Engaging with the Public at a Small Museum

As noted many times in the blog prior, I am a graduate student at Central Connecticut State University, but what is different now is that I am currently completing an Internship. When it came time to finding an internship I had been very selective of where I wanted to complete my research, and one thing that I found was that I wanted to be some place where I would learn. Upon a long ponder, I found that the smaller the museum the more I would learn. I had found an internship posted on the New England Museum Associations website from a Historic House museum, The Dudley Farm Museum, that I found to be just what I was hoping to be a part of. The internship incorporated everything, and seemed to hold a lot of favor in archives and collections.

This internship has taught me a lot of how to deal with the public, and children (especially this past weekend) when the venue is not dedicated to their age group. This past weekend was Early Guilford Days, a program that included all of the five museums in town with the hopes of bringing in new attendees and possibly their families. Each site hosts an activity that was geared to children and their parents, our site hosted 19th century laundry. Kids came and were given the chance to wash table clothes and towels the same way that their moms would have done in the 1800s. They loved it. Kids were encouraged to get their hands dirty and they learned something. Some kids had so much fun that they wanted to do their laundry that way at home! Of course their parents shot that notion down quickly. They were engaged and excited by what they were learning. We made sure to point out the past verses the present to bring to light how much has changed, and many children as young as four were understanding what we were teaching them. We had children who were around three that were doing the work but not understanding the context which was to be expected.

But excitement grew around noon when it came time to put the farms oxen in the Yoke for their training session. Kids were able to watch one of the Farms volunteers train the two oxen to work with the Yoke. The oxen have plowed the farms and down work to help the farm be maintained. After they watched the oxen at work the kids ran toward the baby lamb, who was being fed by a volunteer who was able to talk to them about the baby. Not many people realize that this Museum is a working Farm run off of volunteers, and many of the visitors were able to see that this museum has so much more to offer the community than being a historic home.

This past weekend I have learned that engaging children in activities that can be turned into a learning experience needs to be one of the main goals of an establishment because then not only can community awareness go up but so can attendance and donations. Many people were donating money on top of paying for admission. They saw us a resource that they could use. We have open fields that we encourage families to come and use, facilities that can be rented for events, and a hiking trail. One of the greatest things this weekend was that we noticed that not only were the kids having fun and learning but the parents were having fun with their children and creating memories that can be taken with them.

Also we learned that there is a certain age group that events like these are geared to. In many cases, that age group is from about 3 or 4 to 12. That young age that is not clouded by immediate boredom present from lack of television or internet.

Overall, community engagement cannot hinder a historic institution because it allows the museum to reach the public and present what they have to offer those who might find those offerings interesting and useful to their lives. Many times people don’t realize that Museums have more to offer than just items collecting dust.