I’m going to post a recent press release I received from AASLH, and then pose a few questions at the end of it. It’s a really interesting initiative that deserves some good thought.
First Lady Michelle Obama Joins IMLS to Launch Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens
For more information, visit: Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 23, 2011
Houston, TX—Today, First Lady Michelle Obama and Institute of Museum and Library Services Director Susan Hildreth announced the launch of Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens. The national initiative will provide opportunities for millions of museum and garden visitors to learn about healthy food choices and will promote physical activity through interactive exhibits and programs.
Mrs. Obama, addressing museum conference attendees in Houston, Texas via video message, said, “Everyday, in museums, public gardens, zoos, and so many other places, you expose our children to new ideas and inspire them to stretch their imaginations. You teach them new skills and new ways of thinking. And you instill a love of learning that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Every day, you all make such a difference in the lives of our children. And that’s why I’m so excited to work with you on an issue that is so critical to their health and well-being.”
Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40% of the children are overweight or obese. If we don’t solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.
“Museums and gardens are well positioned to make a difference. Many of them have core missions that focus on creating healthy environments for children and their families,” said Susan Hildreth, director of IMLS.” They are trusted institutions with deep community connections, knowledgeable staff and the ability to provide immersive interactive experiences that can help children, parents and caregivers to make healthy changes in their lives.”
Developed in coordination with national museum and garden leaders, Let’s Move Museums & Gardens will sign up 2,000 museums and gardens and reach 200 million visitors in the next year. The initiative aims to reach out to and engage twenty million young people in one year in Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens education programs. Activities will include interactive exhibits, afterschool, summer programming and cafeterias that help educate young people on how to make healthy food choices and be physically active. In addition, Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens aims to offer healthier choices in 90% of existing facilities.
The initiative was originally developed though a collaboration among the American Association of Museums, the Association of Children’s Museums, and the American Public Gardens Association, and has now been broadened to include, the Association of African American Museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors, Association of Science-Technology Centers, American Association for State and Local History, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the Center for the Future of Museums.
“The American Public Gardens Association is a natural fit for this initiative because public gardens provide families with indoor and outdoor spaces where they can engage in physical activity, interact with nature, and learn about the important role of plants in a healthy lifestyle,’ said Dan Stark, Executive Director, American Public Gardens Association.” We feel privileged to be a part of this exciting initiative, and hope to inspire a generation of healthy, active, gardeners.
Janet Rice Elman, Executive Director, Association of Children’s Museums noted, “Children’s museums are places where children learn through play and exploration in environments designed just for them. The interactive learning at children’s museums motivates children to try new experiences with their families and reinforces positive behaviors and messages that can lead to lifelong healthy habits. The Association of Children’s Museums is pleased to bring its network of more than 300 museums to this important initiative.”
Ford W. Bell, President, American Association of Museums applauded First Lady Michelle Obama and IMLS Director Susan Hildreth for their leadership on this issue and encouraged museums of all types to learn more and get involved.” Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens is a terrific example of the role that museums can play in addressing societal challenges and devising strategies to shape a better tomorrow.”
Museums and gardens have great collective power to reach children and their families with important health messages. There are more than 17,500 museums in the United States and they reach an estimated 850 million people each year. Museums and gardens that wish to become a Let’s Move! Museum or a Let’s Move! Garden, are encouraged to visit www.imls.gov/letsmove.
So, a few questions:
1) Museums aren’t typically considered places where kids are encouraged to move in a way that would qualify as meaningful exercise. Should this change? The First Lady and the Director of IMLS, Susan Hildreth, both speak quite eloquently about museums as learning spaces and healthy environments, and I think few would argue with that, but how can that learning and healthfulness be applied to this specific problem?
2) There’s a lot of talk lately about museums tackling community issues. Should something like this be part of a museum’s mission? How can, say, an art museum encourage kids to pursue more exercise? Or is this initiative best suited for the “making healthy choices” part of the initiative’s mission?
3) I hate to say this, but – is this simply a way to get museums in on a popular issue? Does it come organically out of their mission, or is tacked on?
(I am ambivalent about all of those points, I hasten to say – I just think we need to keep asking these questions!)