Commentary on Jane Werner: "Rebuilding the Neighborhood with Sustainability at the Core"

Speaker: Jane Werner- Director, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Title: Rebuilding the Neighborhood with Sustainability at the Core
Commentary by: Laura Browarny, graduate student in the Seton Hall M.A. in Museum Professions Program; IME travel stipend recipient. 

The issue of the ecological status of the world is becoming more and more urgent every day.  Many non-profits and corporations are taking great strides towards become greener and more sustainable, but what obligation do museums have to improve their sustainability?  Jane Werner, director of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh was the only presenter to really tackle this issue at the conference.  She stresses the importance of a museum’s relationship with its surrounding community and the imperative that a museum set a good example.  The Children’s Museum has undergone a great deal of change since Jane began her tenure there, and all of that change was for the better.

Not many people in the audience were representing children’s museums, which Jane described as a unique entity within the museum sphere, being the only type of institution that is defined by its audience rather than its collections.  Because of the extreme emphasis on teaching that a children’s museum mandates, the need to be aware of community responsibility is of even greater importance than at other kinds of museums.  In her presentation, Jane spoke about environmental, program, neighborhood, and financial sustainability and explained how the Children’s Museum is working towards goals in all of these fields.

Ultimately, the community in which the Children’s Museum is immersed is what has made it possible for this dynamic institution to become so successful in achieving its goals.  The Northside of Pittsburgh is home to many cultural institutions including the Andy Warhol Museum that have been willing to collaborate with the Children’s Museum in order to strengthen community and work to transform the Northside in the “family district” of Pittsburgh.  All of these goals seem quite idealistic and a lot for any museum to take on.  Does the nature of the Children’s Museum and the fact that it relies on activities and programs make it a particularly conducive environment for community building?  Are large art or natural history museums be capable of carrying out the same types of collaborative programming without sacrificing their obligations to their collections and exhibitions?  What are the applications across the museum sector?

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