“At-Risk” Youth in Museums


Museums are no longer just about collecting masterpieces. More and more, we are seeing a trend of social activism in museums. There is a universal belief that museums exist in order to serve the public. This new style welcomes visitors from all walks of life and believe in being an agent for actual change. One of the most undeserved groups — and the group of people that would benefit from exposure to museums — are youth who have experiences trauma, or at-risk youth.


Youth are considered at risk for a number of reasons. Examples may include:

  • homeless or transient
  • involved in alcohol or drugs
  • abused sexually, emotionally, or physically
  • mentally ill
  • neglected at home
  • stressful family environments
  • lacking emotional support
  • involved with delinquent peers

It is important to remember that anyone can be at risk. Most people associate being at risk with living in inner-city, low income neighborhoods. However, at risk populations can be found in suburban, rural, and urban communities.

Needs of At-Risk Youth

What are the needs of at-risk youth? What can we do to help them become successful adults? Most at-risk youth are missing a positive role model in their lives. They need access to a responsible adult. A supportive environment presented by a role model allow at-risk youth to see examples and the consequences of making positive choices. At-risk youth also need to be encouraged and they need to know that they matter. At-risk youth need to be supported and given boundaries and realistic goals.


At-risk youth present a unique set of challenges for museum educators. Lack of support and issues in the individual’s home life can cause challenges when working with this audience. Often times, once they leave school, or the museum in our case, they go home to unsupportive guardians who do not know how to help them. Educators should work to actively engage the guardians and/or community and include them as much as possible. There are many other things to consider when creating programming or working with at-risk youth. Some challenges may include: timing, transportation, and  parental/guardian involvement.

How Museums are Helping

Professional artists and museum educators can provide the guidance and encouragement at-risk youth need. Artist collaborations with at-risk youth encourage dialog in the community and encourage meaningful relationships. Art museums around the country are introducing programming for at-risk youth in mind. Riverside Art Museum in Riverside, California offers programming for at-risk youth. The program, CREATIVE HORIZONS, “fosters self-exploration, encourages community engagement, develops mentor relationships, and creates awareness of creative-industry vocational opportunities”.

The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland enlists the help of at-risk youth in creating mosaics that are placed on the facade of the museum. “This pro-youth program that covers our museum walls with recycled and sparkling mosaics first began in 2001 via a partnership with our museum’s near neighbor, the Southern High School, and its students identified as at great risk of dropping out. Their very hard team work created Phase I: the three-story tall shining mosaic facade that faces east, fronting Key Highway. The museum’s cafe balcony surface was then completed in 2006 in Phase II, working with youth in even greater need of mentoring—incarcerated juveniles in Baltimore City’s penal system. Its curved surface depicts a sunset and a moonrise with circular “planets” that are wholly imagined and created by our individual youth apprentices. The stunning beauty of the mirrored mosaic walls encircling our national museum gives us a chance to share the tragic news that nearly 90% of the teens serving time in Baltimore City are doing so for NON-violent crimes! Our Visionary museum’s skilled apprenticeship program encourages teamwork, pride in creating something both exquisite and lasting, and results in real job skills, useful for the rest of their lives.”

Art programs designed for under-served and underrepresented youth has proven to be powerful and effective. They are exposed to new careers, can express themselves through art and other media, and have access to responsible adults.








Museums as a Therapeutic Tool

Life happens. Sometimes we are up and sometimes we are down; it’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. However, there are many people who go through life with an extra burden of anxiety and/or depression holding them back from some of life’s joys. Museums can be places where people suffering with these conditions can find therapeutic possibilities that may lift their burdens, even if just for a little bit.



Psychotherapy is a process whereby psychological problems are treated through communication and relationship factors between an individual and a trained mental health professional. (https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-psychotherapy/) There are many varieties of therapeutic techniques that can assist in this process. Cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, play therapy, and art therapy are a few of the methods that could be successfully used in museums. Art therapy is one of the most popular, and a very effective, method that is used in museums and in museum partnerships, but the other types of therapy could be used as effectively in museums.


