Content Front and Center: Minnesota Children’s Museum Talks about Racism

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

By Bob Ingrassia, Minnesota Children’s Museum

For more than forty years, kids and parents have appreciated Minnesota Children’s Museum as a playful place for fun, smiles, and laughter.

Millions of families have made joyful memories in our exhibits. Children who remember crawling through our mysterious ant tunnel have since grown up to watch their own kids confidently scale our four-story climbing tower and zoom down a giant spiral slide.

So why does our museum talk so much about the serious and challenging topics of racism and racial inequities? Shouldn’t we just “stay in our lane” as a place for family fun?

Here’s what our staff and board believe: Working toward racial justice is core to our mission and vision.

The organization’s strategic plan calls for us to “champion children’s healthy development.” We know there is no way to meaningfully advocate for the wellbeing of kids without acknowledging and addressing racial inequities that harm children in Minnesota—and everywhere.

So, yes, a children’s museum that speaks forcefully about racism—particularly its negative effects on children—and works toward a more just future is absolutely staying in its lane.

A Racial Reckoning in Minnesota

More than two years have passed since a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, touching off protests around the world. During this time, the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area has endured bouts of civil unrest, additional police killings of young Black men, tense trials of police officers, and a divisive election about the future of the Minneapolis Police Department.

The police violence against people of color sparked more urgency to finally take meaningful action to address broader racial inequities in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota—in housing, education, healthcare, and other areas.

Even before George Floyd’s murder, Minnesota Children’s Museum had joined other cultural organizations in a commitment to make progress toward becoming a more diverse and welcoming organization for visitors, staff, and volunteers. The museum has since doubled down on its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, work that museum President Dianne Krizan detailed in a previous issue of Hand to Hand.

Our staff and board members have also asked and started to answer a tough question about the museum’s responsibility outside our walls: What role, if any, should the museum play in the racial reckoning happening in our community?

Thankfully, we knew we would not be starting equity and inclusion work from scratch. During the museum’s forty-year history, we have earned a reputation as a joyful and welcoming place for all families to experience playful learning. The museum’s audience has grown to be at least as diverse as the region we serve, and often more diverse. We have a robust access program in which about 25 percent of our audience each year enjoys the museum through free or reduced-price admission.

Still, we understood there was much more we could be doing, and that remaining silent as the #BlackLivesMatter movement gained momentum in the Twin Cities was not an option. But we also understood that simply stating we supported the idea of combating racial injustice was not enough. The museum decided to map out a course to publicly engage in the work to combat racial injustice and to build a more equitable future.

Why Talk about Racism?

We considered the risks and acknowledged that speaking publicly about racial inequity and social justice might upset segments of our audience. Advocacy on issues as challenging as injustice and systemic racism would be new to the organization.

We also anticipated that we might hear the question: Why is the children’s museum talking about racism?

The answer we developed tied this work to the core principles and objectives in our mission, vision and strategic plan. The future we envision, one in which “all families thrive in a happier, healthier and more innovative community,” cannot happen when racial injustice holds children back.

Our answer leans on facts.

We found reassurance in a timely survey that showed substantial support among our audience for the museum working to combat racism. When a group of adults who visit cultural organizations were asked if Minnesota Children’s Museum should join efforts to fight racial injustice, 51 percent said they “strongly agree” we should and another 29 percent said they “somewhat agree.”

Taking Action

In the weeks following George Floyd’s murder, the museum publicly declared on our website our commitment to supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement, stating that “Black lives matter. They mattered yesterday. They matter today. They will matter tomorrow.”

In April 2021, just ahead of the anniversary of Floyd’s death, the museum hosted a panel event titled “Talking with Children about Racial Injustice.” More than 1,200 people registered and nearly 600 attended, with hundreds more watching the event recording.

In a post-event survey, many attendees said they appreciated the museum hosting such an important discussion and indicating they wanted more. One attendee stated: “That panel was outstanding: Direct, honest, specific, encouraging! I particularly appreciated the continual references to noting the historical context and legacy of race as well as the intentionality of conversations about race with children.”

The museum also collaborated with the panelists to create a one-sheet for parents and caregivers with tips for talking with children about race.

In November 2021, we hosted a second panel event about how play can help overcome inequalities. Three child development experts detailed the urgent need for action in addressing the negative effects of racism and inequality on children’s health. They made a case that playful learning, in the home and in the classroom, is a proven driver of every child’s growth and development.

We also continue to use our own channels, such as our blog and social media pages, to share resources and information that support this work. We’ve found that our followers and subscribers heavily engage with this content in meaningful ways. For example, in February 2022, the museum shared a blog post about how to celebrate Black History Month with children. The post was one of our most popular ever, getting more than 10,000 pageviews in just a few weeks and driving traffic to our website from all over the world.

Some of the museum’s other equity and access work includes providing free or reduced cost admission to income-qualified families. More than 4,000 families currently have a scholarship membership to the museum. In addition, nearly 12,000 people have visited the museum during the pandemic with steeply discounted day passes available to lower-income families.

Knowing that many families are either not able to visit or are still not comfortable visiting, the museum has provided free play kits to families in need. Using a state grant, the museum has packed and distributed more than 1,000 “tinker kits” featuring a variety of loose parts and materials.

Looking Ahead

Combatting systemic racism is difficult work. The museum has made strides toward becoming a more inclusive organization. We have publicly called out inequalities in Minnesota and taken initial steps to help erase them.

Still, we know that we are still establishing our voice and our path forward. We have not yet fully defined what it means when we say we want “ally” to be a verb, not just a noun—but we feel like we are on the right path.

We also know there will be more challenges ahead as marginalized communities press for equity and work to preserve rights that may come under threat.

Whatever lies ahead, we will remain committed to supporting parents in raising happy, healthy children, publicly advocating for the powerful role of play in growth and learning and furthering the movement for racial equity so all children thrive.

Bob Ingrassia has led the marketing and communications team at Minnesota Children’s Museum since 2014. He is a former journalist who lives with his spouse and two children in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Photos by Bruce Silcox for Minnesota Children’s Museum. 

Building Relationships through a Pandemic

This article is part of the August 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “COVID-19: Stories from the Field.” Click here to read other articles in this issue.

By Alix Tonsgard and Laura Diaz

Building and maintaining trusting relationships is at the core of early education and care programs, whether part of a preschool, a social service agency, or a children’s museum. As DuPage Children’s Museum has continued our community outreach programming to vulnerable families in a pandemic, we have expanded and ultimately deepened our approach to building relationships. In the face of a global crisis, with normal communications patterns disrupted, our Partners in Play (PIP) program is still able to meaningfully impact the lives of children and caregivers through a previously underutilized path: texting.

The caregivers we serve often need support in recognizing the growth and development that takes place during open-ended play for young children (ages birth to three). Through a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), we created a program to take place in our Young Explorers exhibit gallery, originally designed for families with children under two, and intentionally redesigned to make child development information and milestones more visible.

We began with two cohorts of twelve families each, the first group selected by a social service agency and the second consisting of teen parents recruited from a support group. PIP was scheduled to take place over the course of one year, during which all families would attend monthly sessions at the museum.

