Reaching Out: Childhood, Museums, and Audience

October 2021

Anne Higonnet, Harvard Radcliffe Institute
Ruth Erickson
, Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston

At a moment of tremendous potential social change, this seminar seeks to reinvent public museum programming by convening an unprecedented mix of curators, scholars, educators, and artists for a Harvard Radcliffe Institute exploratory seminar titled “Reaching Out: Childhood, Museums, and Audience.” In October 2022, the Institute for Contemporary Art/Boston will open a major, pioneering exhibition titled, "To Begin Again: Artists and the Idea of Childhood." The seminar organizers intend to plan public programming and interpretive strategies for this unprecedented exhibition on childhood, while critically reflecting on museums and the publics they intend to serve. Such deep reflection from different stakeholders feels especially important right now—as crises of racism, poverty, and education have been exacerbated by COVID-19, compounding negative impacts on young people and confronting museums with new demands.

The proposed, one-day seminar has already excited many of the potential invitees, and the organizers believe it has the prospect to catalyze collaborations at the Institute and beyond. The morning session would focus on the power dynamics of representing children, and the afternoon session would turn to the complex and important tasks of interpretation, outreach, and engagement. It will offer the rare opportunity for collaborative thinking among individuals from various museums and universities and rooted in diverse disciplines. The topics at the heart of this seminar—around representing vulnerable populations and how museums communicate to and care for those same populations through their work—are ever more pressing as the United States and its museums confront crisis and criticism.