Separate But Equal?

Ok, so diversity is good.  I think we all know that we need to create spaces that are welcoming to all different types of people.  But let’s push it a little further.  It’s great to see people of varying colors in one building, but how do we get the colors to swirl?

For my Introduction to Museums assignment, I conducted an interview with Megan Dickerson from the Boston Children’s Museum.  Megan is the Manager of Community Programs and Partnerships at the Museum, and among many things, one important aspect of her job is to encourage children and families to go beyond parallel play.

Parallel play is a recurring phenomenon that children’s museums must work to combat.  It is a form of play where children play amongst, but not with, each other.  And as a result, they do not influence the behaviors of one another, and the experience is ultimately not as fulfilling.  As I’m sure you all have guessed, parallel play does not only affect children in the sand box.  At the Boston Children’s Museum, Megan has noticed that while children and families of nonwhite races are coming to the Museum, there is little interaction between these young people and there white counterparts.  Should we care?

In The Real Multiculturalism: A Struggle for Authority and Power, Amalia Mesa-Bains writes about the growing multiculturalism within the United States, and how museums must be representative of the country’s growing population of color.  But is it ok if all we, as museum professionals, worry about is fulfilling “minority” quotas?  Does our job stop once a Latino walks through the door?  I, personally, don’t think that’s good enough.   As museum professionals, we need to promote transcultural encounters, and the reality of the multiculturalism that exists within our current society.

-Georgiana Drain

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4 Responses to Separate But Equal?

  1. kwoodling says:

    Georgie- I appreciate your comments! It is absolutely imperative to the success of the museum that we expand to meet the needs of growing multicultural groups. But getting them there is only half the battle. Did Ms. Dickerson explain what specific steps they are taking to combat issues of parallel play in the museum?

  2. “Parallel play” is a term I had not heard of before reading this post but it’s a good way to describe what happens in public spaces. I have to wonder if parallel play has to begin with adults before we see kids interacting with one another. I was really impressed with the Boston Children’s Museum’s outreach and exhibit space when we visited in October. It seems like it would naturally encourage parallel play since everything is interactive. I wonder if the number of choices in exhibits at the Boston Children’s Museum makes interaction less necessary. You pose a lot of great questions!

    • I think that the Brooklyn Children’s Museum found much the same problem. They are located between two communities–a Jewish community and a black community. Both groups visit the museum, but they generally don’t mingle.

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