Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Conference Panel Preview: "Museums UNITE to Improve Communities" with Laura Huerta MIgus


Laura Huerta Migus is Executive Director of the Association of Children’s Museums, the world’s largest professional society for the children’s museum field. She previously served as Director of Professional Development and Equity Initiatives at the Association of Science-Technology Centers. In 2016, Laura was named a White House Champion of Change. Laura Huerta Migus will be a panellist at the Closing General Session and Panel: “Museums UNITE to Improve Communities” taking place at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 23, 2017 at our upcoming conference.


Can you describe how the Association for Children’s Museums is working to address social issues in your community?
The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) serves as the collective voice and platform for action for the children’s museum sector worldwide. Children’s museums are unique in the museum world in that the universal content focus is on the audience (children and families) rather than on a specific content area or discipline.

This focus lends itself necessarily to taking into consideration the entire social environment the children our members serve in all areas of museum function. Through intensive dialogues with our board and members, as well as attention to the national and international landscapes, ACM has developed a variety of initiatives over the years to support our members taking positive action in their communities on social issues affecting children.

An example of how ACM works to empower our membership in their work on social issues with respect to inclusion and unity is our 90 Days of Action campaign, which just ended in May (http://childrensmuseums.org/about/acm-initiatives/90-days-of-action). In response to the current anti-immigrant and refugee rhetoric in the United States and around the world, we saw an opportunity to celebrate and amplify the work of children’s museums in serving immigrant and refugee children and families. For 90 days, we implemented a social media campaign sharing case studies and statistics on how children’s museums work in this space, as well as new efforts launched by our member institutions. The campaign garnered a number of media hits, and also served as a platform for individual museums to launch efforts through their own social media channels.  

Another example of how we tackle social issues is through strategic partnerships. Our current work as the administrators of the IMLS Museums for All Initiative – a campaign to encourage museums to offer free or reduced admissions to anyone receiving food assistance subsidies – showcases our membership’s commitment to serving all children and families, regardless of financial resources. Thanks to a successful pilot with the children’s museum community, this effort has now expanded to reach all types of museums. Currently, nearly 200 museums are participating in the campaign and have served more than 630,000 patrons since October 2014.

How have you approached the challenges associated with this important work?

When seeking to empower and encourage museums to take action on social issues, knowledge is the ultimate tool. In each one of the efforts mentioned above, there has been a significant amount of effort dedicated to research on the central issue before taking action. I have found that the biggest challenge to taking action is not knowing what to do, which can sometimes manifest as a fear of “doing the wrong thing.” Regardless of the topic, there are a few central questions that must always be examined:

·         What do we know about the issue?
·         What do we NEED to know about the issue? Who is affected? Who are the players?
·         What can we contribute to the dialogue around the issue?
·         What do we hope to achieve through our action?
·         What’s the risk if we DON’T act?





These questions do not have to be answered perfectly to take action, but there must be strategy that underlies any action for it to be effective for both the museum and society at large. For example, with the 90 Days of Action campaign, I received a number of messages from members asking what, if anything, ACM was going to do in response to the executive orders causing difficulties for some refugees and non-citizens. Rather than jump to issuing a statement or other immediate action, we instead launched a quick survey of our membership to learn more about what their current and / or planned activities were. It became clear that what would be most meaningful to our membership and to the larger world would be to design an action that would confirm and highlight the existing commitment of children’s museums to serving immigrant and refugee families. This resulted in the 90 Days of Action campaign.

Why do you think it is important that museums take on the role of agent of social change?

Museums are critical resources of cultural and social narratives. By nature, they are formed and shaped by current and historical social issues. They are also one of the few “third spaces” where the general public convenes for leisure, learning, and interaction. There are few, if any, other types of institutions that can bring the resources, status, and space to important social issue dialogues. In short, I can’t think of a good reason why a museum wouldn’t be active on social issues. What is critical is shaping the how and the why of a particular museum’s approach.

How do you see the ACM’s work relating to this year’s theme, “UNITE”?

I think the answer to this question is best represented in the ACM’s vision statement, approved in October 2016: A world that honors and respects all children and respects the diverse ways in which they learn. This statement represents the change children’s museums collectively seek to make in the world. It is a bold vision that intentionally and explicitly calls for inclusion and purposeful positive social action, core values of the children’s museum community from its inception.

For more information on the Association of Children’s Museums please visit: www.childrensmuseums.org/


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