Museums as a safe space 

One aspect that makes visitor’s dealing with anxiety and depression comfortable in a museum is that a museum is seen as a safe space. It stands to reason that if the objects and artifacts are safe and being taken care of in this space, the visitor is being protected too. There is also a general code of good behavior that people follow at a museum. This creates a space that is seen as controlled and safe, which is very beneficial to anyone that is seeking a therapeutic experience at a museum. That feeling of being safe also lends itself to a contemplative and spiritual experience at the museum. Meditation or deep personal thought can be a result of such a feeling allowing for healing and understanding.



Museum connect us with personal experiences

Visitor’s seeking the therapeutic potential of museums may use the experience to connect with their personal feelings and experiences. Facilitating the individuals experience is the common objective of therapy and can be easily accessed by museum objects. In a museum, visitors are encouraged to take the room they need to have personal interpretation of the exhibits and objects they see and they are encouraged to get in touch with their internal and external realities.


Museums to acknowledge and manage emotions

Museums can also model ways for us to acknowledge and manage a wide range of emotions. They offer a space to display human experiences and interpretation through artistic form or historical objects. They care for the interpretation with respect, just like museums should care for each of their visitors. Museums are a place to step back and objectively observe what you are experiencing and feeling. This can lead to therapeutic breakthroughs that may not happen otherwise.


Who benefits?

There are special programs that some museums do that focus on therapeutic outcomes for their visitors. Programs focus on particular audiences dealing with different aspects of anxiety and depression that could benefit from museum’s therapeutic potential. The Manchester Museum in England has a program that works with unemployed adults and trains them to be volunteer museum staff on the floor. This program gives the people agency and a purpose. It also fosters a sense of pride and connection with the objects in the collection. It has been shown to combat depression and anxiety with lasting effects. The Boston Museum of Modern Art as well as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City have programs that work with visitor’s with Alzheimer’s. MoMA also works with FreeArt NYC to work with children who have suffered from abuse.


Important things to remember

Museum educators can provide a lot of therapeutic structure in the interpretation we give, the questions we ask, and how we interact with the visitors. We can give them the tools they need to reflect and process the information. However, it is important to work with a mental health care professional when designing programs targeting a special audience. It will give you the proper tools and best practices to work with those visitors dealing with anxiety and depression. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, CT developed a program called Stigmas, Stereotypes and Solutions, which addressed issues of mental health. Their program had two mental health professionals on the panel to handle such delicate subject matter.


Museums as a therapeutic environment

Museums offer a safe space that allows for a person to be as connected or unconnected as they choose. This choice is so important for visitors dealing with anxiety and depression issues. Though we may not know what our visitors are dealing with internally, if we give them the space and the tools to fully interact with their environment, museums should be a useful tool in providing therapy to those who suffer.


Additional Resources

“Therapeutic Potential of a Museum Visit” by Andrée Salom


The Therapeutic potential of museums as pathways to inclusion by Lois H. Silverman (Excerpt from Chapter 5 of book)



Lois Silverman – Social Works of Museums

Little Learners Are Not To Be Underestimated

As adults, we often have a tendency to underestimate early childhood learners. Maybe it’s because our memories of those years are few and far between? Or perhaps it’s because we only think in terms of the limitations of working with early learners, such as their inability to read or write proficiently? Maybe it’s simply because we think they can’t possibly have gained enough knowledge in their few trips around the sun to meaningfully engage with objects or ideas. Whatever it is, as educators and as people, underestimating early learners is one of the biggest mistakes we can make. After all, 90% of a child’s brain is developed by age 5!

Some of our underestimation of early learners may stem from the fact that, as museum educators, we often do not have an intimate familiarity with our audience. Subsequently, we must do our best to understand our audiences holistically. In the case of early childhood learners, though we do not have the understanding of our audience that a parent, guardian, or teacher may have, a general understanding of their development and typical milestones can go a long way. In order to successfully engage and educate early childhood learners it is important to both understand where they are developmentally and understand how to meet them there.

