Category Archives: Uncategorized

Museum Education in China

China develops unequally, there is a big difference between the east of China and the west of China.

Income inequality in China


The west of China develops much slower than the east of China.

For example,

Shanghai Skyline

China’s average per capita disposable income stood at 25,974 yuan in 2017. However, the average per capita disposable income in Shanghai reached about 59,000 yuan (9,316 U.S. dollars).


The per capita income for urban residents in Qinghai and Gansu provinces in western China were 22,307 yuan (US$ 3,566.90) and 20,804 yuan (US$ 3,326.56) respectively in 2015.

Education inequality in China

Education inequality in China exists on multiple levels, with significant disparities occurring along gender, geographical, and ethnic divides. More specifically, disparities exist in the distribution of educational resources nationwide, as well as the availability of education on levels ranging from basic to higher education.

For example,

Shanghai recent rankings at the top of the PISA 2013 exam.




Shanghai, the largest city in China, was the first to achieve one hundred percent primary and junior high school enrollment. It was one of the first to achieve almost universal secondary school attendance.




On the other hand, rural students who are from the west of China continue to experience the entrenched disadvantages in curriculum, instruction and school staffing, compared with east urban peers.

Number of museums in China


Museum booming in China


By 2013, China had already built almost fifteen hundred museums—in essence finishing a new museum every day during the periods of heaviest construction. “Jeffrey Johnson, director of Columbia University’s China Megacities Lab, calls the ‘museumification’ of China: a building boom so frothy it is running away with itself. Not just in Beijing and Shanghai but also in the second- and third-tier cities beyond, new museums are hatching out every day, many of them still without collections and curators. ” China has so many museums now. However, most of museums are still lack of collections. We have learned about the Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.20080411065950

So a lot of Chinese people are still struggling with food. They are trying to make their ends meet everyday. They are just too tired to visit museums. Some museums such as the Palace Museum and the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum have a lot of visitors all the time. However, some museums on the west of China only have a few visitors.

On the other hand,  in Chinese culture, family prefers to eat dinner together everyday between 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. During this time, three generations or two generations would sit together at the dinning room or living room, eating dinner and watching TV together.


The Nation’s Greatest Treasures is a popular factual entertainment programme which Chinese people like to watch during dinner time. People prefer to rest at home with their families in the evening. This show invited 9 Chinese leading museums to get involved. Each episode presents one museum’s precious objects. Chinese celebrities become the guardians of the museum objects. Each celebrity puts on a costume and plays a role in a theatrical piece of studio storytelling. The TV programme explores the museum objects’ intriguing history and value. Then the directors of the nine museums come together to discuss the great values behind each objects which they look after. At the end, common people who has learned about or has inherited this treasure’ spirit will present their special stories or connections between the treasure and them. Viewers voted online to choose which object would displayed in a special exhibition at the Palace Museum. Over 1.7 billions pieces of online comments, the show became an instant TV and culture phenomenon in China.


This show has reached a lot of Chinese people in the world. No matter where they live and no matter what socioeconomic status they are. They watched it at home with their families or watched it online at home by themselves. Sometimes on the metro or on the bus, people were watching this show in their cellphones. People started to like museums and they started to visit museums. Especially the younger generation, they are the future of the world. They visited museum more than before. They also #thenationalsgreatestreasures on Weibo. They even said they have learned so much from this show and they are proud of their cultures and identities.


微信图片_20181125234111The National Greatest Treasures programme team are working on the season 2 show.


They have collaborated with BBC, the British Museum and other companies.




The first museum in China was established in 1905. Chinese museum education started much later than America. Not until recent years, Chinese museums just started to develop museum education programs in China. In China, this show did considered China’s actual national conditions. It promoted more visitors to visit museums and also spread knowledge in China. Viewers were deeply touched by these national treasures’s stories. They felt extremely proud of themselves after they watched the show, many of them even cried. I think museums should not only take advantages of the social media, but also leverage the mainstream television channel to spread knowledge.


Maybe in the future, Chinese museum educators and American educators can collaborate with each other and develop more good education programs for the public.




Resource: Xinhua| 2018-02-25 21:08:08|Editor: Mengjie|Shanghai’s per capita disposable income nears 59,000 yuan, highest in China|

Lower Income Families: How Can We Encourage Visitation?

