Today, we welcome guest blogger Donna Raetsen-Kemp, Executive Director of Station Gallery, an art gallery and cultural center in Whitby, Ontario. Her surprise at our recent data on dads and museums made us wonder what was going on in Whitby. Happily, she was willing to share (and provide some great tips!).
This spring, I met James Chung at the Canadian Museums Association conference, and we had a great chat about museums blowing off the cobwebs and really engaging their communities. But our most interesting dialogue was about dads and museums. I was really surprised to learn that dads just don’t show up at museums in number we might expect. And reading this summer’s series about moms and dads in museums on this blog, I continue to be astounded.
Why was I so surprised? At Station Gallery, a visual arts center in Whitby, Ontario, we've got dads -- dads, dads everywhere. Far more than one might expect, given the research findings from Reach Advisors. Go figure.
Do I have hard data? Nope, but it's pretty easy to spot a dad. They're the guys with kids in tow. Not a day goes by around here where we don't see a few of them. We have single parent dads, drop-off dads, time with family dads, "10 minutes to kill" dads, sports team dads.
Why do we have a more-than-expected number of dads? That took some thought, but here's a few things we've come up with...
- We mirror -- we adjust our warm welcome to the individual. Casual, laidback, formal -- it doesn't take long to figure out what's going to make someone comfortable. A more formal "good afternoon" or a laid back "hey, we're glad you came by...have you been here before?" Our experience, most dads today prefer the latter.
- Family programming that's fun. In most cases mom will be the one to register the family for the program, but once dad gets here he realizes it's not stuffy or pretentious. It's a place he can relax and enjoy with his family. Next thing we know dad's the one bringing in little Emma for Parent and Tot class.
- Dads often drop off and pick up their kids for art class. We throw out the invitation to hang around for the hour, read a book, grab a coffee or wander inside and out with their 2-year old. You'd be surprised how many dads stick around.
- A little testosterone-charged programming. The Art of the Motor exhibition brought dads in like crazy. I swear that artist Steven Laurie's parking lot "burnout" performance put Station Gallery into the dad's hall of fame.
- When the sports teams are on our doorstep, and sports teams are on our doorstep, rather than banning them from using our washrooms, we go out and invite them in. We've got a group of lacrosse teams that come in every year at tournament time. They know to leave their sticks at the door and excitedly ask about the exhibition. (No kidding, 15 year-old jocks truly interested in the exhibition.) These guys will be dads one day, and they'll have no qualms about bringing their kids to a museum or art gallery. If we "sniffed" at their presence and didn't let them use the washrooms what would their outlook on museums be?
- And finally, an overarching philosophy that seems to resonate with dads--the absence of pretense. We work fervently every single day to ensure that absolutely everyone we interact with, whether by phone, email, or in person feels welcome and that Station Gallery is their place. We're here for them, they are never an intrusion.
Over the past few weeks I've asked a few gallery dads why they visit. Straw poll survey says -- because we make dads feel comfortable. We're not what they expected from an art gallery. What did they expect? Stuffy, elitist, dull, academic were some of the words they used. Let's face it - art galleries have a bit of a reputation and it's not the warm, fuzzy kind.
So...want to get dads? I'm no expert, but try this--beat down the museum stigma, truly make them feel welcome and create some programming that will get their attention. We're thinking about piloting a "No Moms Allowed" program just for dads and kids. We'll let you know how it works out.
Other museums must be seeing dad's in good numbers--what's working for you? To share, simply click on “comments” below. (If you are reading this from your e-mail subscription to the blog, please go to our blog's website to add a comment.)
- Donna Raetsen-Kemp, Station Gallery