It seems like there are always a few terms in the museum field that reappear in every article, every blog post, and every conference discussion. You know the ones that I’m talking about: Participatory. Diversity. Innovation. Audience Engagement. There are more out there, and it seems like they all have one thing in common – a lot of talk. We talk a lot about the importance of creating participatory experiences and engaging diverse audiences, but are we taking real strives to make change in our museums? I recently heard about an organization in New York City that is doing this and so much more. Cool Culture is a non profit that serves over 50,000 families every year by pairing them with free admission to 90 of the city’s diverse arts and cultural institutions. Read on to learn more.
Candace Anderson, Executive Director of Cool Culture, recently spoke as a guest of the Cooperstown Graduate Program and as the keynote speaker of the Museum Association of New York’s annual conference. She pointed out that too few low-income families use NYC’s cultural resources in enrich their children’s lives and help them grow as learners. Cool Culture provides families with a Cool Culture Family Pass that provides up to five family members with free, unlimited admission to 90 partner institutions including museums, botanical gardens, historical societies, and zoos. The culturally diverse families earn less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Line ($44,700 for a family of four) and would not be able to afford to have the type of access to cultural institutions that the pass allows.
Success of the program stems from Cool Culture’s deep partnership with their museum partners and community support system. By developing relationships with Head Start and other early learning programs, museums are able to strengthen ties with teachers and families. Why are there not more organizations who see needs in their cities and make active steps to fix them? I am a native of Chicago, one of the most racially divided cities in the country, and I wonder what a program modeled off of Cool Culture could do to bring families of different races, cultures, and socioeconomic statuses together. If we want to continue touting museums as places for cultural exchange that have an impact in the lives of visitors, we need to start taking action. What can your institution do to open up their doors to a new audience? Do you know of any museums that are actively engaged with conversations in their communities?