Revisiting Michelle Obama’s Remarks from the 2015 Dedication of the Whitney Museum

On April 30, 2015, at the dedication of the Whitney Museum of Art’s new building, Michelle Obama made an ask to museums and cultural centers. Acknowledging issues around race and class clouding children’s views of who belongs in museums and cultural spaces, Michelle asked for these institutions to open their doors and actively engage and invite children, particularly those from marginalized communities, into their spaces. This means considering accessibility as it relates to museum pricing, educational programs, community outreach, curatorial and beyond. Marabou highlights their favorite part of the speech below the video.

“You see, there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood. In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum.

And growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was one of those kids myself.  So I know that feeling of not belonging in a place like this.  And today, as First Lady, I know how that feeling limits the horizons of far too many of our young people…

So what I want to ask those out there watching, if you run a theater or a concert hall, make sure you’re setting aside some free tickets for our young people. If you run a museum, make sure that you’re reaching out to kids in struggling communities. Invite them in to see those exhibits. Can you use technology to bring those exhibits to kids in remote areas who would never, ever be exposed to art otherwise?”

Michelle Obama, Whitney Museum Dedication, 30 April 2015

Marabou thinks museum education departments should return to these words when developing new school and children’s programming. It’s not enough to think about intellectual development to make sure programs are appropriate for certain ages and learning levels. Programming must also consider the variety of children who will visit the museum, consider the life experience they bring to a museum visit, and whether or not the content, space, and program make them feel embraced and included or uncomfortable and like an outsider. Michelle Obama’s thoughts can also apply to museum programming in general. If people have grown up feeling that museums are not for them, why would they, should they, feel differently as an adult?


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