The first few PIP sessions were designed to establish trusting relationships between museum staff and caregivers. Once families—some first-time museum visitors—became comfortable, sessions became more content-focused on specific aspects of young children’s development, such as memory, communication, and fine motor skills.

Two months into the program, COVID-19 hit and the museum closed. How could we keep these families engaged in meaningful and accessible ways ? We started group-texting families twice a week with a friendly greeting (“Hi, how are you doing?”) and a simple activity that could be done at home. We also called them individually from time to time just to connect and hear about what life during COVID-19 was like for them. We enlisted the help of a particularly outgoing PIP mother who helped spark replies and conversations among the families. Initially it was difficult to stay connected with teen parents. However, we learned that by postponing the text drop from mid-afternoon to around 7-8 p.m., when bedtime was near and they might finally be able to pick up their phones and relax on the couch, our messages got greater response.

The more we learned from texts and phone calls, the more we were able to tailor PIP activities, developed to take place in a carefully designed museum environment, to new realities—a home, often with other family members, including children of all ages, milling around. One text from a PIP staff member showed a picture of her own two-year-old who had decided to dump every single toy on the floor while Mom was on a Zoom work call. Not only was everyone able to share a laugh about what life is like “working from home,” but PIP staff suggested parents turn messes like this into   clean-up and sorting activities, perfectly appropriate for young children.

The response has been incredible. During the first few weeks of the pandemic, social service home visits paused and other organizations scrambled to come up with a plan for how to work with families from home (both the provider’s home and the caregiver’s home). At this time, the PIP program was the only support some families had. Many PIP caregivers are frontline workers who do not have the privilege of working from home. Throughout the shelter-in-place period, they continued to do what they could to meet the basic needs of their families. Regular texts and calls from DCM staff gave them something to look forward to and focus on beyond their daily struggles.

“The upbringing of ages zero to three is beautiful but very difficult and… very tiring because they need full time care. Programs like PIP help us with our stress and are great and fun dynamics for our babies.

 For families who have low resources it is a huge support because we know that there are an infinite number of organizations…but sometimes they are unreachable for us. Now more than ever with the pandemic, we need to gather and share ideas with one another to help with the upbringing of our children from home.”

Almost every family has a phone, but some families don’t have access to computers or reliable internet connections, making Zoom-delivered programs not fully accessible. Many social service agencies already use texts to stay connected with families. We talk a lot about access, but the pandemic has presented us with a unique opportunity to take a harder look at the realities and needs of the families we serve—in the extended stay-at-home COVID-19 environment and after. We are grateful for how supportive IMLS has been as we tweak this program to meet families where they are in a time when they need us the most

At this writing, there are ten sessions left in our program. We are packing up all the PIP materials and in two scheduled pick-ups at the museum, will give five kits each time to program families. Each kit contains instructions, materials, and child development information for an activity. Later we will text them short videos of how to use these kits. We are looking forward to seeing our families again at pick-up time, but are also excited about the expanded possibilities for keeping these connections strong under any circumstances.

Alix Tonsgard is an early learning specialist and Laura Diaz is a community & family access specialist at the DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville, Illinois.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Read other articles in the August 2020 issue of Hand to Hand, “COVID-19: Stories from the Field.”

Reopening with Equity in Mind

Jump to a Section
Opportunities for Culturally Relevant Practice in Museums, Cultural Competence Learning Institute
Embedding DEAI in Strategic Planning, High Desert Museum
The Three Bears Model: Identifying Just Right Partnerships, Chicago Children’s Museum
Mobilizing Your Museum to Be a Resource for Equity, Cincinnati Museum Center
Conclusion and Resources

Opportunities for Culturally Relevant Practice in Museums

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, museums—like so many other institutions and sectors—are being asked to reimagine themselves: Will hands-on exhibits ever be the same? When and how can we reopen safely for our staff and our visitors? In the face of these existential questions, how can we keep equity front and center?

CCLI (Cultural Competence Learning Institute) is a partnership between  Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the Association of Science and Technology Centers, the Association of Children’s Museums, and the Garibay Group. On May 19, CCLI hosted the webinar, “Reopening with Equity in Mind: Opportunities for Culturally Relevant Practice in Museums.” CCLI operates on the idea that success for museums in the 21st century will depend on embracing organizational change, allowing organizations to meaningfully connect with their community.

Cecilia Garibay, President of, Garibay Group shared a framework for grounding DEAI efforts in concrete areas of operations for rebuilding with an equity lens, drawing from CCLI’s National Landscape Study: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) Practices in Museums (Garibay and Olson, forthcoming).

CCLI’s key definitions surrounding equity work:
Diversity encompasses all those differences that make us unique, including but not limited to race, color, ethnicity, language, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, socio-economic status, age, and physical and mental ability.  A diverse group, community or organization is one in which a variety of social and cultural characteristics exist.
Equity acknowledges differences in privilege, access, and need, and supports space for appropriate adaptation and accommodation.
Inclusion denotes an environment where each individual member of a diverse group feels valued, is able to fully develop his or her potential and contributes to the organization’s success.

Find more definitions at the CCLI website.

Garibay noted that the concept of equity can often feel abstract and even aspirational, but when we recognize that structural and historical barriers and systems of opression are at the root, it allows us to consider how we can begin to affect and change those systems and structures. She described how organizational change frameworks that look at systems and operational structures can help to create and measure change toward DEAI. The Burke-Litwin Causal Model of Organizational Change (Burke & Litwin, 1992; Martins & Coetzee, 2009) identifies three interrelated “factors” for change:

  • Individual & Personal (i.e. individual skills, motivation, needs, and values)
  • Transactional (i.e. organizational practice)
  • Transformational (long-term, core ways of thinking around mission and strategy).

Garibay pointed out that DEAI efforts often focus on the personal level using diversity workshops, implicit bias trainings, and other methods to support individual on their cultural competence journey. These strategies, however, ignore institutional levers critical for sustainable change and informing equity-focused organizational practices.

“I want to start by making it clear what an opportunity all of us have ahead of us. Our organizations are going to be community responders. Our first responders have been out there saving lives. And it’s our turn to move in when we can reopen as community responders to the pandemic, getting ready to help rebuild community and connection.”

Dana Whitelaw, High Desert Museum

Museum Practice for Reopening with Equity in Mind

Museum leaders from CCLI alumni organizations offered reflections on how they are thinking about equity amidst this pandemic.

Embedding DEAI in Strategic Planning

Dana Whitelaw, Executive Director, High Desert Museum (Bend, Oregon) 

The High Desert Museum, an interdisciplinary museum in Bend, Oregon, grounds all areas of their operations in an equity lens, both internally and externally. Dana Whitelaw discussed how this affects her museum’s strategic planning and approach to staffing and skilling up.

Pandemic Strategic Plan: The museum has created a pandemic strategic plan that sits alongside their pre-existing five year strategic plan. They have three phases over the next 12-18 months:

  • Closure (3-4 months)
  • Reopening (6-8 months)
  • Rebuilding (12-18 months)

During this time of closure, the museum is working to embed equity into all facets of reopening:

Admissions: How can your museum ensure access for a wide audience after reopening? Existing access programs, such as Museums for All, rely on walk-in admissions. If we reopen using timed ticketing, online sales, and cashless payment, how will our front desk processes continue to have an equity model?

