Category Archives: Community Outreach: Individual

Future Outreach: Approaching the Single Parent Family

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.


Neighborhood Initiatives: Free Days and Fee Backlash in SF

California Academy of Science: Neighborhood Free Days

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco’s celebrated California Academy of Science offers free admission for San Francisco residents on select days throughout the year. For organizational purposes, the city is divided by zip code and each area is assigned three dates in the fall and three dates in the spring. In order to enter the museum for free, San Francisco residents must present a valid state ID card or a photo ID plus a document with a current address such as a bill or magazine label.

At a popular and newly renovated museum that charges 29.95 for adults, it seems that such a promotional program would be taken advantage of in large numbers. A representative of the Academy corroborated this, stating that the neighborhood free days are very popular and result in an increase in visitation. Since the Academy’s reopening in 2008 greatly altered previous visitor trends, the museum is still closely monitoring visitorship on free days.

Another prominent San Francisco museum, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (De Young and Legion of Honor) has hosted neighborhood free days. San Francisco residents also have access to the Check Out SF Family Pass, a free pass to participating cultural attractions through the San Francisco Public Library. The Academy and many other San Francisco museums offer one free day a month, regardless of zip code. Perhaps there is a growing trend in San Francisco to offer alternatives to rising price of museum admission. The saga of the San Francisco Botanical Garden (presented below) provides an example of a battle over newly imposed admission fees for San Francisco nonresidents.

San Francisco Botanical Gardens: Fees and Backlash

San Francisco, CA

In August of 2010, the San Francisco Botanical Gardens began to impose a fee on all visitors who are not residents of San Francisco. This is the first time in their history that they have imposed fees. The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department declared that the expected revenue is essential to maintaining the gardens. In the San Francisco Bay Area there has been a surprising amount of very active protest. Signs appeared in windows throughout the city, bloggers covered the issue, protests took place outside of the gardens, a petition is being circulated, and an active Facebook group is up and running (see more resources below). The fate of the botanical garden fee is now in question due to active lobbying on both sides of the debate and a new measure that may provide funding for the gardens.

Neighborhood initiatives, such as the free day at the California Academy of Science, often bring in a large number of new visitors and are seen as a way to reach out to locals. However, in the case of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, imposing a fee on non-residents may result in alienation of locals as well as visitors.


San Francisco Chronicle Articles:

Official petition to Keep the Arboretum Free:

Keep the San Francisco Arboretum and Botanical Garden Free! Facebook Group:

Civic Center blog post:

Neighborhood Initiatives: DC Community

Anacostia Community Museum: the Museum Model

Washington DC

A discussion of neighborhood initiatives in museums would not be complete without mention of the Anacostia Community Museum (ACM). Founded in 1967, the museum’s mission is to “challenge perceptions, broaden perspectives, generate new knowledge, and deepen understanding about the ever-changing concepts and realities of ‘community’ while maintaining its strong ties to Anacostia and the D.C. Metropolitan region” (ACM Mission and History). The earlier goal of the museum, to “provide visitors with material evidence of the African American experience from a community perspective, while underscoring the idea that the things that make people distinctly different are also the things that make us all universally the same,” has been developed further with the new mission statement (ACM Mission and History).

The museum features permanent and rotating exhibits, research, tours, lectures, performances and demonstrations, after-school and summer cultural enrichment programs, career awareness days, and internships for adolescents in the District of Columbia. The permanent collection includes artifacts that highlight family and community. The museum focuses research efforts on community development and community issues and considers itself a place for community dialogue, organization, and collaboration.

The Anacostia Community Museum proudly includes community perspectives in their exhibitions by utilizing the expertise of guest curators. This practice can also be seen at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). In the NMAI’s Our Universe gallery, each exhibit was made in partnership with tribal representatives called community curators. In both cases this allows the museum to sensitively study issues deeply important and even sacred to specific communities.

Through public and education programming, the Anacostia Community Museum engages specifically with their local community. The museum frequently works with a young audience through after school programs, junior docents, internships, and career days. The museum has made the local community and communities in general, central to its mission and growth from the very beginning. The Anacostia Community Museum is a touchstone example of a museum dedicated to integration of museum and community.

