I just read a post on the blog Blayne Sucks by Aaron Massey, a doctoral student in computer science at NC State. In other words, a computer geek. Aaron just wrote a 1000 word paean, a lengthy love letter, to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. He actually throws down the gauntlet, daring any other children’s museum in the country to compare itself to CMI. This guy is trying to start a flamewar arguing the merits of museums across the country! You can’t pay for this kind of publicity.
I suspect Aaron fits James Chung and Susie Wilkening’s definition of a “Museum Advocate.” In their new book “Life Stages of the Museum Visitor” they note that usually these advocates become stuck on museums at an early age, influenced by some experience that moved them in a profound manner. In his post, Aaron describes growing up in the Indianapolis area and taking part in ICM’s Museum Apprentice Program (called MAP), spending about 200 hours on the floor and behind the scenes over the course of a summer. As he describes it: “I setup props for science shows, and I did demos of cool science experiments about things like angular momentum or water surface tension. I got special access to some of their storage areas and I used my lunch breaks to explore the areas where I wasn’t working.” Wow, that investment on the part of the museum sure paid back. When, and if, Aaron has kids (or nephews or nieces) I bet he brings them to museums, too, and they will have their own transforming experience, and become life-long museum advocates.
Susie and James challenge museums to consciously explore how to create the kind of “sticky experiences” that catch kids’ hearts and keeps them for life. While some remember being bowled over by individual exhibits, I bet opportunities for involvement are even stickier. My own museum conversion experience was mucking out cages and doing live animal demonstrations with an opossum at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History as a youngster. I would love to learn more about other museum programs that engage children in meaningful work, and make them feel like they have “special access,” that a museum is truly “theirs” in a personalized way. Tell me your favorites! And if you had a museum “conversion” experience as a kid, what was it?