By Ford W. Bell, American Association of Museums (AAM) President and Hope McMath, Director of the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
For millions of Americans, museums are seen as refuges of learning, fun and spiritual uplift. That is true from the cherished Smithsonian museums in Washington to the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, The Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Science and History, all here in Jacksonville. U.S. museums attract an estimated 850 million visits each year, more than all professional sporting events and theme parks combined.
But it is important to remember, particularly amid reports of other emerging economies eclipsing us academically, that museums are also essential pillars of our educational infrastructure. That is the case hundreds of museum professionals will be making to Capitol Hill on March 1. We would like you to be a part of this effort. And here’s why.
Museums annually provide more than 18 million instructional hours to American students and educators, ranging from professional development for teachers to traveling exhibits to schools to the traditional field trip. In 2010, The Cummer provided 1,345 teachers with FREE professional development on how art can be used as a powerful tool for teaching a wide variety of subjects.
In addition The Cummer serves over 22,000 students through the School Tour program that supports state standards in the visual arts, math, science and language arts for students in Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grades.
Perhaps unknown to many of our citizens, museum leaders play a major role in formulating school curriculum working with school officials. Further, museums have adapted their educational programs to conform to the mandates of No Child Left Behind, incorporating standards in math and reading, while also adapting educational offerings to state and local benchmarks in science, art, language arts, and history.
For many of today’s students, museums provide the switch that makes the light bulb go on; the experiential learning environment provided by museums makes it easier for many young people to grasp concepts that seem irrelevant and obscure on the pages of a textbook.
Clearly, museums are engaged in critical work that contributes to the educational excellence of our communities, but the contribution of museums goes much farther. As state and local government budgets are increasingly stretched thin, many museums are taking up the slack, filling voids in our social and community fabric. This is reflected in The Cummer’s partnership with THE PLAYERS. In 2010, The Cummer provided free admission to 22,587 visitors during THE PLAYERS Free Tuesdays (every Tuesday from 4 – 9 pm).
The Cummer also serves people with disabilities through our Women of Vision program that serves women who are blind or experience low-vision through specially designed art education and art making experiences; Museum Tours and Touch Tours for the Blind; Classes and tours for over 900 children with autism; and the annual VSA Arts Festival that provides hands-on art experiences to over 2,300 children with disabilities.
Museums have also served to bridge cultural and ethnic divides in communities. Two initiatives, The Weaver Academy of Art and Cummer in the Classroom programs, provide over 4,000 Pre-Kindergarten through 5th grades students in ten urban-core elementary schools, of which 89% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunches, outreach into the classroom, museum tours, teacher trainings, and classroom resources.
Suffice it to say that the mission of museums is public service. The Cummer’s mission is “to engage and inspire through the arts, gardens and education.” That’s the message that will be carried to Congress on March 1, to convey to our representatives the value—economic and otherwise—museums bring to the nation. Join us in this effort by visiting The American Association of Museums’ website and don’t forget to visit your local museums.