It's true. Big trees do from small acorns grow. When my small son was thrown out of an exhibition for shouting "Monster!" at a statue of Eagle Man which looked rather like – well – a monster, I never imagined the charity Kids in Museums would start and, almost ten years later, we’d be launching the Kids in Museums Manifesto 2012.
The Kids in Museums Manifesto 2012 – 20 ways to make a museum family friendly – is compiled entirely from hundreds of visitors’ comments. It gives a powerful voice to children, families and teenage visitors to museums. Over 300 museums all over Britain use it as a guide to becoming more family friendly, pledging their support. (You can find out which at www.kidsinmuseums.org.uk/manifesto).
If you haven't taken your family to a museum for a while, you ought to plan to go as soon as possible. Admittedly, once they were unwelcoming musty old buildings with a few crumbling objects sitting in a glass case. The only information would be a small browning label dwarfed by a large sign: "Don't touch." But museums are changing. (Of course, we like to feel that Kids in Museums has contributed to this change.) They have family events and workshops; art carts; family trails; interactive computers; Saturday clubs; backpacks stuffed with jigsaws and puzzles to help you explore the galleries; cafes with children’s menus; websites to help you prepare for your visit and make it live on after you’ve left. Most museums are no longer boring and irrelevant, but fun for children.
But they could become even more so. And that’s why we publish the Kids in Museums Manifesto, helping museums on the path to be enjoyable to all families, of all ages.
Take teenagers, for example. Too often, as soon as they enter a museum, they’re told to do three things they find virtually impossible – to stand up, shut up and switch off their phones. Teenagers love to slouch - so why not have places for them to sit down and hang out in museums? Perhaps big soft sofas or bean bags to laze on and have a chat? They could even admire the Titians or cast their gaze over the 18th century French porcelain while doing so. Teenagers also love to chat, but still ‘Sssshhhh’ may be the only thing a gallery assistant says to them. Museums should throb with vibrant ideas and debate. It would be great if the gallery assistant could join in the conversation, pointing out their favourite picture. And, of course, teenagers love to text. So Kids in Museums thinks museums should abandon their ‘No mobile phones!’ policy and invite teenagers to text, Facebook and tweet their experiences as they go around the galleries. That way their friends could find out all about the fabulous ways in which museums have changed.
The Kids in Museums Manifesto 2012 doesn’t only urge museums to invite teenagers into their gang. It also calls upon museums to have a ‘Can do’ culture. ‘Too many times the first thing I see when I take my kids to a museum is a list pinned up at the door of things I mustn’t do - Don’t leave the pushchair in the entrance. Don’t leave the kids unattended. We don’t take large bags in the cloakroom. Do not use your mobile phone. Don’t take pictures....’ says Mariella Frostrup, Patron of Kids in Museums. ‘Why can’t we be greeted by a list of things we CAN do? How about – Please leave the pushchair in the cloakroom and we’ll give you a backpack for your baby. Or – Do use your mobile phone to text friends to tell them how great our exhibition is. Or - We welcome families enjoying the museum together. That way we’d all feel welcome.’
The Kids in Museums Manifesto 2012 was launched at the Wallace Collection, London, with presenter Penny Smith and Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey. And the Wallace Collection wouldn’t be a bad place to start your family museum visits in 2012. You can try and feel the weight of chain mail, be taken on a tour by a young guide, and giggle at The Laughing Cavalier. Because museums are not fusty, but fun.
Founder, Kids in Museums