ReImagining Children’s Museums: notes from the session
Children’s museums are up to something pretty extraordinary, and the day long “reImagining” session before the Association of Children’s Museums annual conference is a sign of how impactful this re-imagining might be. There’s a theme emerging, that museums are becoming more “pervasive, everywhere, all the time” though a combination of community relationships and technology.
This is a theme we’ve seen emerging at AAM, Museums and the Web, and now here are ACM. Of all the museum types I work with, children’s museums are the most agile and visitor-centered, and after yesterday’s session, I have to say, these are the folks, the organizations who are really going to make it happen. ReImagining is a three year process led by ACM (Assoc. of Children’s Museums), with participation from international design firms to help provide a new perspective.
Here are a few notes from some of the thought-leaders at yesterdays’ session:
Carol Colletta, ArtPlace. “Creative placemaking” is a compelling storyline for funders to help create vibrant local communities. The arts and cultural organizations “punch above their weight” in terms of being anchors that can lead to transformation in communities, being a catalyst for others to invest and make significant change. One very thought provoking notion: it’s not about “outreach” from museums. It’a about becoming a “pervasive, everywhere, all the time” museum.
Charlie Trautmann, ScienceCenter. Some interesting demographic and statistical trends: in 2020, there will be a crossover where white non-hispanic will be the minority in the U.S. And, on another front, since 2006, attendance figures have varied widely between museum types. Children’s museum attendance has increased dramatically, small science centers risen somewhat, and large science centers decreased significantly. (An implication: smaller, more agile institutions are doing a better job connecting with communities of visitors).
Dale Dougherty, Maker Media. The founder of the movement leading to Maker Faires noted that we’re looking to tap into “enthusiasts” — people who “love what they do and share with others.” And that we want to create environments that allow people to “create products that are valued within one or more cultural settings.” A provocative quote that caught my attention: “…more than ‘hands-on’, the world can be made, influenced.” A nice reference to our evolving mission.
Drew Davidson, Enterntainment Technology Center, Carnegie Mellon University. Many “educational” games are “chocolate covered broccoli”. The real learning games are ones that lead you to “make your own” (as in, a recipe and ingredients for chocolate chip cookies). In design, we want to keep users “pleasantly frustrated” – a state of “flow” that is not too hard or too easy. An intriguing phrase that I want to think more about: “transformative game design”. (As we think more about apps for museums, what in them might lead to being “transformative?” Maybe I’ll blog more about this later)…
Christine Tebben, Grantmakers for Education. They’ve done a study on the future of learning, in 2025. Learning is a landscape (not an institution) — online, classroom, museum. How do we navigate these? (Access and equity probably won’t be the technology itself, which will be cheap, but access to tap into this landscape and community). She mentioned one model out there: the Pittsburgh model, which integrates the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh — one of the key organizers of the re-imagining session and a major museum to keep an eye on, the university (Carnegie Mellon/Entertainment Technology Center) and schools.
John Pluhowski, eBay. Four trends driving commerce (and by implication, interactions with our own audiences): mobile, digital, local, and social. People want “seamless, anytime, anywhere experiences” with easy access and multiple connection points. (Again, we see the “anytime/anywhere” theme emerging, along with mobile). eBay is tapping into “enthusiasts”, creating compelling content in particular to draw them. (The power of enthusiasts again reflecting comments from Dale Dougherty and the maker movement.)
I could go on and on. We did some fun “make” activities ourselves in the session creating a digital LED card, had great conversations. But the key point: children’s museums are re-imagining the future of museums. This is significant, and of all the museum endeavors I see out there, this one has the most potential impact.