June 13, 2022 / News & Blog

In Search of Kindness: A Call to Action

This article is part of the “Communications 2022” issue of Hand to Hand. Click here to read other articles in the issue.

By Mike Yankovich and Gretchen Kerr, Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus

For nearly fifty years, the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus has been a gathering place where people in our community can share moments of wonder and joy. Our staff takes this mission seriously, and strives to help families create memories in a safe and welcoming environment.

The past two years have been trying for everyone, including our staff and the families we serve, and accomplishing our mission has become increasingly difficult. Our community has faced countless challenges, leading to uncertainty, fear, and anxiety. These emotions have spilled out in big, small, and unexpected ways, often affecting those around us.

In January 2022, as the pandemic continued and Omicron hit the scene, the museum continued to follow Denver’s public health guidelines, which included wearing masks in indoor public spaces. Regrettably, some guests who objected to the city-wide policy were inappropriately directing their anger toward our staff. With these incidents increasing in frequency and intensity, the museum made the decision to immediately close our doors for ten days to support our staff and bolster our policies with the hope of preventing this type of behavior in the future.

An email to our members and one social media post regarding the closure was all it took for the news to spread quickly through our community and soon, the country. In addition to the hundreds of comments of love and support that appeared on our post, phone calls and emails poured in from all over, many from children’s museums experiencing similar struggles. Unfortunately, the bad came in with the good—negative comments, indignant emails, and even cancelled memberships—all due to our call for kindness.

Disappointing, to be sure, but there was work to do. We met as a team to share the disheartening situations our staff experienced. The conversation was difficult, but vitally important to lay the foundation for the work ahead. Our staff voiced that they appreciated the time and space to work together to support each other and to develop strategies to make the museum a better place for our internal and external community.

As a part of this process, we reflected on our How We Play guidelines. These long-standing signs are posted throughout the museum and offer a simple reminder to share, be kind, and treat others with respect. We were looking for ways we could further embody this sentiment and encourage positivity and joy through all aspects of the museum.

So when we reopened, in addition to new and improved processes around guest orientation, de-escalation, and accountability, we employed some more playful options to encourage kindness. We installed a giant conversation heart at the entrance of the museum where guests shared simple acts of kindness they planned to engage in. Children and adults alike took part, and the ideas flowed: smiling at a stranger, helping an elderly neighbor, or calling mom… all small actions with potentially big impacts.

Next up for us: High Five Highway. Inspired by a similar activity developed by the Exploratorium in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, High Five Highway will live on our plaza and encourage strangers to interact and connect with one simple action.

Though the mask enforcement days are behind us (for the moment), something else has become abundantly clear: it was never just about masks. We live in a time where a little kindness can go a long way, although it seems many have lost interest in demonstrating this human-centered value. And unfortunately, as we learned from the conversations we had with our friends across the country, this is a shared issue that affects all of us, and acting alone won’t cut it.

As we look ahead, we ask the community of children’s museums for help answering the following questions:

  • • How can we support grown-ups in being positive role models for not just their child, but all children?
  • • What role can children’s museums play in fostering kindness in an increasingly divided and troubled world?
  • • How can the field of children’s museums boldly work together to support positive development in the children of our community?

The task at hand may feel daunting. But we are never stronger than when we are together. We look forward to working with you all to make the future a brighter, and kinder, place.

Mike Yankovich is president and CEO and Gretchen Kerr is COO of the Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus.