Story 10: Cultural Learning - Two Models

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Cultural Exhibits in the Twenty-First Century

Written by Leslie Swartz

To this day, people still ask where "their" culture is represented in a museum exhibit. Serially monogamous cultural exhibitions always draw this question. Changing culture-specific exhibits within a dedicated cultural gallery is one solution, although it is an expensive and time-consuming one. Using "multiculturalism" as a topic may provide a better solution in today's world. (the museum's KidsBridge exhibit, installed in 1990, is a good example of this approach.) Multiculturalism places less emphasis on the practices and beliefs of a specific cultural group and instead focuses on the interactions among people of different groups.

Skip ahead to the 21st century, where the need for children to develop skills to live in a globally connected world is universally recognized. In the spirit of teaching and learning about similarities and differences, in 2008 the museum created the traveling exhibit Children of Hangzhou: Connecting with China to introduce The Children's Museum visitors to Chinese children in a personal if media-facilitated way. Visitors "meet" four youth through their media diaries and recreated daily life environments, such as urban and rural homes and schools. Beyond museum walls, communication and transportation between China and the U.S. is now fluid, further blurring the divide among Chinese, Chinese Americans, and other Americans in our communities.

Along with the rest of the U.S., the museum and its exhibits and programs are transitioning from regional studies to multicultural to global, all within a few decades. The meaning of diversity has broadened as new immigrants from an even broader array of countries continue to change the face of Boston and of the museum audience. China has been "demystified." It is no longer exotic and far away. The Children's Museum and its East Asian staff have been part of this transition, helping children and adults appreciate and understand East Asian cultures as they are lived in Asia and in the United States. The Children's Museum remains ahead of the curve, creating opportunities for children and families to move into new phases of cultural understanding—of not only China and Japan—but of the many other countries around the world from which people stream daily into the Boston community.

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