Membership: Membership is seen as a privilege – how can we make it accessible?
How can you use membership to build more access? The High Desert Museum is working with partner organizations, starting with our hospital, to gift a community membership to frontline workers (e.g. nurses and grocery store workers) for each new or renewed membership.

Programming: How can you ensure your upcoming programming is inclusive?
The High Desert Museum is collecting stories from the pandemic experience for a future exhibit. They’re reaching out to community partners to ensure they feature and include a diverse set of stories.

Staffing: How can you skill up your staff to align with community needs?

You can build an equity approach into all levels of your organization. With governance, what board-level skills are needed for reopening? With staffing, how can you scale up to be relevant and responsive to new community needs?

The Three Bears Model: Identifying Just Right Partnerships

Jennifer Farrington, President and CEO, Chicago Children’s Museum (Chicago, Illinois) 

When Chicago Children’s Museum closed its doors due to COVID-19, it could not fulfill its mission to promote joyful learning by serving children and families to the museum in the same ways it had done before. President and CEO Jennifer Farrington shared how the museum identified new strategies to meet their mission, by authentically leveraging local partnerships to distribute resources to their community.

Museums do not serve communities alone, but rather as part of a web of individuals, organizations, and community partners. How can your museum work within this ecosystem to offer support and resources to communities? For those museums that feel they do not have resources to share, Farrington noted that with an abundance mindset, our institutions have extraordinary resources from our organizational values and integrity to key community relationships.

How to Approach Authentic Partnership:

1. Do an honest assessment of your museum’s capacity.
In this moment, museums can’t fulfill all their relationship obligations, and they also can’t serve their entire audiences. How can you ensure you make a meaningful impact without spreading yourself too thin? Consider focusing on three to four areas of work to increase impact, maybe even focusing on the most directly impacted communities around your museum. Being honest about what you can do helps set realistic expectations with your partners and offer internal clarity and focus.

2. Reach out with sensitivity and integrity.
Many community partners are on the front lines serving communities affected by the pandemic, and may not have the capacity to engage with your museum. How do you ensure you approach your partners and the people you serve with integrity and in equitable partnership?

  • Is your partner organization in a place to receive your message, or are they in a crisis mode?
  • What goals do you share? What can each organization bring to the table to accomplish those shared goals?
  • How can you work with partners to develop content together, rather than present “the baked cake”? How can the process itself be collaborative?
  • Ask your partners: What’s changed [in recent weeks]? Who at your organization has the capacity to discuss this project? How do the communities you work with want to be involved? 

Following the “three bears” approach, Chicago Children’s Museum is working with long-time partner Chicago Public Library to distribute activity kits to 10,000 families, with funding from the Education Equity COVID-19 Response Fund.

Mobilizing Your Museum to Be a Resource for Equity

Elizabeth Pierce, President & CEO, Cincinnati Museum Center (Cincinnati, Ohio)

When Cincinnati Museum Center closed due to the pandemic on March 14, 2020, it moved directly to be in even more active conversation with its community partners to hear what is most helpful for them in moving through the pandemic. By situating themselves as one node in a larger ecosystem, they have been able to be responsive and adaptive to community needs. How can your museum partner in your local social service landscape? President and CEO Elizabeth Pierce identified additional strategies for serving as a resource even when your doors are closed:

Adapting Programming to Address Isolation
This is a time of isolation for many communities, especially those who do not have access to online resources and technologies.

  • How can your museum help to lessen feelings of isolation?
  • How can we push out information across many technological differences?

In addition to online programming, can your museum organize analog conference calls or facilitate software that allows people to call into conferences, meetings, and presentations without an internet connection?

Cincinnati Museum Center organized analog conference calls to present curator talks.

Cincinnati Museum Center is also collecting reflections from the graduating class of 2020 as well as other constituencies. They plan to reflect this back to their community with future exhibits and programming when the museum reopens. At that time, they’ll invite respondents back.

Leveraging Your Building
While your museum may not be able to reopen, its building, parking lot, and other spaces may allow your institution to serve as a socially-distanced convener.

  • Can you act as a distribution center for a food bank?  
  • Are there opportunities to work with public schools?

Cincinnati Museum Center used its parking lot to host a drive-through graduation ceremony for a local high school.


As you consider these questions for your museum in moving forward, remember these ways of approaching this work from Dana Whitelaw, Executive Director, High Desert Museum:

  • You can ground yourself in your mission and vision statements as a lens for making decisions.
  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  • Approach this time with abundance. While the pandemic can push feelings of scarcity, remember that museums are abundant in creativity and organizational purpose. Let’s put that to work to rebuild our organizations and communities.

“Some things are not answered yet, things are in motion. That’s true for our entire [museum] community. We’re in search of some concrete answers, but we’re not in the place yet in this experience where we can get there. We’re creating those realities.”

Laura Huerta Migus, Executive Director, Association of Children’s Museums



Burke, W.W.,  &  Litwin,  G.H.  (1992). A  causal  model  of  organisational    performance    and    change.  Journal of Management, 8(3), 523–546.

Garibay, C. and Olson, J.M. (forthcoming). CCLI national landscape survey: A conversation about the state of DEAI in Museums.

Martins, N., & Coetzee, M. (2009). Applying the Burke-Litwin model as a diagnostic framework for assessing organizational effectiveness. SA Journal of Human Resource Management, 7(1), 1–13.

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and InstagramCultural Competence Learning Institute (CCLI) is a partnership between the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the Association of Science and Technology Centers, the Association of Children’s Museums, and the Garibay Group.

New Webinar Series Helps Museums Take Diversity and Inclusion Efforts from Intention to Action

This post was produced in collaboration with the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

Museums across the country are navigating a critical moment: the urgent need to challenge systemic racism in our communities and institutions alongside the interconnected effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic stress. To effectively respond to the public health crisis and to transform into actively antiracist organizations, museums must lead with equity-centered work.

CCLI (Cultural Competence Learning Institute) has developed a free, four-part series to provide resources and concrete steps for museums to activate diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) efforts within their institutions and in their roles as trusted community hubs. Each of the four webinars in the series will cover the process of transforming intention to action, from equity and inclusion statements and hiring practices to community engagement and supporting DEAI committees.

  • Moving from Statements to Action (July 23): An equity and inclusion statement can be a foundational element for an organization’s DEAI work. But what comes next? This session will focus on how these statements are guiding principles for action. View the recording.
  • Building and Nurturing a DEAI Committee (August 20): Establishing a DEAI committee or task force can be a critical step in prioritizing equity work. How can museums support DEAI committees to most effectively elevate equity? This session will focus on best practices to build and nurture DEAI committees. View the recording.
  • Effective and Equitable Community Engagement (October 29): As museums build partnerships throughout the communities they serve, how can they ensure community engagement that serves all? This session will focus on inclusive partnership-building, outreach, and engagement practices. View the recording.
  • Restructuring with Equity in Mind (January 14, 2021 @ 3pm EDT): As museums navigate the enduring impacts of Covid-19 on staff teams, how can they restructure team roles, emphasizing skills, experience and initiative? This session will focus on the intersection of equity, HR practice and organizational change. View the recording.