National Building Museum: the Program Model

Washington DC

The National Building Museum, situated on Judiciary Square in a striking nineteenth century historic building, features exhibits that showcase the built environment. The museum is known for its outreach programs with the teenage audience. One of these, Investigating Where We Live (IWWL), encourages teens to explore Washington DC neighborhoods. The program began in 1996 and works with middle school and high school students between the ages of 12 and 16, all from Washington DC and the surrounding area.

Together the teens create an exhibit highlighting a particular neighborhood through creative writing and photography. They must journey out to their assigned neighborhood and get a feel for the place. For example, the 2010 group investigated the neighborhoods of Trinidad, Petworth, and the South West Waterfront. The participants meet residents and local business owners and staff, take photographs, and express their thoughts in writing. The culmination of the four-week session is the planning and presentation of an exhibit at the National Building Museum on the profiled neighborhood. In this way the students can bring the neighborhood they learned about in depth to the museum. After display in the museum, the exhibits are installed in the neighborhoods they focus on. This is one of the many ways that IWWL attempts to reach the residents of the profiled neighborhoods.

Outreach Programs Coordinator Jamee Telford confirmed this, “IWWL has strengthened its community connection over the years in an attempt to give the neighborhoods ownership of the exhibition.” Telford also stressed that the National Building Museum is planning even more efforts to bring the community members into the museum.  She reported that the program has positive feedback from residents of the neighborhoods. The IWWL blog also attests to the success of the program. Visitors left comments such as:

“I am a resident of Trinidad. I was blown away with the projects created by the students. Magnificent work!”

“I live in SW DC and was pleasantly surprised to find an exhibit on my neighborhood. Nicely done!”

Other visitors, who are not neighborhood residents, expressed how pleased they were to learn about areas of Washington DC not necessarily in the guidebooks.

“Very good! This is enchanting. I learned a lot about neighborhoods in DC I had not visited. Thanks!”

“I visit this exhibit each year and I love seeing my city through the eyes of our young people. When my daughter is older, I would want her to participate in this program.”

Visitor comments only affirm that the National Building Museum’s IWWL program has effectively integrated youth programming, local community, and the exhibition process.

National Postal Museum: Reaching Out to Capitol Hill

Washington DC

In order to reach out to the “Cap Hill” neighborhood that the National Postal Museum (NPM) calls home, the educational staff initiated a kickoff meeting with NPM staff and community members, such as those in the business community, active parents, an after-school program coordinator, and those involved in charity organization. NPM staff posed the question of what the neighborhood community wanted and what would bring them into the museum. They got their answers, the needs expressed were for high quality after-school programs, event space, and early childhood activities. In this way the NPM was able to answer their foremost questions right away and hit the group running with programming that would appeal to their neighbors.

Outreach began with a family centered, after-hours event, “Postal Party on the Hill.” Marketing for this event was concentrating in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. “We wanted to get to know our neighbors and introduce the museum to them,” said Public Programs Coordinator Erin Marie Blasco. The other needs were addressed by introducing a new after-school program and by including young children and their families when designing public programs. While the efforts to reach out to the surrounding neighborhood are new for NPM, Blasco stated that there is a definite “effort to think about the Cap Hill audience and keep them in mind as we plan future activities.”

How Do I Reach Those Nontraditional Families?

Although nontraditional families may not be broadly recognized by their friendly neighborhood museums with specifically designed programming, many museums adopt similar principles in planning more generalized family programs. The key here, as I have observed in my research, is openness. Not only should museums work with an audience and not for them, as Hillwood does with the LGBT community, museums must also consider every angle in creating as welcoming an environment as possible. As time goes on, the staff can begin to gain a better understanding of the audience they are reaching. With this knowledge, they can both enhance their offerings and strive to meet individual needs they have become aware of through their work with that group.

The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, PA is a prime example of this strategy. In terms of community outreach, they for one, pride themselves on their “scope of community programming and ongoing efforts to assess, design, and implement programs that meet the evolving needs of children and families.” The Please Touch Museum reaches both children and parents through their family programs entitled “Portable Play” and “Parents Empowered By Play.” Portable Play engages families served by social service agencies in sessions allowing all generations to learn together through play. Parents Empowered By Play offers workshops to adults to enhance their parenting skills while being careful not to alienate any particular group by phrasing their offerings in a welcoming and all-encompassing fashion.

