not be members without this option. There are also a few institutions that offer customizable memberships based on the number of people, but these aren’t quite the same as offering single parent family memberships as the first two people tend to be a bit more expensive.
Beyond these institutions whose primary audiences are family groups, there are not many institutions who offer discounted memberships to single parent families despite offering family memberships. Some of the places that do include the Midwest Museum of Natural History, the Burpee Museum of Natural History, and Liberty Hall Museum. Unfortunately the vast majority of institutions offering family memberships assume two parents even though that is true of less than 75% of families. Even most family oriented institutions like the children’s museums and zoos mentioned above lack a single parent option. By offering single family memberships at lower rates, it is possible that museums may be able to increase their membership totals. Sure, they could bring in less money due to the lower rates, but isn’t the goal of museums to reach more people? And by reaching more people, it’s possible to make back that money. A future study into how effective offering single parent memberships is would be very helpful. This study could look at how many people would obtain memberships with the option available that might not otherwise, and what sort of financial impact it has on museums.
There is more to outreach than membership rates though. Single parent families could use programming for them specifically. There are some instances of single parent family programs having events at museums such as Lakewood Church’s “Single Parent Christmas Bash” at the Children’s Museum of Houston, or a “Single Parent Pizza Party” that happened this past October at the Portland Children’s Museum. Neither of these events is associated with the museum, but they are occurring there. The Kaleidoscope Children’s Museum hosts “Single Parent Saturday Nights” and offers special pricing to those who come. Events like these draw in more visitors, and provide a useful service to the local community. There are single parent family groups all across the country, and I’m sure that they would love to take advantage of events offered for them.
I believe that single parent families are an area ripe for museum outreach. There are a number of institutions that already work with them that museums could easily partner with. Adjusting membership pricing is an easy step that every place offering family memberships can offer. Plenty of museums already offer general family programs; taking the next step and pushing for more single parent involvement would be an easy next step. I even feel that the will to initiate these programs would exist if awareness of the issue was out there. The museum community just needs to take the idea and try to do something with it.
If you have any examples of museums or related institutions providing outreach to single parent families, we’d love to hear about it. Please leave a comment letting us know about what resources are out there.