Every child is unique, and as such, every child develops differently. There are, however, milestones that are generally recognized as representative of the average development of children. Early childhood development is often broken down into five categories: physical, communication and language, understanding and thinking, behavior, and self-care. For education in a museum setting, the most important developmental categories to consider are communication and language, and understanding and thinking, as these are the skills children will most likely be demonstrating and using.

Communication and Language

3-4 Years Old 4-5 Years Old
  • Has a vocabulary of 900+ words
  • Most of what they say is understandable
  • Puts together 3-4 word sentences
  • Enjoys books, songs, stories
  • Enjoys talking and having conversations
  • Asks plenty of questions
  • Can ask and answer “who,” “what,” and “where” questions
  • Can name some colors
  • Knows position words – in, on, under
  • Uses pronouns, “I,” “you,” and “me”
  • Sorts by function, size, familiar colors
  • Recognizes some letters and simple words
  • Has a vocabulary of 4,000-6,000 words
  • Vocabulary continues to develop rapidly
  • Talks a lot, often narrate what they are doing or thinking
  • Able to tell long stories, share personal experiences
  • Asks “why” questions
  • Seeks explanations for “how” and “why” questions
  • Uses past, present, and future tense (though not always correctly)
  • Able to sort in a multitude of ways
  • Understands and is able to use “yesterday” and “tomorrow” correctly

Thinking and Understanding

3-4 Years Old 4-5 Years Old
  • Able to organize by size
  • Able to and match things
  • Understands and is able to identify parts of a whole (wheel on a car, etc.)
  • Able to draw a picture and explain what it is (may or may not be recognizable)
  • Uses “why” and “how” questions
  • Can tell you their full name and age
  • Has a basic understanding of time
  • Enjoys singing, dancing, and acting
  • Able to identify and name many colors and shapes
  • Enjoys playing with words, able to imitate and create sounds, as well as make and enjoy rhymes
  • Count objects (5 or more)
  • Draw, name, and describe pictures
  • Recognize printed name
  • Able to identify some letters and numbers
  • Can tell you where they live

With an understanding of these developmental markers, museum educators can create programs for early learners that are age appropriate, effective, engaging, and fun. But how do we put them to use?

Well, two of the greatest abilities early learners have are their vivid imaginations and their unlimited creativity. An excellent way to tap into these abilities is with stories, which quickly capture the innovative mind of an early learner. Whether fiction or nonfiction, the right story paired with the right object can have early learners meaningfully engaged in a discussion on just about any topic. (Yes, it really is possible!)

Let’s take a look at a few examples…

Self-Portrait, Andy Warhol, 1986 (National Gallery of Art)


As a well known and prolific artist, Andy Warhol is an excellent way to introduce early learners to pop art. His frequent use of bright colors and repetition in his art, coupled with his uniquely fascinating views on life make his works an avenue through which any multitude of topics can be explored. When I think of potential topics that this portrait could be used for, two immediately come to mind – Andy Warhol as an artist, and self-portraits as an exploration of identity.

Uncle Andy’s: A Faabbbulous visit with Andy Warhol, by James Warhola would offer early learners a chance to consider who Warhol was, and Warhol’s well-known look combined with the bright colors in the portrait are sure to spark some curiosity. Uncle Andy’s, written by Warhol’s nephew, takes a look at the artist’s life and his views on art through the eyes of a child, making the story both an accessible and accurate way of introducing Warhol’s life and art to early learners.

On the other hand, I’m Gonna Like Me: Letting Off A Little Self-Esteem by Jamie Lee Curtis offers the chance to engage early learners in the idea of who they are and what they like about themselves. In Self-Portrait,  Warhol chose to make himself the subject of this work, and as a result, chose how he wanted to represent himself. By looking at the four ways Warhol represents himself in this portrait, early learners could talk about identity, how they see themselves, and even how they want others to see them.Though I’m Gonna Like Me, a work of fiction, does not tie directly to Warhol or his self-portrait, combining the story with the portrait provides an accessible way to introduce and talk about identity.