In much the same way, Explora!, a new age experiential museum center in Albuquerque, NM serves multicultural families of all shapes and sizes without discrimination. In the past ten years both Explora! and the Please Touch Museum were awarded the Institute of Museum and Services medal for Museum Service. At Explora!, young students can do everything from become a chemist to a geologist with an adult companion at their side. Explora! is all about helping families get to know one another and learn together, no matter what that family looks like. By making their site and activities as open and welcoming as possible without putting a definition on family, they are well on their way to achieving that goal.

Finally, I recently stumbled across an article put together by the Family Learning Team at the USS Constitution Museum in Boston entitled “10 Steps to Encourage Family Learning at Your Institution.” Though relatively general guidelines, I feel this advice is highly relevant and applicable to more specialized family audiences as well. For example, the number one step is to “Get acquainted with your family visitors,” just as I suggested from my observations of the programming implemented at other sites. One of the ultimate keys, I think, when programming with really any audience in mind is to do so with them and not for them. With the input and feedback of nontraditional family members, an open mind, and welcoming attitude, you are sure to find yourself headed in the right direction.

Neighborhood Initiatives: A Look at Merchant Discounts and Community Gardens in NYC

Community Outreach: Individual Focus

Through case studies we hope to illuminate particular programs that focus on bringing underserved audience members into the museum. For our purposes we will be focusing on neighborhood initiatives, non-traditional families, single parent families, and the low income and homeless populations. The following case studies will profile neighborhood initiatives in museums in the New York City area, Washington DC, and San Francisco. First, let’s take a look at New York City.

Whitney Museum: Neighborhood Merchant Discounts

New York, NY

New York City’s Whitney Museum offers the Uptown/Downtown Neighborhood Discount Program to their members. Members of the Whitney are encouraged to use their membership cards to receive a discount at restaurants and stores in both the Upper East Side and the Meatpacking District, site of the Whitney’s downtown building project. The participating merchants are partners and supporters of the Whitney. Discounts are offered in recognition of member generosity.

This promotional program encourages members to explore the museum’s surroundings, while allowing neighborhood businesses to profit from an increase in traffic. The addition of any museum to a community undoubtedly results in more visitors to a neighborhood, which can cause traffic and congestion. Programs such as this make strides to effectively integrate the museum into the local business community specifically and the surrounding neighborhood in general.

Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum: Community Garden

Brooklyn, NY

“The hope is that the Garden’s most enduring product will be an educated community.” (from Wyckoff Farmhouse Community Demonstration Garden webpage)

The Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York endeavors to hold on to Brooklyn’s agrarian past by preserving the farmhouse and land of 17th century King’s County farmer, Pieter Claesen Wyckoff. Brooklyn was in fact a farming community until the early 20th century. For this reason, the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum has made gardening and farming a significant component of their educational programming.

From 2004 to 2008, the museum created a community garden, the Wyckoff Farmhouse Community Demonstration Garden, in order to engage the local community with its agrarian past. The garden project stressed the involvement of the surrounding community. It included high school interns from local schools, a weekly neighborhood farmers market in which to sell the crops farmed at the museum, and a gardening workshop series. The project also collaborated with other urban farms and gardens in Brooklyn and New York City, as well as donated produce for local distribution.

The weekly farmers market was established to serve the surrounding community and attempted to recruit other gardeners and farmers from the area. Efforts were made to transform the farmers market into a real community meeting space and a place for education. Even the produce grown at the Wyckoff community garden was specifically locally viable. Through the Community Demonstration Garden, Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum put great emphasis on improving the surrounding area by feeding and teaching their community. The farmers market and youth internship program were canceled in 2008, however the garden still exists. The Wyckoff Community Garden and Farmers Market Blog provides an archive of creative initiatives undertaken during the program.

Low Income Audiences

Low Income and Homeless Populations

To be inclusive places that welcome diverse audiences, many museums have attempted to remove the barriers that prevent low income and homeless populations from accessing the benefits their institutions offer. The outlined case studies illuminate some ways museum practitioners have attempted to welcome these underserved audiences.