Each 60-minute webinar will feature speakers from across the museum community, a short presentation of data from CCLI’s forthcoming National Landscape Study, and Q&A session for participants to share their challenges and experiences.

Participants are welcome to join individually, or with a team of colleagues. Each webinar will offer a deep dive into the topic to deliver concrete, actionable steps and resources toward organizational development. Register for one webinar or the whole series!

CCLI (Cultural Competence Learning Institute) is a partnership among Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the Association of Science and Technology Centers, the Association of Children’s Museums, and the Garibay Group. CCLI helps museum leaders catalyze diversity and inclusion efforts in their institutions.

Museum Resources for Talking about Racism with Children

Please contact ACM to add your children’s museum’s resources to this list.

Demonstrations continue to unfold around the world calling for an end to racist systems that oppress Black people and people of color. As institutions with a responsibility to the children and families in their communities, children’s museums are sharing tools to help families navigate difficult conversations about race and racism—including these resource guides:

6 Books That Can Help You Talk to Your Child about Race and Diversity
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (IN)

“We believe in the power of children to change the world around us. We cannot raise world-changers if we shy away from tough topics. We hope these books may empower children and their grown-ups to address these challenging topics with sensitivity and compassion, empowering children to make a difference in our communities—no matter how young.”

Anti-Racism Resources
National Children’s Museum (Washington, DC)

“For parents, for kids, for educators, and for all dreamers.”

Mourning and Making Meaningful Change
Minnesota Children’s Museum (St. Paul)

“We want to support kids and families as we find a path forward to unite, heal, and make meaningful change toward a just future where everyone in our community and throughout the world is treated with kindness, dignity and respect.”

Racial Equity Resources
Marbles Kids Museum (Raleigh, NC)

“Marbles believes in the power of play to unite communities around building bright futures for children. We believe in the power of play to break down barriers, celebrate diversity, and foster friendships. These beliefs shape our commitment to help a community shaken by unrest and racial inequity that impacts us all.”

Resources for Talking about Race and Equality
Children’s Museums of Pittsburgh and MuseumLab (PA)

“Racism and prejudice have a profound impact on children and families in Pittsburgh and across the world. We must teach our children to be kind and compassionate to everyone. We are all neighbors.”

Social Justice
Glazer Children’s Museum (Tampa, FL)

“We have created a page on our website filled with free resources for families about racism, trauma, violence, and the historic context of activism. This is just our small piece of the puzzle. To the black and brown families in our community – we are here for you. We will help you help your children through this.”

Talking to Children About Race (from Play Is Essential Work: A Parenting Guide)
The Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum (IL)
“Conversations about racial justice must start at home. Parents bear the responsibility of educating their children about race and racial injustice, no matter how difficult that conversation may seem to be. Your children are not too young to have a conversation about race. Below are some resources to start that conversation.”

Talking to Your Child about Race
Pretend City Children’s Museum (Irvine, CA)
“Children as young as infants can recognize differences in their appearances. As they explore the world around them, they begin to form their identity in relation to others. It is never too early to start having conversations that address the differences they see. Here are four ways you and your family can introduce race conversations to your child.”

What To Say When There Are No Words
Boston Children’s Museum and Children’s Services of Roxbury

“At this moment, we need to keep our children close and show them our ever-present unconditional love. Even the youngest children have a keen sense of fairness and right and wrong so we can talk to them honestly about justice in a way that is appropriate for their age and stage of development.”

The Associations of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

A Letter to the Field

This post was first sent to the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) membership as a Letter to the Field on June 1, 2020.

Children’s museums were born of the education reform movement in the early 1900s as a way to support children’s learning through play. Since then, children’s museums have remained focused on how to support children, guided by the tenets in the United Nation’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which state that children have the right to “develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually, and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity.”

We mourn the death of George Floyd. We mourn that America is built upon systems that oppress Black people and people of color. We mourn the violent protests that occur after peaceful protests go unheard and unrecognized. We mourn the repetition of this cycle over decades and centuries. We hope that this is a time for lasting and meaningful change.

Children’s museums have a responsibility to the children and families in their communities. This time is an upsetting one, and children feel this keenly. Over the past few days, many children’s museums have shared statements responding to ongoing protests throughout the United States, often including thoughtful resources for caregivers to talk about race and racism with their children. We are collecting these statements and sharing them on the ACM blog, which we will update as needed.

Children’s museums also have a responsibility to their employees to operate in equitable and anti-racist ways. At ACM, we have incorporated operational changes to help interrupt unconscious bias in our workplace. For example, when we hire, we publish a salary range, and also require salary ranges in the ACM Classifieds section of our website. Our family leave policies provide equal paid leave time for all employees, no matter their gender, who are new parents or caretakers for family members. We explicitly prioritize diversity in the recruitment of members to our Board of Directors, committees, task forces, and speakers in all of our programs. We recognize there is still more we can do, and we encourage you to take this time to inventory and assess your museum’s operational practices.

This moment comes at a time of transition for children’s museums. We encourage you to look at your internal practices, both to celebrate existing practices and establish new ones during this time of rebuilding. The Cultural Competence Learning Institute (CCLI)’s recent webinar, Reopening with Equity in Mind, may serve as a starting point for these conversations. You can find helpful resources and discussions on ACM Groupsite, as well as through the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s new online portal, Talking About Race.

Finally, we want to encourage you to consider the digital experiences you share with your community, particularly this week. These experiences are an opportunity to address race and systemic racism head-on in appropriate ways. Story time can feature books that address race and racism in age-appropriate ways. Parent resources can focus on talking to children about race and racism. Look to your peers for examples of content that your museum can share.

In ACM’s Strategic Roadmap, we affirm our belief that pursuing equity and inclusion is a best practice that reflects a commitment to serving all children and families and advancing the growth of our field. For more than a hundred years, children’s museums have spoken up about the needs of children—all children. Together, we envision a world that honors all children and respects the diverse ways in which they learn and develop. To create that world, right now, our children and their families need the spaces we create to model empathy and boldly stand for healing and justice.

Laura Huerta Migus is Executive Director of the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM). Follow ACM on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Children’s Museums Respond to the Death of George Floyd and Ongoing Demonstrations

Starting in late May, demonstrations have unfolded throughout the United States—and around the world—in response to the death of George Floyd, seeking an end to racist systems that oppress Black people and people of color.

Children’s museums have a responsibility to the children and families in their communities. This time is an upsetting one, and children feel this keenly. Over the past few days, many children’s museums have shared statements responding to the protests and sharing resources for caregivers to talk about race and racism with their children. We share these statements and resources here.

This list is incomplete. Please contact ACM to add your children’s museum. Last updated July 1, 2020.

Minnesota Children’s Museum (St. Paul)

Minnesota Children’s Museum mourns the death of George Floyd and would like to express our deepest condolences to his family and friends. We are further saddened by the scenes of destruction we wake up to each morning.

Our organization values racial equity. We work toward equitable outcomes for members of racial and ethnic groups. We know that people of color and indigenous people in Minnesota experience levels of socioeconomic, legal and educational inequality that are among the worst in the nation.