NBC Microphone (National Museum of American History, The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden)


Franklin Delano Roosevelt is perhaps one of America’s most well known presidents. Holding office during a series of difficult times for the country, he offers a great way to discuss the presidency (and many other topics) with early learners. Combined with this object, an introduction to who the president is and what their job entails could be aided by reading

P Is for President by Wendy Cheyette Lewison, a lesson on the significance of communication could be facilitated with Louder, Lili by Gennifer Choldenko, and a discussion on the electoral process could be enhanced by reading Duck For President by Doreen Cronin.

Little Girl In a Blue Armchair, Mary Cassatt, 1878 (National Gallery of Art – Currently Unavailable)

 In addition to using stories to connect themes and topics to museum objects, some stories themselves already connect directly to museum objects, as is the case of Suzette and the Puppy: A Story About Mary Cassatt by Joan Sweeney. Though it is a work of fiction, the story imagines just how the little girl in the armchair and her canine companion became the subjects of this portrait. A sweet and funny story about Suzette and the puppy’s adventures in the park, this book can help kids imagine the subjects of paintings as real individuals, and it offers an excellent way to introduce Mary Cassatt and impressionism to early learners.

Stories can be used to connect early learners to just about any concept, but in a museum setting, coupled with an object, their power is even greater. By simply understanding what early learners can do and what they enjoy, meaningful, engaged discussions and learning on countless topics can and will take place. Give it a try and see for yourself… You’ll be amazed at what these little learners and their incredible minds can do!














Redefining the Relationship Between Behavioral Disorders & the Museum

In 2016, the Smithsonian museums received a total of 30.2 million visitors, a staggering number showing just how powerful and influential museums are as institutions. Everyday, new people are introduced to a love of history, art and most of all learning! None of those visitors can be sequestered into a single category with a defining characteristic. To embody the mission of museums, we must reframe how we look at our diverse audiences. In particular, I CHALLENGE us to re-think how we see visitors with Behavioral Disorders. 

What are Behavioral Disorders & how are they manifested? 

Behavioral Disorders are form of mental illness that are manifested by atypical,  inappropriate, or disruptive behaviors. Examples of behavioral disorders include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Emotional Behavioral Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Anxiety. ADHD impairs one’s ability to focus, control their behaviors, and can potentially make that person over-react. Emotional Behavioral Disorder effects one’s ability to control emotions, be happy, and potentially pay attention in school. Oppositional Defiant Disorder is seen through hostile attitudes often directed to people with authority. Lastly, Anxiety, when serious, can affect one’s ability to preform at school. Each of these disorders effect one’s ability to engage in a traditional educational setting. For this reason, museums are the perfect place to provide innovative activities and experiences that are different than a traditional class room experience. 

Why and How does this effect someone’s visit to a museum? 

Often, when someone comes to the museum, staff members do not immediately know that the visitor suffers from a behavioral disorder. Have you ever been on a tour and seen a child throw a tantrum, or even worse see a kid try and deface part of an exhibit? Those examples might be a little extreme, but what may seem like inattentiveness or childish and outlandish behavior might be something more. It is not up to a tour guide or museum profession to discipline the young visitor, however it is up to them to support the parent

Re-framing behavioral disorders and the Museum 

To begin with, behavioral disorders are not the same as autism. Often, those on the Autism spectrum can have behavioral disorders, but they are not mutually exclusive.

When we think about audience members that suffer from disruptive behavioral disorders, it is important to remember that they have the same basic needs as every other visitor. So, instead of thinking about why a child or adult with a behavioral disorder is acting the way they do and instead of trying to label them, we as museum professionals should focus on creating an atmosphere and exhibits that can be a resource for parents and a place where children can learn and have fun. Above all, we are here to motivate because museums should be a place to have FUN!

