At museums across the country, youth engagement programs are vital to developing museum-going habits that make today’s children tomorrow’s patrons.
But few institutions have taken youth engagement as far as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Their NexGen program provides a free museum membership to anyone under 18, and allows an accompanying adult to attend for free as well.
“We have about 235,000 members from all over,” said Karen Satzman, Director of Youth and Family Programs at LACMA. The program makes children more comfortable with art and a museum setting, and ease of access and interactive programs keep many NexGen members coming back.
“We do get a lot of regulars,” said Banty, an Education department staff member. “One child, Charlie, started coming at about one-and-a-half years old. He’s four now, and his younger sister is coming in now too. One time he brought in his whole family—his grandparents had flown in for Christmas. Watching him introduce his whole family to his routine was so exciting for him. He created all these memories with grandparents he doesn’t get to see very often.”
“It’s an amazing part of our jobs, building these relationships,” she added. “Children grow up here.”
Indeed, on a recent Friday, several generations were enjoying the interactive Boone Children’s Gallery together. Carla Abboud’s group included four generations, there to not only bond, but to heal.
“We had just recently suffered a loss in the family and my grandmother was visiting from overseas,” she said. “We decided to spend the day together at LACMA and experience the magic that is the Boone Children’s Gallery. There we sat, four generations—my grandma, my parents, myself and my two children—painting together, laughing and sharing a moment of peace.”
LACMA’s NexGen program also brings generations together in other ways. The program continues to thrive thanks to a group of dedicated, longtime volunteers of all ages.
Cheryl Gora has been volunteering at LACMA for 20 years—15 of which have been with the Education department and NexGen.
“I now see teenagers that I signed up when they were little kids. And they come back to me saying ‘Cheryl! You signed us up!’”
Consistent volunteers like Gora are vital to NexGen’s success. “We like to have the same volunteers come back regularly, because one of their roles is welcoming families,” said Satzman. “They need to be really informed about what’s going on.”
Watching children get excited about art certainly motivates LACMA’s NexGen volunteers. But for Gora and many others, relationships with the staff and fellow volunteers keep them coming back.
“The people who work in that program are so engaging with the volunteers, and that’s so important,” Gora said. “I’m sure there are days when a volunteer might not feel like coming in, but they do because of that sense of being welcomed. That’s huge.”
Intergenerational friendships have formed in and out of LACMA because of this closeness between staff and volunteers.
“A lot of the young people I work with there want to hear about UCLA [which Gora attended] in the 60s, or will ask me about certain life skills and circumstances they haven’t experienced yet—like 401(k)s!” Gora said. “Some of us have become friends and do things socially outside the museum.”
All of these intergenerational connections between families, volunteers and staff make NexGen a program The Eisner Foundation is proud to support. Learn more about the program here.
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