“Museums are for everyone. Museums are committed to ensuring that Americans of all backgrounds have access to high-quality museum experiences,” says the American Alliance of Museums according to their Museum Facts & Data Page. This should undoubtedly include people of all economic backgrounds. However according to data collected by the IMPACTS Study the lower the household income, the lower the attitude affinity for places like art galleries, history museums, science museums, aquariums and even zoos tend to be. When given the statement “art museums are welcoming to people like me,” attitude affinity was notably “less welcoming” showing even as low as 20 for household incomes of $25,000 while household incomes of over $100,000 hardly dropped lower than 63, the point where, according to the study, intentions to visit those institutions decline. This correlation shows that lower income visitors (nonetheless families) are less likely to visit these cultural institutions.


So, how can we encourage lower income families to visit?

The most obvious solution to increase lower income families to visit museums may seem to be to reduce or completely remove the financial barriers of admission prices. Some organizations, such as Museums for All (Cooperative initiative between the Association of Children’s Museums and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences) aim to remove the financial barrier for lower income families to be able to visit museums that are a part of their organization. In order to participate, museums must offer reduced admission fees (from free to $3) to families that present their SNAP or EBT cards and receive up to four reduced admission prices. One of the many members of this program, the Chicago Children’s Museum “in just its first month, the Chicago Children’s Museum welcomed 52 families under the new program, including 103 adults and 95 children.” according to this article by Nonprofit Quarterly. In the article they explore the connection between the Chicago Children’s Museum lowering admission for lower income families and a feeling of being welcomed. Museums must also clearly publicize by posting information about access on their websites and other collateral. The only participant/member in the Washington, D.C. area is the International Spy Museum, which DOES NOT clearly publicize this information.

Cost may seem to be the most obvious barrier, but data from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study have shown that reducing or removing admission DOES NOT actually encourage lower income individuals and families to visit, and instead visitors to institutions without admission or on an admission-free day (ie; community days) have been shown to have an average household income of only 3% less than museums that charge admission. This data shows that in fact, by removing or reducing admission fees, these cultural institutions are only attracting a similar demographic as the institutions with paid admission.


Another assumption we are dealing with here is that people with lower household incomes don’t want to or cannot pay admission. This is a go-to excuse for justifying the lack of visitation among potential lower income visitors and families. Being free is not the same as being welcoming and removing the financial barrier isn’t going to magically make lower income individuals or families want to visit any given institution. Museum professionals need to do more to make their institutions more accessible for lower income individuals and families.

So, if cost is not the primary barrier, what else can we do? How can we remove other barriers for low-income families to even the playing field? The National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study of Visitor-Serving Organizations surveyed individuals who hadn’t visited a cultural organization in the past two years, and when asked what was keeping them from visiting, the cost of admission was low ranking in barrier value, in fact it was almost last. What are the other factors keeping people from museums?


Some examples are access challenges (“hard to get there”), we can remove this barrier by offering a map with detailed directions on how to get to the museum and which entrances are accessible (ie; the American Museum of Natural History Another huge barrier is the parents work and children’s school schedule conflicts, to help remove this barrier, we can think about scheduling programs at times when working parents can attend. Instead of scheduling our program in the middle of a work day, try a weekday evening, or a weekend afternoon. (ie; Central Library in Arlington offers a bilingual storytime on Tuesday evenings at 6:30pm removing the barriers of work and school time conflicts for most 9 to 5 working parents. The Hirshhorn offers their Storytime programs on Wednesdays at 10am, but also again on Sundays at 11am). And some of the biggest barriers keeping attitude affinities low are things like negative precedent experience and attitude affinity perceptions (“not for people like me”), we can combat this barrier by creating a visitor-friendly experience for all visitors (ie; Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has had security guards “police-like” uniforms replaced with more casual khakis and vests with the title of “gallery officer” and additional visitor service training.)