As museum professionals, it is our job to change our thinking. Rather than pinpoint a certain behavior, and ask why, we should ask what can a child do. For this to be flexible, it is important to be flexible, to problem solve, and most importantly to have empathy.


Play Therapy

It is a creative and natural way for children to express themselves. Typically, it is lead by a trained counselor, and often a parent or guardian is present. Museums could adapt some of the principles of play therapy into their programming and exhibitions. The Strong Museum of Play is an example of a museum that has dedicated itself to using play as a source of engagement.

Museums do not have to be dedicated to play, but could have family programs or special exhibits that incorporate play. Art therapy is especially effective for families, in which the creation of art is used as a form of discussion.









Support, Engage, and Express: Creating Programs to Serve the Refugee Community

Starting over in a new home, city, state, or country can be difficult and scary. Where can I work? Where can I buy groceries? How will the neighborhood greet my dog?! These were questions I asked myself when moving to D.C. from Indiana, and I imagine that others may have the same or different questions based on what is important to them. Some advantages I had were knowing that my husband would be with me and would support me, knowing English would be spoken wherever I went, and that I could basically blend in with the other members of the community based on my interests and style. Some people who move to a new location are not so lucky as to have support or familiarities around to greet them. Some people are forced to flee their homeland because of war, natural disaster, or because it is an unsafe environment to live in at the time. They are called refugees, and they come to feel safe, protected, and alive.


Who are refugees? How are they different from an immigrant?

A refugee is someone who is forced to flee because living in their homeland is unsafe or not a viable living location. Some instances that may force a person to flee could be war, famine, or other unsafe environments.  Generally, an immigrant will make the choice to leave their land to move to a new country, but a refugee MUST leave in order to survive. Immigrants and refugees are similar that they are coming to a new country, but their reason for leaving could be different.  In the United States, the process by which an immigrant or a refugee is allowed to enter the country is also different.

Refugees come from many different countries around the world. With the many different countries represented, different needs and challenges may be presented.


How can museums serve refugee communities?

In a previous post on this blog, another author describes one key aspect in serving this community is to engage them with the museum.  I am going to take it another step further and add on support and opening up opportunities for expression.  We will briefly discuss each of these three (Support, Engage, and Express)  and look at an example of where they can be currently seen in organizations (museums and other locations).  By looking at how other museums or institutions are serving this community, we can gain knowledge, ideas, and insight as to how may better serve those in our communities.



One way to serve this audience is to provide support in as many aspects as possible for your institution.  Perhaps that could be by offering language courses or providing job training. Try reaching out to other organizations that are serving this audience and look for opportunities to partner.  Perhaps your museum has meeting areas or large meeting spaces where other groups can meet.  If you are unable to provide the classes, you may be able to serve in providing the spaces for these groups to meet.

In the avenue of partnering, looking at local schools who may serve this student population may be a great place to try museum programming.  One example of a program I found very exciting was in New York City. RYSA (Refugee Youth Summer Academy) is a 6-week, summer program geared toward high school students that ‘tries to help its students find a footing in their new country and prepare them for school.’ In partnering with established groups, such as the one listed, you will be working side-by-side with people who (hopefully) have a similar mission and can make your team effort even stronger.



Offering opportunities to refugees living in your community to help the museum create tours, offer expertise, and share their stories with the museum may provide meaningful ways for the audience to engage with the museum. An exemplary engagement program is the training of refugees to be guides in Berlin museums. In the program, Syrian refugees are trained to provide tours in Arabic in different exhibit spaces throughout Berlin’s museums, sharing with each other artifacts from their homeland, discussing their homeland life, and finding hope together in rebuilding their land in the near future. Through the engagement of the guides, the refugees visiting the museum can connect with the artifacts and begin to plan and heal together as a community.



