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Futurist Friday: Inspiring the Next Generation

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

How many kids want to work in a museum when they grow up?

I suspect (unfortunately) very few. .

Museum folk talk a lot about the homogeneity of our field, and about what makes it hard to build a diverse staff: ossified job requirements, low pay, uncongenial work environments.

But the very first hurdle we face is inspiring kids to fall in love with the idea of working in a museum.

How do we do that? What kinds of experiences, big or small, fire the ambition of a child to one day be a curator, registrar, exhibit designer, educator or collections manager?

Your Futurist Friday assignment: watch the story of how one little boy fell in love. This 4 minute video animates the story of Bill Stanley’s first intimidating and inspiring encounter with a curator. The video (which was recently honored with a 2016 MUSE award) is also a loving tribute to Bill, director of the Collections Center at the Field Museum, who died last year during a field expedition to Ethiopia. 

After you wipe your eyes (which I have to do every time I watch this video), spend a moment and think:

  • As a child, did you have the equivalent of Bill’s “butterfly experience?”–a moment that set you on your personal evolutionary path?
  • When was the last time a child came to you with a discovery, or a question, that let your share your passion for what you do?
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And lastly,

  • What can museums do to create such “butterfly moments”–personal, inspiring, evocative interactions –for kids from all kinds of families, neighborhoods and backgrounds? 

That is the first step in recruiting a more diverse workforce of the future.

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  1. Thanks, Beth, for giving me another opportunity to see that video. Mike Spock made a video that he showed at AAM a bunch of years ago (around 2000?) that went with an article he wrote for Curator (When I Grow Up I'd Like to Work in a Place Like This). Listening to all those stories really should remind us that our primary purpose as museum folk is to inspire,

  2. Awesome . . . thanks for that. I had similar moments, when I was a kid, about historic places and things — anything from a well-restored historic site to an abandoned, kudzu-covered store by the side of the road, and from carefully preserved artifacts in cases to rusting junk in the woods, or a neglected something on a shelf in an antique store.

    I'm not sure what we can do proactively to encourage and foster these interests in the next generation, beyond constantly working on our abilities to listen to and engage with our audiences. Pay attention. Someone came in to look around or is asking a question because they're interested on some level. Don't brush them off with a stock response. Add a little fuel to that fire, one little piece at a time, until it catches and flames up . . . sometimes right in front of you 🙂

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