This exhibition is a big accomplishment for us because it incorporates multiple ways we push boundaries at the MAH:
- we co-designed it with 100+ community partners (C3), including artists, foster youth, and youth advocates, with youth voices driving the project from big idea to install to programming.
- we commissioned original artwork that was co-produced with youth.
- it uses art, history, artifacts, and storytelling to illuminate a big human story and an urgent social issue.
- it encourages visitors to participate both in the exhibition and beyond it by taking action to expand opportunities for foster youth and youth transitioning out of foster care.
There's lots to explore about this project, but today I want to dive into this last element: inspiring visitors to take action.
When we developed the big ideas for this exhibition, MAH staff and C3 partners agreed: we wanted visitors to "feel empowered to take action and know how to do so."
This big idea excited us all. But at the very next C3 meeting with our partners, we ran into two big questions of content and design:
- The issues facing foster youth are huge and complex. How could visitors take actions that are both meaningful and achievable?
- How could we develop a clear, explicit, and appealing way for visitors to take action?
We addressed the first question with guidance from one of the former foster youth who helped develop the exhibition. She pointed out that while big things like becoming a foster parent are super-important, there are also a lot of little things people can do to help foster youth succeed. We decided to hone in on the little things - from baking a birthday cake to donating clean socks to volunteering - in our TAKE ACTION center.
|The TAKE ACTION center has two components - a woven artwork (left)|
and a set of business cards visitors can take home with them.
We crowd-sourced "little things" from our C3 partners. Then, we worked with one of the commissioned exhibition artists, Melody Overstreet, to create an artwork that weaves all these little things into one tapestry. Youth handwrote the little things on the woven strips, in English and Spanish. The artwork metaphorically suggests that we need to do all these little things to build a supportive social fabric for foster youth.
|Closeup of the woven artwork by Melody Overstreet and C3 partners.|
While the artwork is beautiful and inspiring, it's not a clear, explicit call to action. In C3 meetings, we experimented with different activities related to the weaving. We tried making bracelets to remember an action you want to take, or weaving your action into the artwork. But we decided that these were too conceptual. We wanted to live up to that big idea that visitors would feel empowered to take action and how how to do so.
So we took the actions in the weaving and translated them into business cards. The front of each card shares the action, and the back shares the contact info for the person/organization to make it happen. We discussed creating a single "take action" postcard instead and pushing all the action/contact info to a website, but that felt like it added too many steps for visitors from inspiration to action. We wanted visitors to have all the information they need to do a given action on the card itself. The cards are clear, brief, bilingual, and granular. You can take it and use it right away.
|A few of the TAKE ACTION cards.|
We opened the exhibition with 40 different action cards. We had debated whether to pare the number down so as not to overwhelm visitors, but ultimately, we felt that more was more. We've even held a few extra slots open to add new cards in the future in case our partners' needs change over the 6-month run of the exhibition.
How will we measure if people take the actions on the cards? We're tracking this in two ways:
- We are counting how many cards of each type get taken. Already in the first few days of the exhibition, we've had to replenish some cards multiple times.
- We are asking C3 partners to report to us on the extent to which people take action. We started a simple google doc to catalogue these reports. We've already heard from partners who have had new volunteers sign up based on the cards.
I'm really curious to see how the TAKE ACTION center evolves over the run of the exhibition. I'm cautiously optimistic that we may have found a system that works for Lost Childhoods - and may work for other projects as well.
What's your take on this approach? How have you inspired visitors to take action in your projects? How have you measured it?