Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Museum of Design Atlanta Announces FREE Membership Program for Kids: equity and access in museum and cultural planning

Years ago, reading a Wallace Foundation report on building audiences for the arts (Engaging the Entire Community), I was struck by one of the examples, how the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has a free membership program for low income audiences, even providing free bus transportation to programs.

Chanel Baldwin, exploring the Brooklyn Museum after learning that admission fees were suggested. Karsten Moran, New York Times.

In 2013 there was an article in the New York Times ("Escaping the Heat in Art's Fortress: A teenager escapes the summer heat in a museum lobby, then learns she doesn’t have to pay a fee to see the art") about how visitors to some of NYC's major museums (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, etc.) have the choice to pay what they want, but often young adults don't know this.

More recently, PS1 in New York City provides free entry to NYC residents through this October, compliments of the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation ("MoMA PS1 Announces Free Admission to All New York City Residents," press release).

Image courtesy of MODA.

The Museum of Design Atlanta has just announced a program in this vein, offering free membership to children and youth up to 17 years of age and one adult.  From a press release:
Kids who join Design Club will be joining a network of over 1,500 young designers, most of whom are in the metro-Atlanta area, but some of whom live as far away as Chicago and Rome, Italy! 
MODA’s Design Club offers each member and one accompanying adult unlimited free admission to the museum’s exhibitions, newsletters with unique design challenges, and invitations to Design Club activities that empower youth to use design and design thinking to face real world challenges they encounter in everyday life. To make it official, Design Club members also receive personalized membership cards to use at the front desk. 
“We believe that kids can change the world,” said MODA executive director Laura Flusche. “They see the world through fresh eyes, they love wacky ideas, and they are brave enough to think that anything is possible.” Design Club gives children access to exhibitions and programs with the aim of helping them fall in love with the problem-solving power of design.

In order to support this revolutionary program, MODA raised funds through the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs Power2Give Program in early 2016, asking individual and corporate donors to make gifts that were matched by the City of Atlanta.
The New York City initiatives are free form.  Students can enter the museum for free, and there are programs, but it's more free form.  The Walker Art Center initiative focused on families in a concerted way.  But the MODA initiative takes this one step further, by positioning and developing the Design Club as a "network" that builds upon the participation of individuals towards a more group focused involvement and identity.

Artists For Humanity as an another example of working with youth in the arts and design fields.  I happened to mention AFH yesterday related to their creation of a Roxbury-centric design for a Hubway bike, in honor of the expansion of the Hubway bike sharing system to Roxbury.

Image from "Artists For Humanity Installed a 3D Mural Along the Mass. Pike," BostonInno.

AFH is an youth training initiative where working artists work with students to create commissioned arts and design projects ("Mayor Walsh announces expansion of Artists for Humanity," Daily Free Press, Boston University; "Artists for Humanity turns young people's creative impulses into gainful employment," Kresge Foundation).

In part, it's providing access to career options within the creative industries to people who might not otherwise consider the opportunity.

From the KF article:
In one room, young photographers learn from pros about telling compelling stories with pictures. Down the hall whip-smart ideas become hip T-shirt designs in the silk screen studio. A bit farther along, in the 3-D workroom, scraps and detritus are being recycled. The items are as small as jewelry beads and as large as a sculpture installation – a curved aluminum-sheet section of the latter is being festooned with recycled soda bottle caps – for Logan Airport. On the next floor, there’s a forest of easels, more than 80 of them, with painters creating self-portraits, streetscapes, landscapes, abstracts at each station.

Most important, these workrooms and others at the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood crackle with creative energy barely contained. “All they need is opportunity and challenge,” says Susan Rodgerson, the executive/artistic director, sharing one of her aphorisms.

Artists for Humanities began 20 years ago as a one-off mural project in a troubled Boston middle school. That initial notion was simple enough: work with young people on commissioned art and see that they get paid. It’s morphed into roughly more than a hundred teens filling a 23,500-square-foot facility. Each year, 300 or more public high school students work in areas from Web design to murals, motion graphics to painting.
Also see the past blog entry, "An illustration of government and design thinking," about the relevance of the design method and process to social change, civic engagement, and provision of public services.

Cultural master planning.  Many communities, such as Baltimore, support free museum access (even if admission fees are still required for special exhibitions). Equity and access should be a distinct element in the framework for developing community cultural master plans. Typically this is not the case.

In Washington, DC, the city has many free museums run by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Gallery of Art, yet many residents, especially low income residents and youth, have never visited. This is further accentuated by the decline in funding for school trips, which are often great ways to introduce children and youth--I still remember going to the Detroit Institute of Arts on a class trip for my French class to see the exhibition on French Impressionists, when I was in 8th grade.

Initiatives like MODA’s Design Club are important examples for communities looking for better ways to reach traditionally under-served audiences, especially youth and low income families.  (It appears as if the Walker Art Center no longer offers the "Explore Membership" program for low income households.  See "Case Study," Philanthropology, for a discussion of the various engagement initiatives.)

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