Museums And 40% of the U.S. Youth

For my audience, I researched youth of low socioeconomic backgrounds. This audience isn’t specific with ethnicity but does focus on a particular economic factor and an age group ranging from early elementary to seniors in high schools. I chose to focus on this group for a few reasons. First, I have personal experience coming from a low socioeconomic background and secondly, the museum world is consistently working on adding diversity to both its visitors and employees.

Why this audience?

Museums are persistently looking and working towards bringing more bodies into their institutions and for good reasons. Museums are filled with wonder, culture, and inspiration. But what if you couldn’t go because you couldn’t afford it? It could be because the cost to get it is too expensive or even if it is a free museum, the cost of transportation maybe too much.

A report by the National Center for Children in Poverty in 2013, discovered that 44% of the nation’s children live in low-income households. The report goes on to explain how the children of these low-income families complicatedly relate to race and ethnicity, and are mainly made up of African-Americans, American Indians, and Hispanics/Latinos [1]. Supporting this report, the Center for the Future of Museums released an article describing the demographic changes coming in the future for museums, had mentioned that not only is income and race/ethnicity related but education often is as well. In their article they have an American community survey that shows individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher from the White population has 29%, the Black population has 18.3%, and the Hispanic/Latino have the one of the lowest with only 12.7% [2]. Students who do not attend college or who drop out quickly are predominantly persons from low-income families, living in underdeveloped areas within major cities or in sparsely populated rural areas, and who have attended ineffective elementary and secondary schools [3].

What do museums have to do with this?

According to the National Endowment of the Arts 1997 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, 70% of people with a graduate degree report visiting an art museum or art gallery in the past year. The rate of visitation decreases as education level decreases [4]. If museums want to continue their efforts in making a more accessible and comfortable environment, then their public programs and community involvement needs to meet the needs of low-income communities. This includes:

  • Increasing relevancy in what the younger generations show interests to
  • Creating tools to use for college or the workforce
  • exploring personal interests
  • Freedom to experiment (not having right or wrong answers)
  • Being able to be involved in producing something
  • Asking for their input

What are museums doing about this?

There are multiple institutions that are great examples of make museums more accessible. Many museums are expanding their distance learning programs which bring some of the fun to schools around the country that aren’t close enough to visit. Museums for All is a cooperative initiative to offer a signature access program that encourages families of all backgrounds to visit museums. One benefit they have is offering significantly reduced fees from free to $3.00 to individual and families with an EBT card. Another great example is free after-school programs geared toward teenagers like the ArtLab at the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Teens have the space to socialize with their peers, learn to use digital media, and participate in workshops to develop professional-level skills.

References

[1] http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_1100.html

[2] http://www.aam-us.org/docs/center-for-the-future-of-museums/demotransaam2010.pdf

[3] http://www2.ed.gov/offices/OPE/AgenProj/report/theme1a.html

[4] https://www.si.edu/Content/opanda/docs/Rpts2001/01.06.UnderRepresentedAudience.Final.pdf

[5] http://www.childrensmuseums.org/about/acm-initiatives/museums-for-all

[6] http://artlabplus.si.edu

8 thoughts on “Museums And 40% of the U.S. Youth

  1. julianavenegas

    It’s interesting, and upsetting, that museum visitation correlates with education level. Are there any studies that look at how attending museums helps students in school, especially those from low socioeconomic backgrounds? Perhaps if there are, then that would be more incentive for schools, after school programs, or intervention programs to bring students, especially those who are struggling, to museums more often. Such a study could also help advocate for more community based, audience centered learning within museums as developed either by the museums themselves or outside organizations.

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  2. zhuoweiliu

    Your presentation and theme deeply touched my heart. This is a serious theme and can not be ignored. At the same time, it directly revealed a question ignored by the society. While listening to your presentation, my mind emerge a problem, which is “Are museums open to everyone”. Maybe I would get firmly answered, “of course yes”. I will continue to ask, “Are you sure”.
    Yes, there is no denying the fact that most of the museum is in the face of free and open to the public. However, if the public really can smooth access to their interested museum? As outlined in the paper, a lot of people probably because they do not have enough funds to complete this a seemingly simple access. At this moment, I was thought of my hometown, China, a developing country, most large museums are concentrated in the economically developed areas. However in economy underdeveloped regions are relatively lacks of museum, people hardly have a chance to visit public museum, or a chance to visit major museums. It makes me feel very frustrated. I am always thinking looking for a way to pursue the equality of culture and education services.
    Thanks for your sharing. I am so happy I am not alone.

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    1. Danielle

      Museums can often be places where people don’t feel comfortable, and I’m glad that you brought that up in your comment. Museums really do need to be more cogniscant about how they treat their visitors and ensure that they are welcoming and safe spaces for all visitors. Unfortunately, I’ve been to too many museums where even I (a museum professional!) feel uncomfortable, which is not okay.

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  3. museumpeople

    Thanks for your post on low income youth as a museum audience. There are studies that show that museum field trips are motivating and promote critical thinking especially in low-income student audiences. The truth is, we the museum community, have a lot to offer this group. Especially in out of school time learning opportunities. Some of the best programs I have seen at museums engage these kids in empowering and stimulating after school activities where the kids are youth leaders in the programming. One example here is DC is the youth program at the National Building Museum. We have lot to offer this group and I think a moral responsibility to do so.

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  4. Cristina

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience on this topic. You started a great conversation about how museums can better research youth groups of low socioeconomic backgrounds. It was saddening to hear that 44% of our nation’s children still live in low-income households. Museums, now being more community involved than ever, should take an active role in welcoming this group. I’m interested in learning more about programs for low income families and young people. Most importantly I hope to see more museums programs that can empower this group to change their community for the better and progress their status in the educational and economic field.

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  5. tenebristic

    Michelle, thank you so much for covering this topic. This makes me want to go lobby every museum until they have free or reduced entry for those who truly need it. Coming from a home that was very financially tight, even now I have a hard time spending money on things like this. I know it’s of great value, but when it’s between that and food, it’s a tough choice and even tougher when you’re the parent trying to decide. It’s nice that DC has so many free museums and so many museums on top of that. In addition to advocating for access for our local families and schools, we have a responsibility to other communities who don’t have similar access to museums to get them access to the museum they do have.

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  6. tenebristic

    Michelle, thank you so much for covering this topic. This makes me want to go lobby every museum until they have free or reduced entry for those who truly need it. Coming from a home that was very financially tight, even now I have a hard time spending money on things like this. I know it’s of great value, but when it’s between that and food, it’s a tough choice and even tougher when you’re the parent trying to decide. It’s nice that DC has so many free museums and so many museums on top of that. In addition to advocating for access for our local families and schools, we have a responsibility to other communities who don’t have similar access to museums to get them access to the museum they do have.

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  7. klvholmes

    Thank you for highlighting this population in regards to museums. I saw first hand how 8th grade students at a K-8 public school in DC had the opportunity to go to a program with ArtLab+ and although many students were interested not many of them were able to get their parents to sign the paper to allow them to go. I know one of the students was talking about how her mom would sign for a couple of her friends if they wanted to come to an event on a Friday and Saturday. There are many obstacles to children and families who struggle socioeconomically to find value in spending time at a museum when anyone in the family could be working to help provide for the household. Education and partnerships are key. I also believe that community engagement where museum professionals, artists, curators, exhibit designers, historians, etc come to speak in schools and communities to students and families can allow community members to feel welcomed into museums.

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