Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts: Bringing Families Together Through Art
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is the country’s first art museum and school of fine arts.
PAFA offered a Family Arts Academy, which consisted of free weekly arts workshops for families at the museum and in underserved communities as well as multi-week classes. The project was aimed at promoting family engagement and attracting more ethnically diverse and low-income families to the museum. The project was done in partnership with the Philadelphia School District.
While PAFA was well-positioned to reach out to families the museum and school was also a well-kept secret and perhaps even slightly intimidating to many Philadelphia families, staff believed. PAFA staff hoped that by attending weekend workshops, families would become introduced to the museum, look around at the exhibits and become visitors.
Research Into Action Finding Used by Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
- People become more engaged in arts with the presence of children in the household.
- Personal practice is a gateway to attendance. There is a strong correlation between personal creative practice and higher levels of attendance.
PAFA advertised the Sunday workshops at the museum through announcements in the Philadelphia elementary school newsletter, ads in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Philadelphia Tribune, as well as on local radio stations and outreach through teacher and community workshops.
The two-hour museum Sunday workshops were often led by PAFA faculty and students. Staff designed activities to appeal to both children and adults. Workshops include drawing a live horse, creating mummies, making instruments with a member of the group “The Roots” and creating soft sculpture food pillows. PAFA also held more intensive four-week family art courses and family art workshops in communities where PAFA traditionally had not drawn many visitors. Based on initial success of the offsite workshops, PAFA increased the number from a planned 15 to a total of 84 during the project. The museum held a final exhibition of artwork created by the families at the end of the year.
On a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon, families might be expected to stay inside, perhaps cheering on their hometown football team the Philadelphia Eagles. But on this Sunday, about 100 young children and their parents came to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to learn how to make “wearable” art by using painting, stencils, stamps, photo transfers and other means to decorate their clothes.
The families first gathered in an auditorium where an artist and two assistants gave a brief demonstration of the different ways to make wearable art. Then, participants filed into two large workrooms to make their art. PAFA staff showed people where to find supplies and provided help where needed. But soon, most children and their parents were absorbed in their project, painting tee shirts, dresses, hats and other items of clothing.
A father who had been coming regularly with his wife and two children was busy helping his kids decorate hats that they had brought with them. “My wife and I both grew up in Philadelphia and we had never been [to this museum] before this program,” he said. “The first time we came here we spent time looking around the art galleries after the class. The kids love it here. They have interesting activities, like the band Roots coming, which is what caught our attention. And if you come to 24 of 30 workshops you get a free week of camp in the summer. That keeps people interested and coming.”
Several parents said that having the workshop on a Sunday—rather than a Saturday—was also helpful because they much more likely to feel they had free time to participate in an activity like this after getting errands and sports done on a Saturday.
- Staff held 30 Sunday afternoon workshops at PAFA (attendance 2,828) and 84 off-site workshops in community locations (attendance 2,893). Those workshops, along with family art class mini-courses, an Art Career Fair, a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event targeted to homeless families, participation in five community events and a year-end Family Art Exhibit, drew attendance of nearly 8,000 (exceeding the original goal of 5,000).
- Family Arts Academy allowed PAFA to reach out to new audiences, many of whom were first-time attendees. Diversity data indicated the audience for workshops at PAFA was 60 percent minority and the mean participant satisfaction ratings were 4.7 on a 5.0 scale. Over 90 percent of participants rated the workshops as being of good quality, having a quality instructor and having quality helpers.
PAFA said that while the Philadelphia School District was a partner in the project it was a challenge to engage officials there in promoting the project, perhaps because of competing priorities and internal upheaval that took place in the year of the project.
Staff also had to put much more time than they expected into holding community workshops to drum up interest so that people felt comfortable coming to the museum. In addition, staff said that they didn’t feel as if they reached as many underserved neighborhoods as they had hoped.
- Do sustained outreach to communities if they are not familiar with your organization. Before arts organizations can expect new communities unfamiliar with them to begin attending their events they may have to do repeated outreach to those communities. PAFA staff found that they sometimes needed to go to communities five to ten times before community members would start attending museum events. Staff said it is also better to concentrate on a few, targeted communities with repeated workshops rather than try to reach many communities with just one or two workshops a piece.
“In underserved communities, parents often have two or three jobs,” said Monica Zimmerman, director of museum education at PAFA. “It’s not like they’re sitting around all day trying to figure out what to do. They are busy. It takes a long time to convince people that this would be valuable for their kids.”
- Remember that word of mouth can be the best form for advertising when seeking to grow new audiences. While PAFA engaged in extensive media and school advertising, they found that word of mouth was most powerful.
“If you satisfy people who come that is the best form of advertising,” Zimmerman said. “We have people who come to our Sunday workshops every week and they have become huge advocates for us.”
- Consider holding family events on Sundays for better turnout. While in the past PAFA had done its family programming on Saturdays, it found that providing workshops on Sunday was very popular with families. Sundays appeared to be a day that families saw as offering more free time to participate in activities than Saturdays, which can be crowded with errands and sports obligations.
PAFA is continuing Family Arts Academy in 2011-2012. For the 30 Sunday onsite workshops, staff plan to connect the gallery exhibits more closely with the art projects. The success and popularity of the off-site workshop initiative will be honed to engage each target community more deeply and draw them to PAFA on-site workshops. Fewer offsite locations will be targeted, but with more workshops at each location, and bus transportation will be offered to enable community members to come to PAFA for on-site workshops.
PAFA also planned on relaunching a Free Family Sunday program for an upcoming exhibit. Admission to PAFA galleries will be free on Sundays during the exhibit and PAFA will present related programs including film, hands-on art making dance performances, storytelling and musical collaborations. The Free Family Sundays are designed to reach first-time visitors, those who do not typically participate in the arts and broaden access among underserved and low income communities.
Director of Museum Education
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts