A welcoming museum experience that bridges language barriers
On the bus ride home, Isabela Miguel listened to her seven children talk excitedly about their favorite pieces of artwork from the day’s trip to the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture. Each child brought home a hand-made holiday card created using a variety of printing techniques.
The Miguels’ visit was part of the ¡Vamos al Museo! (Let’s Go to the Museum) program that includes a guided tour or presentation, complimentary projects, and take-home crafts—all conducted in Spanish.
The program, which began in fall 2017 and is led by Curator of Education Leslie Chang Jantz, offers shared learning experiences for native Spanish speakers and promotes the museum as an accessible and welcoming space.
As a native Spanish speaker herself, Chang Jantz saw the need for a program that reaches out to people who are less likely to visit the museum because of language barriers while building trust and establishing supportive relationships with Knoxville’s diverse communities.
“Our ultimate goal with this and similar programs is to combat socioeconomic and cultural barriers keeping certain communities from access to museums and other cultural institutions,” said Chang Jantz.
¡Vamos al Museo! connects with families from Lonsdale Elementary, located about five miles north of campus. Students of color make up 87 percent of the school’s population, more than half of whom are Hispanic.
Among these students’ families are many first-generation immigrants, who are not yet fluent in English and may be more comfortable speaking in Spanish.
Museum staff participated in Lonsdale-area community events to build relationships within the community. They got to know residents by interpreting for parent-teacher conferences, attending community meetings, and setting up an information booth at Lonsdale’s international market, in session from June to October.
¡Vamos al Museo! is sponsored by the Cornerstone Foundation, which found the program to be a perfect fit for its mission to increase community outreach to children and to underserved communities in the Knoxville area. The foundation is subsidizing the cost of transportation, educational materials, and part-time education staff.
The McClung Museum has hosted two ¡Vamos al Museo! field trips with plans for more dates in March and May 2018. The first toured the museum’s Egyptian exhibition and the second featured John James Audubon’s Birds of America prints collection.
Miguel and her children have participated in both sessions. The students’ parents also enjoy and benefit from the visits.
“The staff was nice and welcoming. They took their time explaining the crafts and leading the tours,” said Miguel, with Chang Jantz translating. “I enjoyed the program on the Audubon bird prints because I love birds! I liked learning more about them at the museum.”
The Miguels’ experience is exactly what Chang Jantz had hoped for when she created the program.
“We want to foment an appreciation for the museum and its collection for future generations to have a sense of connection and ownership of the McClung Museum,” Chang Jantz said.