Kids in Museums Manifesto – Are You Signed Up?

Museum Explorer

Teddy Bears Picnic at Chelmsford Museum

The Kids in Museums Manifesto is not a new thing. The charity has been doing great work promoting the importance of engaging with children and family audiences for many years now. They run high-profile annual schemes such as Takeover Day and the Family Friendly Museum of the Year Award (nominations are currently open) and deliver regular training on subjects including Babies in Museum and Autism Awareness. The Manifesto is the backbone of all of these areas of work, informing their work and the work of many museums around the UK (and possibly the world…?)

 

The 20-point manifesto is made of really simple things, most of which you are probably already doing including saying hello to visitors and sharing stories. Last year they launched a “mini-manifesto”, covering all the key points:

  1. Reach out. Begin the welcome beyond your door. Help families find you, go out to meet them, start friendly conversations on their home patch and make your museum easy to reach.
  2. Get to know your families. Some have babies, some toddlers, teenagers, parents, grandparents or foster children. Embrace these differences, from your programme to your ticketing.
  3. Seek to reflect your community and include it at your heart in your displays, interpretation and events.
  4. Be positive. Say ‘Hello!’ Welcome enthusiastic comments (which may be loud), have things to touch and explore, challenge your staff to never say ‘No’
  5. Make it easy and Comfortable — with a family friendly café, pushchair friendly toilets, seating in the galleries, a place to store skateboards and teenage kit, child-height stair rails, tap water. Just a few of the very practical ways to help a family relax and have fun.
  6. Be accessible. Families with disabilities may make an extra effort to reach you. Include their needs in everything you do and say — from how to get there to exploring the displays. All your visitors should be equally supported and welcomed.
  7. Tell your story. Families aren’t only coming to see your collections. They’re coming to enjoy your museum and hear your stories. These are what they’ll share when they get home. Find a way to include their stories too. They’ll add new insights and make the museum belong to them.
  8. Communicate well. Let families know what you offer. Include this on your website and social media. Chat with families before they visit and after they leave. Build relationships and include them in long-term decision-making. These families will become your greatest advocates.

 

So, I was surprised to discover that only 17 Essex venues are signed up to this wonderful initiative. Kids in Museums are an Arts Council funded “National Portfolio Organisation” (NPO) so signing up will look good on your Accreditation returns. It is also worth mentioning on funding applications as part of your commitment to broadening audiences and supporting young people. You could also put it on your website and share that fact that you’ve signed up on your social media or in other publicity.

Registering your organisation’s commitment to the manifesto is really easy. Just fill in the short form on their website. You can also have a sneaky look at which other museums are signed up (and which ones aren’t).

While you’re there, why not nominate yourself for Family Friendly Museum of the Year

Curator of the Future: Part 2

Curator of the Future: Part 2

Last week, I blogged about the British Museum “The Curator of the Future” Conference. In part 1, I discussed their “Curatorial Survivial Kit”. Now I’ll look at the “Curator and Digital” and “Next Generation” sessions.

  • Curators and Digital

Chris Michaels, Head of Digital and Publishing at the British Museum set the scene after lunch by asking how curation has changed in this age of “digital enlightenment”.

Originally the museum team was focused on Neil MacGregor “History of the World in 100 Objects” books, so the success of the podcasts took them by surprise (and Chris admitted that if they’d known how well they’d work, they would have done things slightly differently!). People listened at home, on the move and even downloaded them to listen in front of the objects in the museum. The moral? It’s nearly impossible to predict which emerging platforms are going to be a hit, so it’s a good idea to experiment and make things available in as many ways as your budget, capacity and imagination will allow.

Selfies, wifi etc change how people interact with museums and how we and they share that experience. Behind the scenes sharing. Presenting more of our collections to a much wider audience.

Anra Kennedy from Culture 24’s presentation was asked if your use of digital technology is “Fit for the Future”. At the moment we have a “supply orientated approach” – this is the information we want to share with you and this is how we’re going to do so. This isn’t working. Museums need to research what their audiences (and potential audiences) want, would be interested in and how to get it to the,. This will require a multi-platform approach using the social web (Twitter, Facebook etc), on-site provision and mobile provision such as podcasts.

Last year, if you take out the stats for “adult” sites, 0.08per cent of all web traffic went to the sites of the 700 largest cultural organisations. That sounds quite positive, until you realise that the same percent were visiting same as B&Q!

Museum’s need to have an online presence that’s engaging and playful as well as informative. Anra gave several examples including Show Me, a project for 7 to 14 year olds working with teachers, and the partnership project VanGoYourself.com. This project encourages people re-create scenes from Van Gogh’s artworks and share them via social media. This has been very popular, particularly amongst hipsters, and won the “Museum and the Web” Exhibition and People’s Choice awards.

Anra also talked about. She stressed how important it is for museums to share good images online – high resolution and high quality, labelled with information about their availability for use and information about what they depict. Images should be “usable, reusable and shareable”.

I particularly liked Anra’s suggestion that websites can be “living labs” where you can experiment and change. By playing with layouts, language/tone, how functions are displayed, showing related content (or not), you can learn about how your online visitors use your site, what they like and what might work better.

Zoe Hughes is Curator of Fossil Invertebrates at the Natural History Museum, and she presented on a pet-subject of mine: Why Curators Should Tweet

Sick of being told “most people don’t care about your collections”, Zoe wondered is it that they don’t care or is it that they don’t know? She began tweeting to connect with academic researchers in her field and to raise awareness of collections, organisation and the curator’s role.

What she’s found is that only a tiny amount of her Twitter followers are her original target audience of “researchers in her field” – only 0.03 per cent. A lot are other museums but there are members of the public too. Her content is very different to what she’d originally envisioned too, as a lot of her work involves being at a computer and it’s hard to make that interesting in a tweet. Instead, she shares:

  • Photos of interesting objects as she finds them (this means she carries her smartphone with her in the stores to photograph and then share)
  • Information and images that link to popular hashtags (#FossilFriday ties in very well!)
  • Some information about what she’s doing (eg outreach, field work etc)
  • Questions and answers about the collections

Zoe raised the interesting quandary of popularity vs engagement. What does it really mean if people “like” or “follow” your content? How do you measure, record and report this data? They’re good questions and, sadly, currently without definitive answers.

(You can follow Zoe on Twitter: @NHM_Cephalopoda)

  • The Next Generation

Sadly, I had to leave after Rachel Souhami excellent introduction to this section of the programme. Rachel is a Museum Academic and Consultant who was involved in the 2014 “Future of Museums” conference which asked early career professionals to be idealistic about the future of the sector, leading to the creation of a Manifesto for the Future of Museums.

This document has been described by those  higher up in museums “nothing new”. These are the same issues that we’ve all been talking about for years. Rachel quite rightly challenges “If this is what you’ve been talking about for years, why haven’t you changed anything?”

Rachel has made a list suggestions for senior museum professionals who want this change to happen:

1 Stop talking about “the museum sector” – there is so much variety in what we do and how we do it, that we cannot be described as a cohesive whole

2 Ensure a cogent, collective leadership

3 Engage with emerging museum professionals

4 Remind emerging professionals to be proactive in seeking change