Children in our community feel what’s happening. The museum wants to do what we can to support families. Please know that play helps. Play reduces anxiety. Play mitigates the effects of toxic stress. Play brings people together.

Read the full statement.

Bay Area Discovery Museum (Sausalito, CA)

The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery—three names in a too long list of others—have prompted all of us at the Bay Area Discovery Museum (BADM) to reflect on our role in our community and the values that guide us. We create play-based experiences that help young children and their families explore and make sense of their world. Right now, as we see families hurting, across our region and the country, that work feels especially daunting and also more important than ever. We are committed to doing the work to be a more inclusive and responsive community organization—to educating ourselves, to listening to the voices of our community, and to using our resources and power to tackle the inequities that divide and hurt us.

Read the full statement.

Betty Brinn Children’s Museum (Milwaukee, WI)

The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum believes that equity is foundational. We stand with the black community and those seeking transformative change against racism.

The Museum remains committed to providing inspiring and safe spaces for all children and families to play. We celebrate diversity and all that we can learn from one another to create a better, kinder world for our children. As lifelong learners, we have much to discover and much to do. Let’s do it together.

Read the full statement.

Boston Children’s Museum (MA)

The killing of George Floyd unleashed a deep anguish, not just in the Black community, but across humanity, sparking protests around the world.  The determination to be heard, to demand justice and recognition of a people’s humanity superseded the risk of becoming ill with the coronavirus.  In fact, we are reminded that in this nation, racism, has been and continues to be the most pervasive pandemic in our American story. …

At this moment, we need to keep our children close and show them our ever-present unconditional love. Even the youngest children have a keen sense of fairness and right and wrong so we can talk to them honestly about justice in a way that is appropriate for their age and stage of development.

Read the full statement.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum (NY)

Today, Brooklyn Children’s Museum makes the following commitment to our community:

1. In all that we do, we will acknowledge and recognize that BCM exists in a historically Black neighborhood and that we owe a debt of gratitude to our community, mostly people of color, who have nurtured and sustained our institution for 120 years.

2. Understanding our role as a community anchor, BCM will work to open its doors to families as soon as it is safe. Stay tuned for more information about programming and performances on BCM’s roof as soon as the PAUSE is lifted.

3. We will continue to create experiences that ignite curiosity, celebrate identity and cultivate joyful learning. We will do this in an explicitly anti-racist way, in partnership and solidarity with our community.

Read the full statement.

Cayton Children’s Museum and Sharewell (Santa Monica, CA)

As an institution dedicated to guiding children, youth and families to work together toward justice and expanded possibilities in their communities, we have a responsibility to speak up. All children, but especially Black children and other children of color, are traumatized by racism and inequality in our society. And, in times like these, they sense the fear and uncertainty felt by their grownups.  
We know it is never too early to start honest, age-appropriate discussions with children about these issues. Our goal is to help you in your efforts to have these difficult but essential conversations. 

Real the full statement.

Chicago Children’s Museum (IL) and Kohl Children’s Museum of Greater Chicago (Glenview, IL)

38 Chicago-area organizations coordinated to share this statement from Chicago Community Trust, along with coordinated messaging.

As cultural organizations serving the people of Chicago, we stand in unified opposition to racism and injustice. We must each wrestle with the persistent stain of systemic inequality and its devastating impacts on our staff, members, guests and neighbors.

See Chicago Children’s Museum’s post and Kohl Children’s Museum’s post.

Children’s Creativity Museum (San Francisco, CA)

To create, play, and learn, one must first feel safe.

The Children’s Creativity Museum stands with Black children, caregivers, educators, and the entire Black community.

We ask our visitors to use their imagination to envision a future they would like to live in. In order to create the inclusive and equitable future we hope for, we must first actively speak and take action against the structural racism that holds us back.


Read the full statement.

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose (CA)

As a children’s museum, we are in the unique position to combat historical and systemic racism by promoting diversity, tolerance, inclusion, and cultural competence that starts with our community’s children. We want to help your family navigate these times in a hopeful and honest way that honors your children’s fears, curiosity, and anxiety. The goal for each of us should be to better understand the racial realities of the world and commit to what role we can all play in healing these wounds.

Read the full statement.

Children’s Museum of Atlanta (GA)

Children’s Museum of Atlanta believes that play fosters learning, and playing in an environment that exposes us to new ideas, beliefs, or values can teach us to appreciate and understand our differences and to celebrate our commonalities. In many ways, Children’s Museum of Atlanta serves as a ‘town square’ where all families are able to safely gather, connect, and learn together. We look forward to welcoming families back into our space and will continue to work towards mutual understanding, opportunities for open communication and exploration, and equitable outcomes for members of all racial and ethnic groups.

Read the full statement.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (IN)

We believe Ruby Bridges said it best: “Racism is a grown-up disease.”

Talking about racism, prejudice, and discrimination can be uncomfortable. If we want to see real change in our world, we cannot shy away from these difficult conversations with our children. Through our words and actions, we must teach our children to be kind, compassionate, and caring to everyone.

Read the full statement.

Children’s Museum of Manhattan (NY)

The Children’s Museum of Manhattan condemns racism of all kinds. We are both town square and city park, a safe place for families of diverse backgrounds to gather side-by-side and learn together and from each other. What is happening now, and historically to the black community, is anathema to all we stand for.

By three years old, children have already absorbed notions of bias from those around them. Our job is to support families in raising open-hearted citizens. Over the next days and weeks, CMOM will be developing new initiatives that we can incorporate into our online Parenting in Place and CMOM at Home programming.

Read the full statement.

Children’s Museum of Richmond (VA)

Our mission is to inspire growth in all children by engaging families in learning through play. We strive to be a place that provides equitable solutions for our community as a safe space for all families. We want our community, especially the members of our community who have been oppressed for far too long, to know that we are here for your children and family.

Children are experiencing stress during this time. The value of play cannot be underestimated for our youngest citizens; play reduces stress and brings people together. As families are looking for ways to talk to children about what is happening in Richmond and across the country, we want to help make resources available. Visit our blog for articles, activities, and books your family can use.

Read the full statement.

DISCOVERY Children’s Museum (Las Vegas, NV)

Talking about race, although hard, is necessary.

If we wish to inspire the change we want to see in the world, we need to engage in these difficult conversations with our children today.

See the full statement.

Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum (Salt Lake City, UT)

We at Discovery Gateway are incredibly saddened by the death of George Floyd and all acts of racial injustice. At Discovery Gateway it is our mission to inspire ALL children to imagine, discover, and connect with their world to make a difference. As a children’s museum, we are committed to bringing families together, celebrating diversity, being a catalyst for inclusion, and offering a platform for all communities to have a voice and teach our children.

Read the full statement.

Discovery Place (Charlotte, NC)

While we are saddened to see the physical damage to the building, we realize there is a much deeper hurting across our community and country. Our windows can be repaired but a much longer process lies ahead to change the systemic issues that are fueling these events. We remain committed to helping Charlotte become a better community for everyone.

Read the full statement.

Glazer Children’s Museum (Tampa, FL)

We are heartbroken by the trauma occurring across our country in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. As a children’s museum, we want to speak to parents at this moment.