Imagine It! Children’s Museum of Atlanta

In 2005, the museum launched a subsidized admissions program so that no child is turned away simply because of the inability to pay the price of admission. In 2007, they began offering free transportation from underserved neighborhoods to the museum. More recently, the museum introduced “Connected Learning, Connected Communities,” a program that forms customized alliances with entire neighborhoods. With adult involvement, community participation and access in mind, the museum works with four low-income neighborhoods in metro Atlanta year round to bring educational programming to their children. Funded by a foundation, the program not only brings children to the museum, but also provides resources for teachers and educational trunks for permanent use in classrooms in the neighborhoods. “Connected Learning, Connected Communities” also engages parents by encouraging them to participate in focus groups to assist the museum in understanding their needs, and in follow up programs after museum visits. As more resources become available, the museum hopes to expand the program to additional neighborhoods.

This initiative recognizes that there are barriers that prevent low-income populations from visiting the museum besides economic. It repositions the museum by defining it not as just a location, but as a valuable resource that acknowledges and understands the communities’ needs. It is designed to put power and resources in the hands of the community members, allowing them both access to museum and empowerment.

Miami Museum of Science

The museum’s IMPACT Upward Bound program assists low-income, first-generation college-bound students prepare for postsecondary study with a bachelor’s degree in science, math, and technology related fields. The variety of programs fits a wide range of students’ interests and schedules. In the academic year program, students can engage in enriching “electives” such as web design and video editing, photography, and gallery interpretation. Other programs include a six-week summer marine science program, college preparation seminars and campus visits, and a daily after school program in which the students have access to the museum’s state of the art computer lab and free tutoring provided by the University of Miami’s work-study program.

Students typically enter as freshmen, stay all four years of high school, and are followed for six years after high school graduation. 100% of students stay active in the program all four years of high school. The project has sent 95% of its participants to postsecondary school, compared to the only 25% of their peers from local target high schools.

Upward Bound is a Federal TRIO Program, which is a government-funded educational outreach program designed to motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The program was created to assist students in recognizing and developing their potential to excel in math and science and to encourage them to pursue postsecondary degrees in these fields.

The IMPACT Upward Bound Program creates significant change in the students’ lives. The students receive free support, academic training, and exposure to careers in math and science that they might not have known about before the program. The astounding college admittance rate of the students speaks to the success of the program. After participating in the program, most of the participants are the first in their family to go to college. The museum acknowledges that these low-income teenagers may have no other academic support and presents an opportunity for them to have a life and career they might have never imagined possible.

A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village

The children’s museum in Salem, Oregon’s ACCESS program gives low-income families access to a safe, quality learning environment.  ACCESS builds partnerships with Title 1 schools and nonprofit organizations that serve at risk children and families. The components of the program address barriers such as cost, transportation and community awareness.

A Community Cooperation Membership is offered to the non-profits and schools involved, which consists of a one year shared membership pass to be checked out and used by any families/clients, a free night at the museum for all families/clients, and a 30% discount on educational programming.

The Community Partners in Education component of ACCESS allows partner organizations and schools to choose up to 12 classes to be conducted at their site or the museum, offered at half-price.

Furthermore, the Shelter Outreach Program delivers a series of six classes to families living at two transitional homeless shelters. The classes are appropriate for children ages 2-12, but can also be designed to engage parents and older siblings.

The Transportation Station provides a low-cost transportation option to ACCESS partner organizations for use during group trips to the museum.

A.C.’s Apples and Art Program brings free art activities to children receiving free lunch at eleven sites in the area during their Spring Break.

ACCESS is supported by community foundations and individual sponsors.

The program works closely with schools and nonprofit organizations that serve low-income and homeless families, offering their services at reduced or no cost. This allows many families to visit the museum who could not otherwise, due to economic or transportation barriers. The museum also reaches out to homeless populations by bringing family-oriented classes and projects to the shelters. These projects allow the families to engage with the museum’s educational offerings without having to worry about travelling to the site. Furthermore, the fact that the programs are catered to their individual needs sends a message to the families that the museum acknowledges and cares about their unique situations. The museum hopes that by allowing these underserved families access to the museum’s learning experiences and classes, they will instill in them a lifelong love of learning.

Lauren Rogers Museum of Art

The Laurel, Mississippi art museum hosts a program in which educators and volunteers create art with children from the local housing authority. The programs are conducted during lunchtime, as the students come to the center to eat a free lunch. The program began during the summer months, but the museum maintains an ongoing relationship with these students, who experience the joy of creating prints, watercolor paintings, and drawings in after-school activities.

