Story 09: Beyond Museum Walls

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Sidebar: What Did We Learn? A Collection of Staff Wisdom

Written by Dorothy Merrill and Patricia A. Steuert

Working with Schools and Community Agencies

Go there with some ideas, and then listen to what they need or want.

Refine your ideas so you can work together on a mutually valued project.

Develop relationships with administrators as well front line people—principals and teachers, center directors, and program staff.

Don't worry too much about high turnover at community centers. The people you train will use their skills somewhere.

Rewards need to be personal as well as professional in order to maintain staff interest.

Benefits of a stable staff are that you don't start over each year and the relationships can flourish. When teachers and center staff people trust that you are coming back, you can go further.

Community centers also have a great audience—kids; they are good places to try out ideas for new materials and exhibitions.

Collaborating with centers was critical for proposal funding. We did not just ask them to send a support letter. They really helped make the program fund-worthy.

Funded Program Examples

The Haunted House brought people who had not been to the museum before and it paid for half of the Community Service Department budget each year.

RECYCLE provided a great service to teachers, parents, artists, and staff of The Children's Museum. This program paid for itself and brought in a steady annual income. The materials were used by museum staff in all kinds of programs. It was replicated at museums across the country and still exists at TCM.

Kit Rentals charged fees, which paid for the staff costs in operating the service. It did not cover R&D costs, which were usually grant funded.

Collaborating was required with other institutions for all program sites funded by the Desegregation Program. No museum could have done it alone. Programs in low-income communities open the door to many foundations that would not fund a museum with a primarily high-income audience.

Recommendations for Working Beyond Museum Walls

Know the educational scene in your city and where your institution might fit. Lay the groundwork for working with the schools and be ready to catch the next wave that fits with your mission.

Advocate for arts and sciences in the schools and be prepared to respond when teachers call.

Understand your motivation and how well equipped your museum is to take on relationships with the community.

Often the best links to communities come through your staff members. Do you have staff living in the communities where you will be working?

What percentage of the operating budget supports public service? Is there support in the budget for work with communities? If all community work is grant- funded what does that say, and what will happen when the grants end?

Is transportation a problem for anyone in your audience? If so, tackle it head on—find a solution.

Friday night as free or dollar night did the most to open up the museum to all who wanted to come. This was maintained in good budget years and in tough ones.

We established a Community Endowment to insure its continuity.

Collaborate with other service providers—childcare workers, Girl and Boy Scout leaders, Head Start teachers—so more time can go into programming than into administrative tasks.

Let people with passion lead the effort. If you don't have them, hire them.

Next: Story 10