We often help children cope with traumatic events by referencing the advice of Fred Rogers to ‘look for the helpers.’ In times like this, it may be difficult to know who the helpers are. So, with respect to Mr. Rogers, today let’s be the helpers. For many children in our community right now, connecting to the world around them feels scary. It feels frustrating and confusing. But it is our job as adults to help our kids navigate the scary and learn to be helpers.

Read the full statement.

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (MI)

A message from our CEO, Maggie Lancaster

In addition to the damage to our building and to those of our downtown neighbors, our community woke up this morning with more questions than answers.

One thing is certain: loss of property pales in comparison to loss of human life. We understand that there is a lot of hurt within our community, and this knowledge bolsters our commitment to our mission and the important work of the museum. The need for play and the benefits that come through play are needed now more than ever. Open-ended play experiences, like the ones we’ve provided for nearly twenty-three years, have been proven to be effective interventions against chronic toxic stress, as well as proven tools for building empathy, self-love, and interpersonal communication skills. We are an incredible community, coming together to collectively prioritize the needs of children and families, especially those affected by systemic injustice.

Read the full statement.

Kidspace Children’s Museum (Pasadena, CA)

Kidspace Children’s Museum condemns the violence and injustice that systemic racism inflicts on our communities, families and children. Black lives matter. As we prepare to reopen as a place of welcome and healing, we are collaborating with community partners to listen, learn, and together build an inclusive, anti-racist environment where all children are invited to play, create, grow, and thrive.

Read the full statement.

KidsPlay Children’s Museum (Torrington, CT)

KidsPlay values all members of our community, especially those impacted by the traumatic effects of racism, violence, and discrimination. We stand in solidarity with the Black community and all other minorities and people of color to speak out against racism and injustice. We are committed to lifelong learning, positive change, and creating space for empathy, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. We will continue to work with our community to do our part towards a peaceful and inclusive future.

Read the full statement

KidsQuest Children’s Museum (Bellevue, WA)

As an educational institution, it always has and will be our mission to support families. During this time, we are standing with all black children and families. Conversations about race should start at home and using books as a tool to start those discussions can be a great resource. We have included two links that provide a variety of books that can help children of all ages see the faces of people that look like them or don’t and can be a step towards your learning journey. #blacklivesmatter 

Read the full statement.

Madison Children’s Museum (WI)

The damage and violence in our city is frightening and discouraging, but we should not let it diminish from the message of the peaceful demonstration, which drew much larger crowds earlier in the day. We stand with those who are demanding justice for George Floyd and an end to the systemic racism and white supremacy plaguing our country. This scourge diminishes every community’s capacity to raise whole, happy, healthy children.”

There’s much work to be done. As an organization deeply invested in creating a more just society, where all children and families can play and learn together, and as a cornerstone of our downtown, we will stay active in the conversation and the work. Please stay safe.

Read the full statement.

The New Children’s Museum (San Diego, CA)

The New Children’s Museum embraces cultural diversity and welcomes children and families from all walks of life. We are united with our colleagues across the U.S. through the Association of Children’s Museums in being a safe and friendly place where we value people of all ages, abilities, races, ethnicities and economic circumstances. We are committed to being a community resource, both within our Museum as well as in economically and culturally diverse communities throughout San Diego.

Read the full statement.

Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum (IL)

The Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum believes in celebrating the diversity of Central Illinois and in providing opportunities for ALL children to become explorers and creators of the world, no matter their race, income, or background. Parents bear the responsibility of educating their children about race and racial injustice; PlayHouse staff want to support parents in this critical work by providing resources and programs to help. Your children are never too young to have a conversation about race. Teach them to speak out against injustice and fight for those whose voices are squandered by the systemic inequalities written into the fabric of our nation.

Play Africa (Johannesburg, South Africa)

Play Africa stands against racism. We stand against all forms of injustice and inequality that Black people have faced and continue to face in South Africa, and around the world. We loudly and proudly proclaim that Black lives matter.

We believe using our platforms to learn, and to promote ubuntu, understanding, compassion and justice. We strive to create real, positive and lasting impact to help create a world where racism and injustice no longer limit abundant human potential.

Read the full statement.

Port Discovery Children’s Museum (Baltimore, MD)

We are heartbroken by the grief, pain and trauma that all of our community and our country are experiencing in the wake of the recent death of George Floyd. Far too often, people of color experience racism, injustice and numerous socioeconomic, legal, and educational inequalities – and we stand with and behind our visitors, members, staff and community who are experiencing hurt and sadness as a result.  

Children in our community see and feel what is happening. This is a time to see their pain, help them understand and cope with it, and help them learn. And, in the spirit of Mr. Rogers—who suggested that children “look for the helpers”—we are here for you, we are listening, and we want to help.  

Read the full statement.

Portland Children’s Museum (OR)

We believe that human rights are universal and embrace humanity in all of its diversity. Therefore, Portland Children’s Museum reaffirms its commitment to:

• Amplify action for social justice on behalf of children and their rights to be safe, protected, and educated.
• Work toward an inclusive future in which societal institutions reinforcing systemic racism are replaced by ones that are open and accessible to all.
• Listen with an open heart and mind, with empathy, to families of every race, religion, and cultural background, so that their stories find expression and power.

Read the full statement.

Providence Children’s Museum (RI)

Children’s museums serve not only as a place for play and joy, but to provide guidance and support. It is our role to support children and their caregivers as they navigate these feelings, and we have curated resources on our social media pages to speak to children about racism, trauma, violence, and activism.   

We will always work towards greater equity and justice as that is the ultimate support for children.

Read the full statement.


6 Books That Can Help You Talk to Your Child About Race and Diversity, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Addressing Racial Injustice with Young Children, EmbraceRace
By Marianne Celano, PhD, ABPP, Marietta Collins, PhD, and Ann Hazzard, PhD, ABPP Illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin

An Activity Book For African American Families: Helping Children Cope with Crisis, National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Resources for Talking about Race, Racism and Racialized Violence with Kids, The Center for Racial Justice in Education 

Social Justice Resources, Glazer Children’s Museum

Talking about Race, National Museum of African American History and Culture

Talking to Children About Racial Bias,
By ​​​Ashaunta Anderson, MD, MPH, MSHS, FAAP and Jacqueline Dougé, MD, MPH, FAAP

Your Kids Aren’t Too Young to Talk About Race: Resource Roundup, Pretty Good Design

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) champions children’s museums worldwide. Follow ACM on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Reopening with Equity in Mind: Opportunities for Culturally Relevant Practice in Museums

This post was produced in collaboration with the Association of Science and Technology Centers.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, museums—like so many other institutions and sectors—are being asked to reimagine themselves: Will hands-on exhibits ever be the same? When and how can we reopen safely for our staff and our visitors? In the face of these existential questions, how can we keep equity front and center?

