Saturday, May 21, 2011

Museums and Youth

While some people may not believe it, I do actually have a life outside of work.  This recently involved chaperoning a group of middle and high school kids at a weekend youth event in Moncton.

As I was driving to and through New Brunswick, listening to hip hop and made up rhymes about camels and dragons and tomatoes, wondering if 6 kids rocking an SUV back and forth while doing 110km/h could possibly tip the vehicle, I couldn't help but think about work...nice, safe, quiet work.  I was thinking how very far away a typical Nova Scotian museum is from the world of these kids.  They're fun, easily excited, very intelligent and critical thinkers, and just want to be taken seriously as individuals.  Ok, so some museums can deal with people like that.  But what about a mob of teenagers like that?  And did I mention that they come from very diverse backgrounds?  Almost half weren't even born in Canada.  So how are Nova Scotia's museums relevant to them?

At our recent conference we asked attendees to fill out an evaluation form, and part of that was voting on next year's theme.  A lot of people asked for a conference on engaging youth, which makes me really excited.  We all seem to understand the concept of "getting them while they're young", but few of us are really good at this.

Whenever I talk to people about teenagers and museums, I share one of my favourite museum stories.  A couple years ago I was doing a site visit and the curator was telling me how worrisome it is that kids these days just aren't interested in museums, that the schools never bring them anymore, and that if nothing changes we'll start to see museums closing because there's no one to continue the work.  Before I could respond she started to complain about how a group of teenagers were hanging around the front yard of the museum and "scaring off" potential visitors, and that she was having to spend a lot of time chasing away these troublemakers (literally, she even used a broom).

Photo by Evan
On the off-chance you encounter something like this, let me enlighten you. These teens are interested.  You have a space that they recognize as being safe, and the reason they chose it is because at least one person in the group really wants to check out the museum.  They just need to know this is okay.  So go out, introduce yourself, tell them it's totally cool to skateboard and practice their bboy routines in the parking lot (without blocking entrances or getting in the way of traffic of course).  Let them know you've got water and washrooms and weird old stuff inside if they want to check it out.  And if they say they don't have the money for the entrance fee, who cares.  Is the loss of $5-$10 really going to break the bank?

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