Some programs have even attempted to remove multiple barriers for families, like Cool Culture, a nonprofit in New York City that partners with schools to “ensure that all families with young children can seize the limitless learning opportunities in our city’s arts and cultural institutions.” According to the Cool Culture executive director, Candice Anderson, there are a lot of reasons that less-advantaged New Yorkers don’t go to museums. But only a handful has anything to do with money. “The nuts and bolts of museum-going can seem like Greek to people,” Anderson says.

Cool Culture provides the family with a Family Pass for free admission for up to 5 family members to up to 90 institutions in New York City, a Cool Culture liaison at their child’s school to help navigate the program, Cool Tools family resources for activities to do in the museums, and a Cool Culture Family Guide that provides insight on how to prepare for a museum visit with your child or family, ways to engage with your child in the museum, institutions that offer family friendly workshops, special family festivals, and a subway map, including which stops will take them to the Cool Culture partner institutions. Cool Culture also organizes “Labs” where museum educators come together to envision ways of serving diverse audiences. Organizations such as this are beginning to close the opportunity gaps for children in cities like New York City by removing barriers like transportation and accessibility, providing techniques to break down the barriers of attitude affinity precedence which may be keeping them from feeling welcomed at some of the institutions, and helping them navigate their way through museum resources and rules of behaviors which so often leave visitors confused and excluded.

As museum educators, we can do more to make sure that our programs and interpretation are breaking down these other barriers by being attuned to the other factors that keep people from attending museums aside from cost. We can create initiatives and programs that provide a welcoming visitor-centered experience. We can schedule programming at a time when working parents can bring their children. We can provide clear directions on how to get to our institutions (especially if there are multiple entrances). We can provide parents with detailed information on how to prepare for their museum visit with activities, materials, tools, and snacks. Even further, we can go out into the community to find partnerships, such as Cool Culture, and if we don’t find them we can create our own and partner together to ensure learning opportunities for all children no matter their economic background.


Nonprofit Quarterly

AAM Museum Facts & Data

Museums for All

Why Cultural Organizations Are Not Reaching Low Income Visitors

Do Free Museums Attract Lower Income Visitors?

Admission Price Is Not A Primary Barrier for Cultural Center Visitation Data

Towards a Visitor-Friendly Guard Experience in U.S. Art Museums

Why Don’t More Poor Kids Get To See Art?

Cool Culture

Multilingualism in Museums – Why not?

As museum educators, we hope to be advocates of accessibility, accountability, and diversity. But often diversity is subjected to solely ideas of race or gender equal representations, and the idea of diverse languages is often forgotten. There are many studies on how people group themselves ethnically based off the languages they speak, so shouldn’t those ethnic groups that make up a large part of our population be actively represented?

In my presentation today, I gave a lot of statistics on how the multilingual community is expanding and, arguably, will continue to expand for the rest of our lives. But I didn’t get a chance to discuss why this audience is often overlooked here in the states….And frankly, I couldn’t tell you why. I personally cannot come up with any reason why a museum wouldn’t want to advocate for this audience without exposing the state of ignorance American museums seem to be in.

Take the Philadelphia Museum of Art, for example:
In 2017, they held an exhibition jointly created with the Palacio de Bellas Artes of Mexico City  entitled, Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910–1950The museum was more than happy to create the exhibition catalog with the collaboration of seven American and seven Mexican authors that was available in the gift shop for a whopping $65 in both English and Spanish editions. So clearly, the museum saw how incorporating other languages would be beneficial and of course profitable (which is what a lot of museum board decisions are made about, unfortunately). Yet, despite the Latinx community representing 13% of Philadelphia’s population, there was not a single effort to include any exhibition text (wall text, titles, labels, nada) in Spanish.  Also, I must mention that the exhibit was going to move to Mexico City afterwards and all the text translations into Spanish were already made for when the exhibit arrived in Mexico. So why wouldn’t they include the Spanish text at the showing in America? As the author of the article put it, “PMA’s decision strikes me as deeply flawed.”

It just doesn’t make sense to me. The museum clearly knew having the exhibition catalog in Spanish was profitable, yet didn’t think that making the exhibit accessible to Spanish speakers (who already exist in the community) would also bring in more profit for the museum. With an adult ticket price of $20, adding Spanish text for Philli’s Latinx community could have easily driven up profits. But take away the money aspect and look at it this way—by having the text in another language you are reaching out to your community, acknowledging them, and empowering them with a deeper learning experience because the information is being presented in a way that makes relatable connections to more of your audience and fosters better understanding because it is in a language they are more comfortable in communicating with.