On May 19, the Cultural Competence Learning Institute (CCLI) hosted a webinar about the opportunities for culturally relevant practice for museums during this time of crisis. During the webinar:

  • Cecilia Garibay, Principal, Garibay Group shared concrete areas of operations for rebuilding with an equity lens, drawing from CCLI’s Fall 2019 study on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) practices in the museum field (from 7:20 in the video below).
  • Museum leaders from CCLI alumni organizations offered reflections on how they are thinking about equity amidst this pandemic (from 19:58 in the video below).
  • Dana Whitelaw, Executive Director, High Desert Museum (Bend, Oregon) discussed her thinking around strategic planning, navigating staffing, and skilling up through an equity lens.
  • Jennifer Farrington, President & CEO, Chicago Children’s Museum (Chicago, Illinois) shared her experience with prioritizing authentic and effective community relationships and partnerships.
  • Elizabeth Pierce, President & CEO, Cincinnati Museum Center (Cincinnati, Ohio) offered how she is mobilizing her museum as a resource for equity in her community.
  • Laura Huerta Migus, Executive Director, Association of Children’s Museums moderated a Q&A covering creative ways to center equity in membership, partnership, revenue generation, and more in this challenging time (from 41:45 in the video below).


  • Slides from the webinar can be found here.
  • If you would like to assess where your institution is in its DEAI journey, check out this self-assessment tool to take stock of your institution’s cultural competence.
  • See more resources, case studies, and information about the CCLI program at the CCLI website.

Cultural Competence Learning Institute (CCLI) is a partnership between the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the Association of Science and Technology Centers, the Association of Children’s Museums, and the Garibay Group.

Be Inclusive, Be Included: Participate in the National Landscape Study on DEAI Practices in Museums

By Jenni Martin

Children’s museums, because of our unique focus on audience rather than content, are often at the forefront of innovative museum practice around diversity, equity, access, and inclusion (DEAI). Our roots are deeply embedded in our communities, and our institutional goals focus on reflecting those communities in exhibits, programs, events and audience. As a field, children’s museums are often more willing than other museums to try new approaches for ensuring we are serving the unique needs of our individual communities. 

With the understanding that it’s never been more important to understand DEAI practices in the museums, CCLI is launching a groundbreaking, industry-wide study this September focused solely on these practices in museums: The National Landscape Study: DEAI Practices in Museums.

Through a carefully vetted survey instrument, this study will:

  • document how organizations prioritize strategies and tactics,
  • highlight the structures presentto sustain these efforts,
  • analyze the levels of leadership involvement, and
  • explore where there are challenges and gaps.

The survey will engage museums of every discipline, size, and region, to paint a picture of the entire museum sector—making it important for as many museums as possible to participate. We know that the children’s museums  excel in reaching diverse audiences in creative and successful ways. However, we have not always focused on documenting these innovative practices. This survey is our opportunity as a field to have our voices heard and our strategies documented in the greater museum field.

A report of the findings will be released in the spring of 2020. The results will benefit museum leaders with important insights into where their organization is relative to the field, relevant data for decision-making and strategic planning, and information that will support staff development.


The survey is sponsored by CCLI (Cultural Competence Learning Institute), a process and set of resources designed to help museums increase their organizational capacity around diversity, inclusion, and culture. CCLI is a partnership between ACM, Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, the Association of Science-Technology Centers, and Garibay Group. As a yearlong professional development institute, CCLI helps museum leaders catalyze diversity and inclusion efforts in their institutions. Recently awarded a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, CCLI has expanded its focus and invested in long-term sustainability to develop, track, promote, and recognize DEAI efforts within individual institutions andthe field at large. The upcoming survey is one component of CCLI’s National Leadership Grant. 

Said Stephanie Ratcliffe, executive director of The Wild Center in upstate New York, about her museum’s participation in CCLI’s yearlong institute: “The CCLI program supported our efforts to construct a series of professional development activities to fundamentally change how we approach diversity broadly and the tools to move staff through an effective learning process. Our efforts were just the beginning of an organization-wide shift that continues today.“   

CCLI has already reached more than twenty-five museums, including children’s museums, science centers, nature centers, zoos and aquariums, and natural history museums, and seventy-five individual participants. Applications for CCLI’s next cohort will be accepted until November 19, 2019. Find more information here:

The National Landscape Study: DEAI Practices in Museums is launching today, Thursday, September 5. Primary contacts at ACM member museums (typically the museum’s CEO or Executive Director) will have received an email from Garibay Group with a unique survey link. Different people at your organization will likely contribute to completing the survey, so, in addition to the Survey Monkey format, a printable Google format will also be included. 

It is so critical that children’s museums of every size and region be represented. The more diverse the input, the more useful the results will be for the field and for your organization. Look for this email (or ask your CEO about it) to ensure your organization’s data is included.

Jenni Martin is CCLI Project Director and Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose.

Finding Common Ground at Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose

By Jenni Martin

These days, it seems the national conversation is about how we need to have more honest and truthful conversations that acknowledge our different perspectives, honor our various experiences, and build bridges for understanding and healing, so that we can find common ground.

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose’s initiatives titled Breaking Ground and Common Ground are designed to do just that.

More than 120 languages are spoken in Silicon Valley where immigrants from hundreds of countries work, live, and raise their children together. While our audience development efforts have been wildly successful, resulting in an audience that mirrors the valley’s diversity—we wanted to go deeper. In 2013, we launched Breaking Ground with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, to work with our area’s five largest immigrant communities—Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Mexican, and Vietnamese.

Knowing that cooking and the sharing of meals is such a ubiquitous experience infused with cultural traditions, we decided to ground our outreach with a series of dinners. Community partners helped us identify families to invite. With a goal of sparking conversation among families through the connections of cultural identity, food, and immigrant experiences, we were off and running.

Ancient Tradition of Gathering

During gatherings at the museum, held monthly for three months in a row, we convened at long tables to share a meal and talk. Each dinner featured the tomato, prepared in five different ways to represent the cultural cuisines of each immigrant group. Following dinner, the children played in the museum while adults gathered for the facilitated part of the evening.

Common Ground Dinner 2.JPGJumpstarting a Conversation

How do you facilitate conversation among people who don’t know each other, may not speak the same language, and may not be comfortable in a museum setting?

We did what museums do best—we started with objects.

We chose familiar cooking objects to evoke positive feelings and create a safe environment for sharing. Beautifully colored ceramic bowls, pitchers, placemats, spatulas, grinding tools, baskets and many other items were laid across the tables. Participants were invited to find an object that reminded them of their childhood home. Our guests talked about how they used the objects in their kitchens, what they missed about their homeland, and how they hoped their children were learning important traditions. They noticed similarities and differences between their own kitchens and discovered objects from other places.

As the facilitated conversation continued, people began sharing more intimate details. They expressed how they missed their homelands, where neighbors would watch out for their children. They laughed together when they discovered their common surprise at the large portions served in U.S. restaurants. And they lamented the difficulties of getting certain fruits and vegetables common from their own childhoods.

At the end of the dinners, a common theme had emerged—the shared hopes and dreams each parent has for their children in this new place they call home.

We Learned a Lot

Many of the participants and staff were inspired to continue the dialogue. One parent reported that after the dinners she talked for the first time with her neighbor, also an immigrant. Participants from one language group wanted to learn from others about how to navigate the U.S. school system. Some folks joined staff in co-creating a semi-permanent exhibition at the museum, The World Market, featuring kitchen tools (made safe and accessible for children) and videos representing the five cultural groups.

