Museums Extending Youth Outreach

By Nora Fleming — October 05, 2012 3 min read
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Science centers and museums are ramping up efforts to get children (and their parents) through their doors and using their resources to learn.

The Smithsonian Institution here in Washington, which supports 19 museums, nine research centers and more than 140 affiliate museums around the world (the largest museum and research complex in the world), recently announced a $1.4 million branding campaign called “Seriously Amazing,” supported with funding from Target.

The campaign, themed with a question mark icon, is supposed to provoke interest and inquiry in subjects the museums could provide answers to by asking clever questions. Some of the questions are featured on the campaign’s website here.

One such example: What was a hot hairstyle for the Founding Fathers?

Answer: A queue. George Washington powdered his own hair and tied it back in a queue, which was sometimes worn in a small silk bag, as seen in a 1796 portrait at the National Portrait Gallery.

According to an article in The Washington Post, the goal is to get more people, particularly “younger audiences” and children into the museums.

But the Smithsonian Institution is not the only museum/science center advertising questions to spark curiosity and entry into their buildings.

The Arizona Science Center in Phoenix launched a similar branding campaign called “Never Stop Wondering.” The campaign, which has placed ads with questions like, “Why does cutting onions make you cry?” on grocery carts, billboards, and in restrooms, was designed pro bono by the national ad agency Cramer-Krasselt.

Display space in many places was donated, and sponsors, like the Arizona Diamondbacks, have come forward to support the campaign. The ads also feature quick response codes for smartphones that direct people to the center website.

Also in museum-outreach news, the Dallas Art Museum, is using a $250,000 grant to support research on visitor engagement and informal learning with art, starting this month. The new research will focus on how to make art more relevant and relatable for people (adult and youth) and how to build a lifelong appreciation for art. In 2010, the museum also released a seven-year study on arts engagement.

Additionally, my colleague Erik Robelen wrote just last week about a $10 million grant New York’s American Museum of Natural History received that will provide free admission for students who visit the museum. Erik also wrote a story last year about museums and science centers that are increasing educational programming.

A number also provide professional resources for both classroom teachers and out-of-school staff, as I mentioned here.

But even with increased interest in informal learning, community partnerships, and out-of-classroom experiences, virtual field trips are also on the rise, spurred by budget cuts that limit costly field trips and the magnitude of access that digital technology provides: students can now go see most anything, anywhere, not constrained by geographical boundaries.

For example, the National Park Service’s increased efforts to get children into national parks and historic sites, which I wrote about last year, also includes a push now to connect teachers and students to these places virtually.

As I wrote: Children in New York City, for example, could use Skype to virtually explore the kelp forests in Southern California’s Channel Islands or see the ins and outs of a historic Nebraska homestead, said Julia Washburn, the Park Service’s associate director for interpretation and education. Lesson plans for teachers to use in conjunction with parks and historic sites, large and small, are also being expanded for the Park Service’s website. The aim is to provide access to the parks for students who may not be able to participate in programs like NatureBridge because of limited access to locations or funding.

Photo: Artistic rendering of a Smithsonian “Seriously Amazing” ad on billboard, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Beyond School blog.