I get it. Advocating for this kind of accessibility and diversity can be daunting, and museums in America are making some effort now, but the fact is that multilingualism in museums outside of the United States has been happening for a very long time. Even the small, low-funded museums have been able to provide some sort of language accessible resource for their audiences for years. We’re in the final months of 2018; there is no excuse now that big name institutions, such as PMA, cannot accomplish such a task.

So with this, I leave you with a final thought: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

For further reading:

Professional Archaeologists as Museum Educators

While the definition of an archaeologist is “People who study human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains” (, 2018), I see this group of dedicated scientists as museum educators.

Image result for archaeologists at work

To explain,  I am going to talk about the RPA’s (Register of Professional Archaeologists) Code of Conduct for this group. The RPA recognizes that archaeologists have several different responsibilities to different groups of people, such as to the public, colleagues, employees, students, employers and clients. While all theses groups are important, I am going to focus solely on the public as the audience. The responsibilities listed in the Code of Conduct for the RPA is as follows:

An archaeologist shall:

  1. Recognize a commitment to represent Archaeology and its research results to the public in a responsible manner;
  2. Actively support conservation of the archaeological resource base;
  3. Be sensitive to, and respect the legitimate concerns of, groups whose culture histories are the subjects of archaeological investigations;
  4. Avoid and discourage exaggerated, misleading, or unwarranted statements about archaeological matters that might induce others to engage in unethical or illegal activity;
  5. Support and comply with the terms of the UNESCO Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export, and transfer of ownership of cultural property, as adopted by the General Conference, 14 November 1970, Paris.

An archaeologist shall not:

  1. Engage in any illegal or unethical conduct involving archaeological matters or knowingly permit the use of his/her name in support of any illegal or unethical activity involving archaeological matters
  2. Give a professional opinion, make a public report, or give legal testimony involving archaeological matters without being as thoroughly informed as might reasonably be expected
  3. Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation about archaeological matters
  4. Undertake any research that affects the archaeological resource base for which she/he is not qualified.
  5. Knowingly be involved in the recovery or excavation of artifacts for commercial exploitation, or knowingly be employed by or knowingly contract with an individual or entity who recovers or excavates archaeological artifacts for commercial exploitation.

Image result for register of professional archaeologists

Now you’re probably thinking how does this related to museum educators. Well let me summarize this idea for you. Archaeologists spend their time conducting researching and making artifacts available to those who want to know more about a different culture. So now I ask you: Does this make archaeologists fit to be museum educators?

Image result for Archaeologists in the classroom

My personal opinion on this question is yes. Not just because I have a degree in archaeology, but because I have studied under many well respected archaeologists. They taught me that as an archaeologist, it’s our duty to educate the uneducated about topics you are passionate in.

Having discussed with my friends, I have come to realize that my opinion is missing one crucial part. The way the information is presented to the audience in a museum, which is where the museum educator comes in. As a museum educator, their responsibility is not only to educate the public but to make the museum experience available and personal to all people (kids, adults, elderly, veterans, etc.) While an archeologist has the history knowledge, most might lack the proper way to educate different audience.

When these two professional educators (archaeologists and museum educators) work together, there should always be a level of respect for the other. Not only in opinion and experience but respect for the others profession. By respecting each others profession, the two will be able work together to get information to the pubic in any form and to any age of audience.

To get to the stage of working together there is an excellent idea that can be used nationwide and even worldwide. The idea of a professional workshop, where these two professionals can work together to help the other understand what their profession is all about and how they get the necessary information to the necessary audience.




Audiences with Down Syndrome

“I would like my son to be included in mainstream society. Not tucked away.” I don’t know about you but this statement sounds like an opportunity. The parent is expressing a need and a concern for their 4-year-old with Down Syndrome to be a part of the community. And there are many others who would like to join him, in the United States about 6,000 babies are born with Down Syndrome each year. But this number is expected to rise.