Allowing opportunities for people to express their emotions, stories, and thoughts can be a powerful way to connect and interact with and learn from any community.  It can also be healing to people who have faced trauma or hardships in life. One great example of providing opportunities for expression within the refugee community is Marc Joseph’s Refugee: A Musical of Freedom and Resistance.  Carnival Center for the Performing Arts commissioned the project, a play written by Marc Joseph based on his own story as a Haitian refugee. This story not only provided space for Marc Joseph to express himself through art and dance, but also allowed for others to also experience his story. While this example is not in a museum setting, it does stand out as a successful way of incorporating the idea of allowing opportunities for the audience to express themselves and how it not only benefits those who create the art but also those who experience the art. We can learn from the artist as well as provide a possible outlet to heal or connect.


In reaching out to a refugee audience, it is important is to SEE, listen to, and learn from them. They know their stories because they have lived them. Allow them to share, express, and connect with each other. The museum and its other visitors can also benefit from the collaboration with the local community of refugees. Everyone can join together as a community, helping to support one another through listening to, learning from, and respecting our own personal history.









Who can afford to go to museums?

Over the past two months, I have worked closely with a phenomenal group of people.  They inspire me and challenge me.  They are intelligent and creative.  They are wise and articulate.  They defy my every expectation.

Now, what group of people just came to mind? What do they look like?  What are they like? Where are you picturing them?

Would you believe me if I told you that they are homeless? That they work in a few spare offices in an Episcopal church?  Would you believe me if I told you that they are actually entrepreneurs who produce a newspaper together?  That they are their own bosses?

I have spent the past two months working with the vendors at Street Sense Media, which is a local DC paper written and illustrated by people who are homeless or who have been homeless at some point in their lives.  They write the stories, they take the pictures, and they draw all of the illustrations.

They are truly amazing individuals and they really have defied my expectations about the homeless.  One such expectation was that homeless people do not care about museums or do not feel welcome in museums.  With few exceptions, I have found strong, positive feedback as I plan a museum trip for them.  They want to learn.  They want to experience new things.  They want to better their lives.  In short, they are excited about museums, which is the opposite of what I was expecting.  After all, when was the last time you saw someone who looked homeless in a museum of any kind?

According to U.S. census data from 2010, more than 45 million people experience poverty[1].  I imagine that this number has only grown in the last seven years.  This is a massive demographic that museums do not traditionally cater to or even welcome.  So, what can we do as museum educators to make them feel welcome?

In decades past, there was a dress code to enter museums and you had to have an academic reason to go.  That is not as in the past as it should be.  As a volunteer in Q?rius at the National Museum of Natural History, I saw firsthand how people are treated when they appear to be homeless.  One day, I welcomed a man who was disheveled and was wearing a heavy leather coat.  I welcomed him warmly and he proceeded to check out the space.  A security guard approached me to ask what the man wanted.  The man did not ask me for anything.  Later, the man spoke to me again.  He seemed harmless enough to me, but another security guard approached me to ask what the man wanted.  The guards asked me both times, “What did he want?”  It struck me as a strange question.  What did he want?  I assumed he was there out of curiosity, like any other visitor.  He wanted to learn.  A desire to learn seems like a safe assumption to make when asking what any visitor wants, regardless of their economic status.

The Incluseum (see links below) offers advice worth considering for any museum educator working with a homeless audience.  First, consider the practical.  People who are experiencing poverty and homelessness would not be able to pay steep admissions fees.  They may not be able to afford transportation to the museum.  Outreach can also be challenging because this particular audience may not have cell phones or regular internet access.  The second recommendation is to do what you can to calm any anxiety they may have, whether it is what they can wear or punctuality.  The most important thing to take into account when planning programming for the homeless is the fluidity of their daily lives.  Be flexible.

To read more about how museums are welcoming the homeless and impoverished:




*Photo taken from the thumbnail of a Street Sense Media Youtube video.




