Speaker: Claudia Ocello- President and CEO of Museum Partners and Consulting, LLC; adjunct professor for the M.A. in Museum Professions Program at Seton Hall University
Title: The Development and Progress of a Collaborative Program for Teen Parents and their Children.
Commentary by: Jennine Schweighardt, graduate student in the Seton Hall M.A. in Museum Professions program; Graduate Assistant for the IME
Claudia Ocello’s talk, Making a Difference: The Development and Progress of a Collaborative Program for Teen Parents and their Children in Museums, addresses the ethics of museums providing customized programming in meeting the needs of the underserved in its community. Ocello uses a an educational program for teen parents and their children, with which she was involved in during her employment at the New Jersey Historical Society, to show how a museum can uniquely provide programming that fills a need not being offered by any other public service.
Through Partners in Learning educators worked with Newark High School’s Infant-Toddler Center, which assists teenage parents with academic support to help them graduate while providing programming for their children, and guiding them in learning parenting skills. The Infant-Toddler Center had no cultural segment to their program, and therefore both the Center and the NJHS felt there was a natural advantage to a partnership.
An eight visit course was developed with the central objectives of teaching parents the skills necessary to feel comfortable in a museum or library while using these places a way to interact with their children. The ultimate goal is for parents to understand their children better, have quality time with them, and to use resources in their community that will add to their child’s education and cultural experiences. The program was successful, with most of the participants, including young fathers, learning more about their children through these bonding experiences. They also gained confidence in their parenting skills by learning how to get the most out of a public institution and making it their own space.
Exploring the ethics of partnering with an underserved community, Ocello asks: “Why should museums even be concerned with these issues? Is it our ethic responsibility to provide for this audience? Does a museum educator’s responsibility in audience development extend to creating programs that fulfill a community need even if they serve a relatively small percentage of the population? Or are our limited efforts and limited resources better served in distinguishing the largest possible audience we can serve?” She responds by saying that the museum, if able to meet the unfilled need of the public while supporting its mission, would be acting unethically to not act on such an opportunity.
Ocello’s example made me realize the complexity of the issues when museum leaders are deciding whether or not to run a program. It is not a matter only of financial efficiency and numbers served. It is the ability of the New Jersey Historical Society, or any institution, to build a real connection with people who would not traditionally use the museum, expanding the support these visitors have for themselves and their families, while making the museum more accessible to its entire public, not just the self-motivated museum-visiting public.