While the actual cause for the extra chromosome 21, is still unknown there is one factor that’s been determined to have an increased chance of Down Syndrome in a pregnancy, maternal age. According to the National Down Syndrome Society (ndss), a 35-year-old woman has about a one in 350 chance of conceiving a child with Down syndrome, this chance increases gradually to 1 in 100 by age 40. At age 45 the incidence becomes approximately 1 in 30. Many couples are now postponing having children until later in life and therefore this audience of individuals with Down Syndrome is expected to increase.

As this community grows so does the opportunities for museums. The statement above is representative of the feelings of many parents of children with Down Syndrome. They want inclusion. As they should, especially since studies have shown that children with Down Syndrome that are included in classrooms benefits not only them but their classmates as well. These same benefits could be felt if the museum has similar inclusion in programming.

When planning programming there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, that while people with Down Syndrome do have cognitive delays it “is not indicative of the many strengths and talents that each individual possesses” (ndss). They understand more than you may think and have their own unique personalities, skills, and interests.

Keep in mind as well that with Down Syndrome they have low muscle tone, which is what can make it difficult to communicate, not having those muscles in the jaw, and to do some fine motor skill activities. Generally, if you plan on having an activity that is a little more intensive or complex, have it early on when energy is highest. Those with Down Syndrome also tend to be visual learners. Which is great because museums tend to be visual places. By having something to look at and tie the information too, the lesson becomes more accessible. Don’t be afraid of repetition, since there tends to be struggles with memory, by returning to the overall lesson it will be a lot easier to grasp the information as a whole.

Picture1Museums have a few different directions they can take when it comes to best serving this population. One would be to provide inclusive activities for children. A great example is the Creative Discovery Museum in Tennessee and their Club Discoveryprogramming. It’s after-school and free for ages 6-12 but their main focus is that it’s available for kids of all abilities. This is a great method for inclusion by making sure that everyone is welcome. In this program they practice life skills “in a community setting as children sing together, move together, play games together, and cook together.” While they do have themes for each session they make sure the programming is engaging for all involved.

There is also potential for museums to engage with individuals that are older with Down Syndrome. According to ndss, with medical developments 80% of adults with Down Syndrome will at least reach age 60. Because of this expanded life expectancy, the transition period becomes all the more important. The transition period is generally after graduating high school. Figuring out the next steps in life and growing in independence. There isn’t a plateau or slowdown in learning new skills and knowledge when these individuals grow older either. They are still capable. This period is very difficult though because there is no set system or plan for everyone and depends heavily on the individual and their family deciding the next path. It’s essential though to build up confidence and self-esteem.

One way that museums could engage in this period is by providing social opportunities. By perhaps reaching out to the local down syndrome communities (there are a lot of parent groups) or schools and then finding ways to provide this organized setting. Everyone benefits from having somewhere to go and people to see, the same is said for those with Down Syndrome especially during this time.

Another possibility is working to build those skills that are essential for independence and growth. ESMoA and Mychal’s Learning Placehave collaborated to create an excellent example of this. Mychal’s Learning Place is a place for children and adults with Down Syndrome to gain skills and knowledge and create a P2I (Path to Independence). With their P2I they nominate 2 individuals to participate in a seven-month long internship. During this time, they coteach/guide on tours, help with programming, etc. This opportunity to actually work in a museum is excellent to gain and expand these practical skills. And also, to add another perspective to the museum staff.Picture2


As the population of those with Down Syndrome grows, museums can become essential institutions that fill the various needs of these individuals, through conscientious planning, collaboration and outreach.

References and Resources:

Advocating for Active Aging: Working with Older Adult Audiences

What does it mean to be “Old”?  

Are you ready for the wave of ‘seniors’?  As ‘baby boomers’  reach retirement age, the number of Americans over the age of 65 is projected to jump dramatically.  In fact, based on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, the number of Americans over age 65 is projected to almost double from 43 million today to a whopping 83 million by the year 2050.

Projected changes in population demographics

So – as a museum professional – what are you doing to prepare to meet the needs of this formidable group?

