What a thought-provoking call!
We just concluded our Museum Conversation on "History Museums and Family Audiences - Why So Challenging?" and we came away from it excited, inspired, and challenged. If you were on the call, we hope you were as well.
Our discussion focused on
the challenges of attracting family audiences, and our fantastic speakers from
Conner Prairie, the National Museum of American History, and American Girl Place Chicago shared with us their approaches and success stories. Here are a few takeaways:
- It is about social experiences. Ellen Rosenthal, Executive Director of Conner Prairie, noted that families like to visit so that they can interact, and learn, together in an active environment. At Conner Prairie, they have worked to make the entire site as hands-on and family-friendly as possible, from reproduction objects to backing off on guided tours (she noted that forcing a child to stand still and listen is never a good idea – neither is the parental “claw” on the child’s shoulder to hold them in place during a guided tour!).
connections are paramount. At American Girl Place, Gar Crispell, General Manager, said they utilize a litmus test on everything
they do: If moms trust it and girls love it, it passes the test.
AGP focuses on strengthening the connections between moms and daughters, and
the rest of the family, through the experiences at AGP. Personalizing
history brings it into the family, whether it is exploring a family tree in
Bitty Bear’s Matinee or bonding with mom over the Julie Albright (1974)
- Make it easy to visit. Megan Smith, Education Specialist at the National Museum of American History, stressed that you should never underestimate the importance of the small stuff. That is, clean bathrooms, easy parking, clear signage, accessible lockers, and family restrooms and nursing areas. Even small changes, like adding stools to the restrooms at Conner Prairie, can have big results. It does not matter how great your program, or museum, is, if it is not easy for mom to get in and out with the kids, she will not come.
- Finally, visiting a history museum or historic site is about stories. As Camy Clough, Senior Program Manager at the National Museum of American History noted, people want to “teleport themselves” to different times and places through the stories you tell. People love great stories, whether it is about a famous figure of history or just your average Joe, because that is how they relate to those individuals, and the past. This is certainly underscored by the success of American Girl, where the stories the dolls tell are the “chocolate cake” that has been fortified by the “vitamins” of history.
We would love to hear more from you on this topic! What successes have you had at your museum on these issues? Any questions you would like to throw out to the panelists, or any insights you'd like to add. To continue the conversation, just click on the “comments” link below
Finally, our thanks go out to our guests who shared their time and thoughts during this call, and to those of you who submitted questions to our guests and listened in.