[1] https://incluseum.com/2012/10/12/creating-museum-programs-with-adults-experiencing-poverty/

Programming For ADHD/ADD in Museum Environments

What is ADHD and what is ADD?

Many doctors do not believe that there is a difference between ADHD and ADD, but that ADD is a subtype of ADHD. ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder, while ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. People diagnosed with ADD have trouble paying attention but are not hyperactive, while people diagnosed with ADHD may not have trouble paying attention, but are hyperactive.

Technically, ADD is a subtype of ADHD. The three subtypes of ADHD are:

  1. Inattentive
    Cannot pay attention, but is not hyperactive or impulsive
    Symptoms include: easily distracted, forgetful, unorganized
  2. Hyperactive/Impulsive
    Hyperactive and impulsive but not inattentive
    Symptoms include: always moving, too talkative, blurts out answers
  3. Combined

How does ADHD/ADD affect formal learning?

  • Student starts assignments but does not finish them
  • Student is always talking
  • Student doesn’t work well in groups
  • Student spaces out during lessons

How does ADHD/ADD manifest itself in museum environments?

People diagnosed with ADHD/ADD may have trouble in museum environments where there are exiting things to see and do. There are many ways to help people diagnosed with ADHD/ADD learn in museum environments, educators simply need to know how.

What are some things that educators should keep in mind while developing a program for people diagnosed with ADHD/ADD?

  • Give simple instructions and repeat them often
  • Create an outline for notetaking that is easy and organized
  • Signal the start of your facilitation at each spot that you facilitate at the museum
  • Tell participants what they will do before you begin the facilitation
  • Include different types of activities, such as games
  • Don’t ask questions that have specific answers, but ask broad questions that open the facilitation for dialogue
  • Summarize key points at the end of the facilitation

How is art therapy important in the museum environment?

What is art therapy?

Attitude magazine stated that art therapy “uses the processes of drawing, painting, and sculpting to help children address emotional problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, and increase self-awareness.”

An important video that explains more about what art therapy is can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AqujYvQGwc

How is art therapy important for people diagnosed with ADHD/ADD?

Art therapy uses self-expression to address emotional problems and manage behavior. It’s very important for people who have ADHD/ADD and have intense emotions because it encourages people to explore personal problems through sensory activity that uses different parts of the brain. Studies have shown that art activities help people increase focus and decrease impulsive behavior.

How is art therapy used in museums?

One example of  art therapy in a museum is at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, where people are introduced to art by engaging in open dialogue about art. The museum emphasizes their desire to create a safe place for self-expression. They have stated that “the art therapy programs at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is to provide a supportive and creative environment for the participants to develop and explore their personal narratives through art-making and gallery discussions.”

How can educators facilitate a program for people diagnosed with ADHD/ADD?

First, focus on open dialogue! Facilitation should encourage open dialogue for participants. If possible, let participants choose what they will look at or learn at the museum. If a certain concept or idea needs to be taught, then use a couple of pieces to talk about this concept or idea. Make sure to choose areas of the museum that are quiet.

How do educators facilitate art therapy for people diagnosed with ADHD/ADD in a museum environment?

Use materials that encourage self-expression. Do not plan a project that is done step by step with strict instructions, but plan one that allows people to be creative.

How do museums other than art museums facilitate programs for people diagnosed with ADHD/ADD?

An example is mobile technology!

An interesting case study by Misty Patcyk at Pennsylvania State University found that students with ADHD learn well in museums using mobile technology. The study, titled Mobile Technology in the Museum to Support ADHD, was conducted at Places of Innovation at the National Museum of American History. She studied how students with ADHD experience and learn in museums when given iPods with activities and information. The order of events for this study was:

  • The student will be introduced to the room
  • The place and time period will be presented
  • The student will hear the high level introduction to the innovations
  • The student will be reminded of the photo and help functionality of the app
  • The student can explore the room

They found that students with ADHD/ADD had highly improved attention spans and were better able to stay on-task when having choice in what they learned about.