Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More Thoughts About Being Child Friendly

My priorities for a museum visit have changed in recent years with the addition of children to my family, so I feel that having joined an important demographic for many museums, whose target audience is the family, I have become acutely aware of the particular needs of this audience and how they might best be served. Although many museums have redefined themselves as audience-centered in the past decade and have made efforts to become more "child friendly" with increased programming and development of interactive offerings, there are many that have more quickly adopted a rhetoric and put off physical accommodations for another day.

Often specific child age groups are ignored like pre-school children for those of school age; the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts is one that comes to mind. Although it has focused much on programming for school children, its physical plant has changed little in half a century. It hasn't struck on a way to engage children within the museum itself with its world-class collection of paintings, sculpture, and texture, although there have been some feeble attempts, or rather space and cues have been created for child audiences but without adequate staff, or even instructions for parent guided tours these remain silent and ineffective to the weekday visitor. A children's activity room lacks any written explanations for parent guides or links to the msueum's collections. There is a cool interactive screen that allows kids to draw with their finger on a screen and some other activities and second space for kids but, again, what about the collection itself; is that for adults alone? To be fair, this museum has some great print resources in their library, and space is devoted to children, but why would I come to the quietude of a museum with my children to sit in an equally restrictive library and look at books with them; I can do that at the public library with less need for restraint of my kids.

Other art museums, like Harvard’s Fogg Museum, which has seen little change architecturally in its interior in decades, perhaps longer, offers visitors with children little, for cramped elevators don’t accommodate some strollers, there are no bathroom changing stations, or official private nursing areas that have become par for the course for many museums that seemingly want greater attendance. But maybe I speak too soon, for the Fogg will undergo a major refitting soon. Until then, some of us who want museums to be an important part of their kids' childhood will have to keep searching for that perfect experience worth frequent and continued visits. The Peabody Essex is on that short list.

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