Museums have worked tirelessly the last few decades to adjust to new cultural norms and to maintain pace with ever-changing technologies and all audiences have benefitted from these endeavors.  That same energy  should now be focused at least in part, in planning for programming that will meet the needs of older adults.  Not only will the population of 65 plus people grow, but those surviving into their 80’s is also expected to jump dramatically. According to a NEA study entitled, “Surveys of Population Participation in the Arts” , older Americans are healthier today than before and are expected to stay active well int their later years.  Essentially, the number of much older museum patrons will expand greatly.


What have the trends in museum visitation been over time?  A study from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences followed museum attendance across decades from 1982 through 2012.  The data clearly showed that the ONLY audience that saw consistent increases in the number people attending art museums or galleries was the 75 and older group!  Ages 18-54 saw an overall decline in this same time frame.

snip of bar graph

The 2006 landmark  “Creativity and Aging Study”  by the late Dr. Gene Cohen, clearly demonstrated that those older individuals who stay actively engaged in formal creative pursuits demonstrated measurable improvement in mental, emotional, and physical health. He said it was time to stop focusing on the problems of ‘old age’ and start focusing on the potential instead.  These creative programs can also help the institutions that host them as they have increased awareness of programs, increased attendance and possibilities for volunteering and even inter-generational audience growth as families visit together.

One leader in programming for ‘senior’ audiences is the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Specifically they developed a well known and very successful program for visitors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia “Meet Me at MoMA”.  Many other museums have followed suit and are now providing programming for seniors with cognitive impairments.
Meet me at Moma snip

These programs are truly wonderful, much needed and honestly a benefit to society, but I am also advocating for programs to meet the needs of individuals who are just simply – ‘older’.  They move a little more slowly, (or with a rollator); their hearing and vision are in decline, but in all other ways they are as vital as ever.  If not for the physical challenge they might be at a museum every day! Off site lectures and visits from museums to senior centers are wonderful and definitely valued, especially for those without access to transportation.  But what I’m hoping for is a push for innovative ‘on site’ programming that meets the needs of our aging population.

One museum that has made real strides in planning for on site ‘senior’ programming is the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina.  Working with a 2013 grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services, (IMLS), they embarked on a 3 year study called the “Creative Aging Initiative”.  They sought to build a more engaging and accessible institution that would enrich the spirit and encourage sociable life long learning.  Their study was a huge success!  They had hoped to moderately increase visitorship and engagement through evaluation and targeted changes but they more than tripled those numbers!  It is clear that putting in the effort to purposely reflect on practice, evaluate goals and methods, and implement new ideas can pay off!

What can museum educators do to meet older adult audiences ‘where they are’?

  • Listen!  Survey! Ask for their input! Ask older adults to serve as advisors.
  • Build strong relationships with local senior centers and retirement communities.
  • Always consider physical comfort: seating, lighting, ambient noise, access to bathrooms, water fountains and/or cafes etc, uncluttered spaces. (Maslow!)
  • Update and improve signage: larger fonts, more contrast, multiple locations (including lower heights for those in wheelchairs).
  • Offer programs during ‘off hours’ much like is done for younger crowds – think “Zoo Brew” but specifically for older adults – perhaps ticketed to keep things from getting too crowded, and staffed with additional volunteers.
  • Look into community assistance programs and/or grants that can help with transportation.
  • Consider the needs of care-givers who may attend events with seniors. Free admission to events etc.
  • As you are able, try to provide some ‘inter-generational’ programsas well.  Many seniors really like visiting with their families. But again – consider liming tickets to such programs so crowds do not become overwhelming.

Some recent good news in this area comes in the form of a press release from the American Alliance of Museums regarding a new initiative, “Seeding Vitality Arts”. Twenty cultural sites from across the nation will endeavor to create new and innovative programming for older adults and to help change societal attitudes towards what it means to age creatively.

We – as museum professionals cannot go wrong if we ask questions, listen to answers and engage directly with the individuals we seek to serve. We have moved, as Dr. Cohen said, “Way beyond Bingo!” and are all the better for it!



The Power of Museums for Incarcerated Individuals

To start it is important to say that in no way should you ever refer to people who are or have been serving a sentence as incarcerated individuals, people should never be labeled, but for the purpose of keeping writing less wordy I will be using the term incarcerated individuals.

