How to Engage Teens in Museum

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Historically, museums have overlooked teen audiences, focusing instead on educational and enrichment programs for adults and school aged children. This neglect has left many teens feeling unwelcomed and uninterested in visiting museums. The purpose of this post is to raise questions and awareness of the importance of welcoming teens into museums.

Teenagers- a group that can benefit the most from museums have an important role in our society. What they do, what they accomplish, and what they are exposed to, has every effect on not only your personal future, but also the future of our society as a whole. It is incredibly important to expose teens to meaningful museum programming. We know museums ensure understanding and appreciation for various groups and cultures. For this reason (especially into today’s political climate) we need to get teens involved in museums. So I ask you, what can be done to get teenagers engaged in museums independently? How can we make teenagers feel museums can also cater to them?

Luckily in recent years, museums have increasingly initiated teens into their programming. I have looked into what some museums are offering in teen programs and have found a robust amount of meaningful teen engagement practices. I want to highlight a few that I have found to be most notable.

Teens Take The Met!

The Metropolitan Museum hosts a dynamic free program that is targeted for teens only. Teens participating in this event partake in activities across the museum including art marking, performances, gallery activities for teens by teens, music, dancing and much more.

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NexGen

The Los Angeles County of Museum of Art offers a free youth membership to anyone 17 years and younger. As a NexGen member, teens can make the museum a regular part of their lives. Members are able to visit the museum for free at anytime and bring one guest for free general admission. NexGen members are even given a special membership card.

STAMP: Students At Museums in Philly

Museums in the great Philadelphia area previously hosted a collaborative teen event to debut a teen-crafted audio tour. Teens participated in a free scavenger hunt that took them through five different museums along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The scavenger hunt ended in front of the Barnes Museum, where a local hip-hop artist Chill Moody led then teens in a dance party.

What can we do as future museum educators?

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I will conclude with returning to the questions I asked earlier; what can be done to get teenagers visiting museums independently? How can we make teenagers feel museums can cater to them as well? As future museum educators and advocates, we need to reflect on these questions. I will leave you with what I have found.

  • Stop viewing teens as suspects! In order for teens to feel fully welcomed into museums they need to feel at home.
  • Museums need to work with them, not away from them. I would advise Museums to use teen interns and view them as part of their staff. They know what other teens are interested in and for this reason museum should really listen to their ideas and opinions.
  • Out with the old and in with the New! Social platforms like Tumblr, Instagram and Snapchat are growing in influence among the teen demographic. Museums need to stay on top of their social media platforms and keep their marketing strategy for teens as fluid as possible.

 

 

Resources and further reading:

http://www.metmuseum.org/press/news/2014/teens-take-the-met

http://www.phillymag.com/ticket/2015/05/27/local-teens-record-audio-tours-to-get-youth-interested-in-phillys-museums/

http://www.phillymag.com/ticket/2015/05/27/local-teens-record-audio-tours-to-get-youth-interested-in-phillys-museums/

https://artmuseumteaching.com/2012/10/28/why-museums-dont-suck/

http://www.lacma.org/kids-families/nexgen-fast-facts

http://www.phillymag.com/ticket/2015/05/27/local-teens-record-audio-tours-to-get-youth-interested-in-phillys-museums/

http://www.metmuseum.org/press/news/2014/teens-take-the-met

10 thoughts on “How to Engage Teens in Museum

  1. klvholmes

    I enjoy working with teens and agree that museums need to reach out to them so they will feel welcome. I love what the Hirshhorn is doing with its teens in ARTLAB+ engaging high school students in the District to the museum and creating marketable skills for the students to use when they are no longer in high school. To get teenagers to come to museums on their own I think there needs to be partnerships with local high schools and community centers where teens spend their time. Creating programs that allow teens to get a taste of the possibilities that any specific museum can offer will allow teens to engage and feel more comfortable in museum spaces. I also believe that yes, there are different types of museum goers and the reverent museum goer wants silence but I honestly feel that if we are serving the community as museum professionals talking and sometimes colored discussions should occur in museums. Everyone wants to have their voices heard, and that includes teens.

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  2. ninasgraham

    Cristina,
    I really appreciate your perspective on the influence museums have on the teens, especially the new generation or NEXGEN as you called them. The notions you made about us as museum professionals doing more to incorporate them into these spaces are the perfect action. Like you mentioned by offering internship, specific days, and events for teens. It will begin to break the barrier between museums as sole glimpses of history, and todays new generation and what they can offer. I would also argue that museums need to continue on the path with the usage of social media in order to reach their new and growing audience.

