As part of my graduate coursework in Museum Education, I completed a semester-long research project about Kids as Curators. I contacted a handful of museums around the country and spoke with museum educators, curators and classroom teachers to learn about the variety of programs in which children and teens curate exhibits (either in their school or a museum and with their own possessions or museum artifacts). I found that programs and outcomes varied based on museum size, available resources and the interest and availability of the participating groups.
In your own such planning, it may be beneficial to keep the following in mind:
- Ensure Available Resources: One of the biggest challenges museum professionals face is lack of adequate resources such as an appropriate gallery space, adequate staff support and durability of collections.
- Buy-In & Support: In any collaborative endeavor it is important that the internal staff supports one another. Whether assisting with an on-site visit or providing moral support, mutual respect and understanding are essential among museum staff and museum-school/community partnerships.
- Plan, Plan, Plan: Develop a feasible timeline, considering the school and museum calendar. Schedule time to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the experience. Of course, communication is key, from daily emails to weekly meetings open communication will help partnerships and projects flourish.
- Program Funding: Whether through the support of private, corporate donors or grant-funded awards, it is essential to secure financial support before proceeding with a program.
- Think Outside the Box: Aside from physically taking part in the design or fabrication process, there are numerous ways to be active participants in a curatorial and exhibit design process including front-end evaluation research, members of advisory boards, or as curators of classroom or online exhibits.
As a result, everyone benefits from such partnerships and programs:
- Museums benefit in serving under-served of sometimes overlooked populations/audiences increases museum visibility and strengthens local partnerships with schools and other community based organizations.
- Student-curated programs also help reshape a teacher’s view of how his or her students learn. Teachers may also benefit from the museum/school partnerships and take advantage of the project-based professional development and training sessions that might be available.
- Kids and teens will benefit from taking ownership in the exhibit design process and more intimately connecting with the subject matter. This experience will also afford participants the opportunity to strengthen problem-solving and team-building skills.
I hope this brief overview inspires readers to explore, participate and/or develop such programs!