After spending three months at the Montgomery County Pre-Release Center, affectionately called PRC, I have seen the power that community has in shaping and changing individuals. I have had the distinct honor of working with the female residents of PRC, who are at the center to finish their sentence and develop a system of support for when they are released from the center and sent back out into their communities, this process is called re-entry. Re-entry can be a difficult process for incarcerated individuals, it is a time of intense transition where all of the restrictions and structure inmates become used to is removed and the individual is often left alone to re-enter their community. For many individuals, after serving their sentence, they are placed on parole however, the overwhelming majority of people state that they do not feel the parole officer supports their re-entry efforts. During re-entry, individuals are faced with many different needs and these needs must be addressed in order to help reduce recidivism, which is when a convicted person re-offends.

recidivism grah.png

A few of the needs of re-entering individuals are:

  • Housing
  • Employment
  • Clothing
  • Mental Health Services
  • Completing or Continuing Education
  • Volunteering
  • Community Meetings (such as AA, NA, or other support groups)
  • Learning 21st Century Skills
  • Family
  • Finding Constructive Outlets

For museum professionals, we can find our role in working with incarcerated individuals through the last five needs on the list. It is my firm belief that museums should be involved with the communities where they reside, and it is vital that museums open themselves to incarcerated individuals. It is my suggestion that museums can open themselves up to serving incarcerated individuals through four ways.

  1. Partner with Correctional Facilities

Correctional facilities can take form in many different ways through prisons, jails (state and local), and re-entry facilities. Re-entry facilities can be unique in that it can either be a center where individuals reside until the end of their sentence, or they are community centers that hold re-entry services. Getting involved with correctional facilities is the best way to find out the needs of the facilities and the incarcerated individuals. Once you have made the connection you can figure out how your organization fits into the mission of the facility. You can also use the facilities as a way to advertise programs that your museum is doing. But, be careful how you choose to advertise, most people will not have access to computers or smart phones, and if they do it is limited access.

  1. Provide Skill Based Programs

Skill based activities and programs are essential to helping an individual get settled and prepared for everyday life after re-entering communities. Having programs that build in computer and technologies learning can make your museum programs relevant for re-entry. It is also helpful to have programs that have job or trade skill learning, but do it in an honest and organic way that works for your museum. Programs that have conversation and dialogue can also be helpful, as many individuals are tasked with working on communication and relationship skills. If your museum has the capacity, it could also be useful to host education classes in the building, as a way for individuals to be acquainted with and get used to the museum building, staff, and environment.

  1. Have Dialogue and Community Connection Opportunities

As stated previously it is important for many individuals who are re-entering to work on conversational skills. Providing opportunities for discussions, whether writing, verbal, or group, can be a wonderful way for people to observe other’s communication styles and find a style that is most comfortable and useful for them. Through these dialogue opportunities, provide times for individuals to work on story-telling. Many incarcerated individuals struggle with talking about themselves and sharing their stories, museums have an opportunity to provide a space to allow people to become comfortable talking about themselves with others over a shared topic or object.

  1. Create Volunteer Opportunities

Being involved in the community and volunteering is an essential part to re-entry for incarcerated individuals. Museums often run off of volunteer work, and opening up the opportunity for incarcerated individuals to be a part of volunteering can be beneficial for everyone. Community volunteer events, research volunteering, public programs, and docent training can be ways that individuals become involved with the museum based on their skills and interests. Having individuals identify and talk about their skills and interests can be a great way to get re-entering people to volunteer in a setting that is structures, comfortable, and beneficial to themselves and their goals.

Overall, museums are in a prime position to be working with incarcerated individuals and become more relevant to their communities. I firmly believe that museums can help to reduce recidivism rates when they become involved in the lives of re-entering individuals. As museum professionals, it is important to remember that every incarcerated person is an individual with different needs and stories, never lump them into a group or stereotype. There is a quote that beautifully sums up the mindset that is essential to having when working with incarcerated individuals “Every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things or make them unimportant.” (Richard Curtis) Working with incarcerated individuals can be a challenging task, and it is important to remain positive and encourage others to remain positive. It is also vital to check your prejudices and understand that everyone is a complex person with good and challenging stories, and in order to truly be a genuine partner working with incarcerated individuals you must have an open heart and an open mind.

References and Resources