Families are a critical audience for art museums and museums use many different strategies for reaching families, such as special family days and festivals, workshops, special tours, family backpacks and gallery guides, in-gallery materials or demonstration carts, and specific family galleries.
Here is a practical guide based on research that helps art museum educators understand the role and value of spaces designed for families and helps them to create dedicated spaces for intergenerational play and learning.
This book features insights, best practices, and lessons learned from years of experience in creating dedicated spaces for families in a wide range of art museums. Through case studies, in-depth stories, and engaging graphics and images this book identifies key issues that museum professionals need to consider when developing family spaces in museums.
This book is a how-to guide to creating or updating an interactive family space. Everything you need to know, soup to nuts, from understanding your audience to hiring a designer and opening your doors to the public is here.
Each section is situated within groundbreaking visitor research findings and how museum educators have used those findings to better understand the family audience and develop fun, safe, inclusive, spaces that inspire wonder and curiosity, as well as places for meaning-making and family bonding, all in the service of creating loyal and committed museum visitors.
Julia Forbes is the Shannon Landing Amos Head of Museum Interpretation at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. She manages the development of all materials (docent-led tours, audio tours, interpretive gallery tools, labels, mobile technologies, etc.) used by visitors to learn about the Museum’s permanent collection and special exhibitions, including the Greene Family Learning Gallery. Julia has held education positions at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, Washington National Cathedral, the Walters Art Museum, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. She has developed exhibitions in a team setting and participated in the creation of interactive spaces for families in a wide range of museum settings. She served as the Eastern Region Director in the Education Division of the National Art Education Association, is the vice president of the Association for Art Museum Interpretation and was honored as the Eastern Museum Educator of the Year for 1998. She has degrees in Art History and Cultural Anthropology from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a master’s degree from the George Washington University in Art History/Museum Training.
Forbes has over thirty years of experience in developing activities for families in a dedicated space. From the National Museum of American History’s Hands on History Room, to Washington National Cathedral’s Cathedral Medieval Workshop and two iterations of the High Museum’s Greene Family Learning Gallery, she has deep expertise in thinking about how intergenerational learning and play impact children and their caregivers in the museum setting. Forbes has presented on this topic at all the major museums conferences and was one of the leads on the IMLS funded study “Family Learning in Interactive Galleries” published online in 2011.
Marianna Adams, President of Audience Focus Inc., has designed, managed, and implemented a wide range of visitor research, interpretive planning, and professional development across the country, Canada, Bermuda, Mexico, and the EU. Before creating Audience Focus in 2007, she was a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Learning Innovation in Annapolis, MD for 12 years, totaling over 25 years experience in visitor research. Her consulting work draws on extensive experience working in museums and schools. She headed education departments at the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL, and Museum of Art, Ft. Lauderdale, FL., served as National Principal's Initiative co-coordinator for the summer 1995 Teacher Institute at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and taught public and private school K-12, high school literature and composition, middle and high school art, and middle school social studies. She has served as adjunct faculty for the George Washington University Museum Education and Museum Studies programs, for the University of North Texas Museum Studies program, and for the Oregon State University Informal Science Education program. She is currently adjunct professor for the Bank Street College of Education Museum Leadership graduate program, a position she has held since 2008. She was the Educator-in-Residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston during the summer of 2014. Dr. Adams received her B.A. in Art and English Literature from Mercer University, an M.A. in Art Education & Arts Administration from the University of South Florida, and her Ed.D. in Education Policy from the George Washington University.
Chapter 1: Know Your Audience
What is a Family?
Families in Museums
Family Learning in Interactive Spaces in Art Museums
Chapter 2: Values Matter
Are Art Museums Essential to Families?
Are Families Essential to Art Museums?
Chapter 3: Stop, Look, Listen
General Patterns of Use
Relationship of Interactive Gallery to the Larger Museum Visit
Connections at Home & Long After
Chapter 4: Walk the Talk
Frist Art Museum Martin ArtQuest Gallery: Case Study
High Museum of Art Greene Family Learning Gallery: Case Study
The Mint Museum Lewis Family Gallery and Speed Art Museum ArtSparks: Case Study
Chapter 5: Get Started
Are You Ready to Create Amazing Family Spaces?
Now Make Definite plans!
Appendix A: Sample Vision & Intention Statement for the Greene Family Learning Gallery, 2018
Appendix B: Sample Request For Proposal for Outside Designers
Appendix C: Checklist of Tasks for Development of Interactive Family Spaces
Appendix D: Sample Heat Map for Balancing Family Gallery Activities
Appendix E: Sample Experience Matrix
About the Authors
“Family Spaces in Art Museums is not only an excellent roadmap for the design of art museums family spaces, but also provides a valuable perspective in general on how to think about and serve families in art museums. Furthermore some the book’s research findings help remind us that our presumptions about audience needs, behaviors, and motivations can sometimes be incorrect.
This book will serve all museums interested in creating or updating a family interactive space. It is not a recipe for the 'right' product, but rather, offers a succinct review of the research, recent case studies, practitioner reflections and questions for your museum to contemplate as they do this work. If your museum's goal is to develop a unique experience for your communities' families (as you decide to define them) in ways that are meaningful and enjoyable to them, you will find this publication richly stimulating, clarifying and very practical.