We Were Inspired

A Seat at the Table 2

Breaking Ground allowed us to go deeper in understanding our audience. Next, we wanted to go broader. With additional funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, we launched Common Ground in 2016. This initiative replicated the Breaking Ground dinners with the goal of co-creating a traveling exhibition for our local area to reach both recent immigrants and those whose families immigrated to the U.S. long ago.

Following the three dinners, a community poetry workshop helped surface this exhibition theme: We are each shaped by unique experiences and circumstances and we each dream of a positive future for our children. As participants wrote their poems, using the prompts “I am…,” “I am from…,” and “I dream…,” a beautiful collective poem emerged that represented many images of place, experience, and dreams.

A Seat at the Table Traveling Exhibit

Continuing with the successful theme of cooking and food, kitchen items and scented playdough seemed like the perfect interactive for the exhibition. Titled A Seat at the Table, the pop-up arts space was activated at numerous community festivals and events throughout the summer and fall, inviting children and adults to get creative using molds and playdough and cooking utensils from different parts of the world. Lots of kneading, rolling, shaping and pressing occurred while people talked about the tools, their homeland, and the similarities and differences of what they were creating.

Did This Project Spark an Important Conversation? 

We think so. While parents and children talked about kitchen tools and the smells of different spices, they also remembered and honored our cultural traditions and discovered new ones. The conversations reinforced the notion that while all of our paths and journeys are different—we all have hopes and dreams for our children.

Perhaps the idea that everyone should get a seat at the table and the opportunity to dream can help us delight in our differences and find our common ground.

Jenni Martin has served as Director of Education and Strategic Initiatives at Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose for 21 years. Ms. Martin has had a career long focused on community engagement and stewarding the Museum’s audience engagement initiatives with different cultural communities. Ms. Martin is currently the Project Director for CCLI (Cultural Competence Learning Institute), a collaborative national partnership focused on helping museum leaders catalyze diversity and inclusion efforts in their institutions. Follow Children’s Museum of San Jose on Twitter and Facebook.

Participatory Museums as Peacebuilders: The Case of Rodadora in Ciudad Juárez

by Isabel Diez

How do you design a museum that seeks to sustain peace in a city once described as the most dangerous place in the world? When Sietecolores was entrusted such a task, the only answer we found was to involve the community throughout the entire development processand beyond.

From 2008 to 2012, Ciudad Juárez was considered the most dangerous place, not only in Mexico, but the world. This home to 1.3 million people was consumed with violence and crime, resulting in a huge social crisis that rapidly hit rock bottom. When local leaders came together to create an action plan for rescuing the city, a museum quickly became part of the conversation.

The idea of creating a permanent interactive learning space had been in the mind of locals since 2004, when the city of Chihuahua, near Juárez, hosted Papalote Móvil, a traveling museum created by Papalote Museo del Niño, with huge success. In 2009, a group of business leaders approached Sietecolores—our team of museum developers, initially created within Papalote—to design a space where children and their families could learn and heal. Because the museum would be key for sustaining peace in the soon-to-be transformed city, placing the project in the scope of peace education, which seeks nonviolent resolution of conflict and the transformation of social structures that perpetuate any type of injustice, was important.

Celebra La VidaDespite the evident complexities of the situation, Sietecolores was up for the titanic challenge. Where to begin, though? We knew that peace cannot be externally enforced—at least not if we wanted long-lasting results—but can only be achieved from within. With this in mind, we were guided by the idea of participatory museums. Nina Simon, author of The Participatory Museum, defines these institutions as places “where visitors can create, share, and connect with each other around content.” Visitors actively construct meaning, curate content, share ideas, and discuss issues. In consequence, our team introduced strategies for including Juárez’s citizens in the design process, such as holding interviews and focus groups, visiting indigenous communities, and inviting local artists, from potters and weavers to comic-book creators, to participate in specific projects.

In 2013, Rodadora Espacio Interactivo opened with the motto: “Celebra la vida” (“Celebrate life”). Its key role in the peacebuilding efforts of Juárez has been undeniable, proven by its sustained growth and success throughout its four years in operation. So, what exactly makes a peacebuilding, participatory museum tick? Sietecolores has identified three fundamentals to the culture and work of Rodadora:

  1. The community at the center

Putting the community at the center means listening to diverse perspectives, intentionally seeking participation of all groups, and giving voice to those who have been excluded—something essential for battling structural violence. But, when fear has taken over people for a long period of time, many important topics remain unspoken or become taboo. Museums can find creative mechanisms for visitors to feel safe enough to end that silence.


The alebrije sculpture at Rodadora

At Rodadora, one such strategy is the popular “nightmare-eating monster,” a giant alebrije—that is, a colorful Mexican folk art sculpture of an imaginary creature. Children and caregivers write down their worst nightmares, which disappear by “feeding” them to the monster. Sietecolores adapted this idea from Papalote, but Rodadora has taken it to a whole new level: it not only serves as a mechanism for visitors to externalize their fears, but also as a way for the museum to identify their needs. Education Director Mónica Félix explains how, throughout the years, it is clear how children’s fears have changed: four years ago, common nightmares included violence, death, or kidnapping, now children write about the dark or scary cartoon characters. The reality is different for adults, who will need more time to heal their scars. But visitors’ answers are a constant source of inspiration for new programs and initiatives. For example, Rodadora decided to produce a play for adults every November addressing the theme of death.

  1. Dialogue as a foundation

Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung suggests that igniting dialogue is the bedrock of all nonviolent conflict resolution. This became a priority and a guiding design principle when we realized the community needed new ways to communicate. But how do you get visitors to share and discuss ideas when they are not accustomed to doing so? Begin with the simplest and subtlest of initiatives.

Sietecolores helped Rodadora start a program called Libro Viajero (Traveling Book). The museum “abandoned” copies of a book throughout the space for people to find and start reading. When staff discovered a copy with an underlined passage and comments on the margins, they decided to leave writing tools along with the books. This became a powerful way for visitors to start dialogue with each other, the museum, and the authors.

  1. A strong focus on action

If we understand peace as the presence of justice, it’s not only a goal, but also an ongoing process and effort. Rodadora is always finding ways for visitors to get actively involved in the same spirit that originated the museum.

For instance, Sietecolores invited a local collective of urban artists to paint a mural for the museum before opening day. Rodadora also recently created a space called “Urban Art Garden,” which contains three more murals painted by local artists in collaboration with the Juárez community. The museum has also planned workshops and programs in the garden throughout the rest of the year.

Museums can become catalysts of social transformation—as Sietecolores has seen again and again in the more than a dozen learning spaces we have designed over the years. By taking a community-centered, dialogue-based, and action-focused approach, we created a participatory museum that continues to instill Juárez citizens with a sense of possibility, a desire for change, a promise of hope. After all, as writer Vaclav Havel said, “it is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem hopeless.”

Isabel Diez is a researcher at Sietecolores Ideas Interactivas, a museum and exhibit design firm based in Mexico City. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Pedagogy by Universidad Panamericana and a Master’s in Education (Arts in Education Program) by Harvard University. /