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  3. katebreichert

    Great examples! Having worked with high schoolers both as a classroom teacher and as a manager in a zoo setting, I definitely have a soft spot for working with this age group and think you hit some of the things that keep them away from museums spot on. I liked that many of your examples are ways museums are engaging teens as visitors to the museum– I think sometimes the simplicity of finding ways to invite teens into the museum space to just explore is overlooked. I know that there are so many institutions that offer teens ways to engage in museum work by actually volunteering (leading programs, writing “zines” or other publications, etc.), which is definitely a great way to engage these students and is beneficial not only for them but for the institution, but I like the thought of teens simply being frequent patrons of museums just because it feels available to them due to reduced cost and targeted (relevant) programming. Thanks!

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  4. kellyrweiss

    All I have to say is YES. YES. YES. You know that teenagers hold a special place in my heart after working with them for a few years previously. “Stop viewing teens as suspects.” is so important. Do teenagers do bad things sometimes? Sure. However, if given the opportunity to step up and given the opportunity to have an input on their surroundings (such as museums) I find that more often than not they rise to this challenge. I know you heard me mention it during my own presentation/blog post but the YES program in St. Louis is even more evidence that teens are wonderful and hard working. I think all museums (at least the large ones) should have a program like the one you discussed at LACMA. Money can be a huge barrier to teens visiting museums and if they can bring a friend they have no excuse not to use their membership.

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    1. caitlinefblake

      Teenagers are not hooligans up to shenanigans– and I think it’s incredibly important for museums to remember that. Can teens act up? Yeah! But so can adults if we’re being completely honest. I would love for teens to see museums not just as spaces for them to learn and have programs for them specifically, but also as a place where teens can work, do research, or maybe just spend a day having a good time.

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  5. Danielle

    I am in the museum field now because of my experience being a teen volunteer at the Field Museum in Chicago. Much as what Kate was describing, the Field Museum had a dedicated teen volunteer program housed in the museum education department separate from their docent program. We mostly would work with different educational carts in the main hall of the museum, often work in the Family Play Lab, and sometimes work inside the galleries. While I defiantly learned a lot and enjoyed it, I do wish that there was another non-working way for me to have engaged with the museum. The National Portrait Gallery has an interesting program called the Teen Museum Council, where they essentially enroll in a free leadership development program. Here’s more information: http://npg.si.edu/learn/teens

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  6. Michelle

    Cristina, thanks so much for posting about this very popular topic. Just like everyone’s previous comments teens and museums should be as close as peanut butter and jelly! And it is all about exposure. When looking back, I was fortunate enough to live with probably the most amount of museums so close together. My schools utilized our location, my parents did, and later it was opening for internship opportunities. I’m glad you mentioned how museum should encourage teen interns. Not only is that exposure to the museum’s material but what a professional career in museums may look like. I am grateful for a high school professor informing me about an internship opportunity she felt best fit me interests and it happened to be an aquarium. Museums should really take advantage of eager high schoolers and develop a strong relationship with the schools career services office or even department heads. Now that social media has blown up, I believe that could help get the word out about some of the awesome things museums are offering these young adults. All in all it safe to say, as museum professionals we all want to work towards getting more teens in the door and getting them involved once we get them.

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  7. mep17ruthann

    I imagine that museums feel that teens aren’t interested learning out side of school and the cost of an event that would bring teens in would be too expensive for teens. I think a large part of the problem with museums not programing for teens is they don’t trust them. Older Museum thinking doesn’t trust teens to be interested in exhibits, or thinking critically about the community and world. That said, the teen program that is featured in this blog clearly show that this isn’t the case. Teens are one of the most involved demographics in their communities, reaching farther academically is at the center of their world with either finishing high school or preparing for college. Showing them that the museum is both a resource for school and place to be an active force in the community. So much potential!!!

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  8. erinmkohler

    Cristina,
    You embraced the needs of the teen audience in your blog post and presentation! This is an audience that is at a critical stage in their life. Providing them with opportunities to feel welcomed in museums and then have sincere experiences museums is so important. I like how you mention that museums could use teens as interns, and I support that thought. Offering busy teens flexible volunteer hours would be a great option too!

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  9. museumpeople

    Thank you for bringing such interesting programs to our attention–I am excited about the great work many museums are doing with teens. I only wish it could be scaled. To do the really effective work, it seems small groups are needed for long term relationships. I wonder how we can give these experiences to more teens.

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