All of the museum’s outreach programs are funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

In this case, the museum staff and volunteers come to the students at the housing authority, rather than inviting the children and their families to the museum. They also conduct the program at lunchtime, when the children are already at the central building where the program takes place. This is convenient for the kids and their families, so they do not have to worry about transportation. Additionally, it is a safe environment for the children, since it is one with which they are familiar.  Their comfort in the setting enables them to better engage with the activities. The program introduces the children and their families to the museum and its staff.  Additionally, they not only learn about the museum’s offerings, but might leave with a feeling that the art museum welcomes them. The program attempts to break down the cultural and emotional barriers that prevent the low-income habitants of the housing authority from both engaging with art and from visiting the museum.


Many museums provide reduced or free admission to low-income populations to serve demographics underrepresented as museum visitors. Other museums, such as the Imagine It! Children’s Museum and the Miami Museum of Science go further by engaging low-income visitors for longer periods of time than a single museum visit. These institutions recognize that many people in these communities need social and cultural barriers addressed, as well economic, to visit their museums. These museums hope to bring about real change in the lives of their audiences by offering them ownership and empowerment. The teenage participants of IMPACT Upward Bound receive support and encouragement to attend college, which they most likely would not receive outside of the program. These students are the first in their family to enroll in postsecondary institutions and will live a more empowered life because of the museum’s program.

My findings suggest that children’s museums are more likely to offer programs for low-income populations than other types of museums. This is most likely due to the fact that many children do not have access to safe or quality learning and play environments. However, art museums like the Lauren Rogers Museum have also reached out to low-income families and their children.

Furthermore, most of the programs already implemented are created for children. More museum professionals should realize that low-income adults could also benefit from museum-run educational programs.

Museums of all types need to do more to remove the barriers that prevent this population from visiting their museums and engaging with their offerings. Museums have the potential to make a difference in the lives of visitors, and people of all ages, races, cultures, abilities and incomes should have access to their offerings.


Nontraditional Families Gain Recognition

What is a nontraditional family? We’re all familiar with the image of an average American family comprised of a married mother and father, children, and maybe a cat or dog but this “typical” family structure is rapidly giving way to a more diverse array of family units. Today, less than 25% of households fit this definition according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So just what is a nontraditional family? Nontraditional families can run the gamut including grandparents raising grandchildren, foster and adoptive families, multiracial and blended homes, teen parents, unmarried, or LGBT parents. The challenge for museums is to make these unique family groups feel just as at home at their site as any “traditional” family would.

The Hillwood Estate, Museum, & Gardens has made great strides in doing just that with their annual Gay Day event. Members of the nearby LGBT community in Dupont Circle and even farther afield stream in for the fabulous offerings at this historic home. This outreach initiative could not have been possible, however, without a close partnership between the community Hillwood wanted to serve and the estate itself. In 2001, an advisory committee comprised of LGBT leaders in the Washington area was formed to work with Hillwood to create the kind of programs they all wanted to see. This year’s program included a special section for family activities like a “Garden Party with Rainbow Families.” In this way, Hillwood celebrates not only same-sex couples but strives to provide something for everyone to make whole LGBT families welcome.

Other museums simply strive to encourage nontraditional families to come through their doors. Both the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and Museum of Arts & Sciences in Daytona Beach, FL have similar membership programs that grant free or discounted memberships to foster families. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is able to admit foster families for free thanks to a partnership with the Indiana Department of Child Services. The Museum of Arts & Sciences on the other hand, funds their reduced rate program though the generosity of their members’ donations. Foster parents Sharon and Larry Gibson say they really appreciate these special considerations explaining, “To take a family to go anywhere is really expensive nowadays. [The Foster Families Membership] program is a great, affordable way to go out with our foster children.”

Finally, it is obvious not only from these case studies but also in the world of academia that scholars, professionals, and institutions are thinking about this widely present but underrepresented audience that is nontraditional families. In her study “Learning in Unexpected Places: Empowering Latino Parents,” Leah Melber confirms informal learning sites can serve a wide variety of learners effectively by creating a place where everyone feels welcome and is able to find personal relevance. Museum education theorist Dr. Lynn D. Dierking agrees in her article “Laughing and Learning Together: What is Family Learning?,” “museums are important settings where families can spend quality time, […] building and reinforcing their family narrative.” Dierking also takes the time to point out that in the 21st century when families come in all shapes and sizes, “the general rule is that if a group defines itself as a family they are one!”