Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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« Adapting Museum Community Outreach During A Pandemic | Main | Diversify Your Art Curriculum With Contemporary Artists From San Antonio and Beyond »

September 18, 2020

Modifying Museum Family Programs During A Pandemic

By Noël Bella Merriam

Our museum offers family days eight times a year.  These fun-filled Sundays are wonderful events, with bilingual family tours and local teaching artists leading five to six art activities.  Four of these family days are partnership family days with local school districts, and admission is free for all students and their families during those days.  We also feature pop-up exhibitions of the artwork created by students in our START school partnership program.  Two of the family days are completely free to the community. Museum admission is free on Sundays for the first two hours that we are open, making participation accessible to our community. 

Image 1 Blog Post 4A pop-up student exhibition of drawings at a pre-pandemic family day.

It was heartbreaking to cancel our Spring Break family day in mid-March just before we closed, but the pandemic was gaining strength and large crowds attend this annual event.  It did not seem responsible to put our staff, teaching artists, or visitors in this situation.  Our family days for May and July were cancelled also.

Image 2 Blog Post 4The delightful, creative chaos of painting during a typical family day.

While closed, we brainstormed ways to modify our family programs to touch free versions.  We knew from family day surveys that 42% of our families who attend family day are Latinx.  (San Antonio is 63% Latinx).  These surveys also let us know just how important the artmaking component of family day was. By August, we were ready to implement our new system.

Image 3 blog post 4 finalDistributing family day art kits from behind a plexi barrier.

Our solution has been to develop touch-free family days featuring free, individually packaged art kits containing materials and video demos for two art activities, along with self-directed scavenger hunts that use QR codes.  The new version of our Art Crawl program features free baby swag bags with touch materials and flash cards that parents use to explore the museum’s galleries on their own.  Our teaching artists help with materials prep as well as art kit and baby swag bag distribution.  We’ve done our best to create a new variation of family engagement that fits the parameters of the times we find ourselves living in.

Image 4 blog post 4Participating in a self-directed scavenger hunt during a modified, touch-free family day.

As we worked out logistics for these modified programs, it was important to review access to our family programs.  While we were losing the group interaction inherent in family days and Art Crawl, perhaps we could overcome the timeframes that were previously a barrier to participation for some in our community.   Art Crawl is facilitated on Thursday mornings, when many parents and caregivers are working.  Was there a silver lining here?

I posed these questions to my team: Who has traditionally had access to our family programs?  How can we increase access to family programs for our community, both during the pandemic and afterwards?  What are our new measures of success?

Image 5 blog post 4 finalDistributing Art Crawl baby swag bags during free hours on a Tuesday for increased community access.

To increase community accessibility, we added additional distribution times during our free hours on Tuesday evenings.  There is now an extra family day art kit distribution on the second Tuesday night of the month, and an extra Art Crawl swag bag distribution on the third Tuesday night of the month.  It is going well so far, with an entirely new group of families participating on these Tuesdays.

Image 6 blog post 4Baby swag bag pick up in the Great Hall of SAMA     

I hope that you have been able to transition some of your programs into new models that fit your museum’s protocols if your museum has reopened.  If your museum is still closed, I hope that you find inspiration for ways to keep your community engaged in the future, and to make everyone who is involved feel safe.



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