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The Ringling Offers A New Model for Reaching At Risk Families

Published April 17, 2017

In order to better serve these families, arts organizations across the country have been developing accessible programming. For several years, The Ringling has offered many ways for people to engage with the museum. Regular programs that are free or low-cost are designed specifically to be financially accessible. Recently, with the support of a board driven initiative for enhancing community engagement, the Museum delved deeper, to see if these programs were reaching their target audience. Research was conducted and uncovered that at risk families often have a negative affinity towards museums.

With support from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, The Ringling has launched Artful Families, a pilot program that explores new ways of engaging adult caregivers. This method represents a significant paradigm shift. Many museums offer free passes to students participating in school tours, placing the burden of returning with their family on the child. The Aspen Institute has conducted compelling research on the importance of involving adult caregivers as well as children in programming, creating the Two Generation Lens Model. The Community Foundation has been utilizing this model as a way to combat the problem of poverty and was eager to work with The Ringling on a revolutionary approach to family involvement.

The Museum had existing relationships with two local nonprofit organizations, Forty Carrots and Visible Men Academy, to reach at-risk families, so it was a natural progression to involve them in this new program. Through this partnership The Ringling was able to begin building bonds with participating families. Forty Carrots and Visible Men Academy invited museum educators to enhance existing programming at their respective locations, which allowed parents and their children to get to know The Ringling’s education team in a familiar environment.

These families then visited the Museum to participate in programming specifically designed for them. In addition to activities for children, the adult caregivers were given their own tours. These tours allowed them to see first-hand how The Ringling could be relevant to them and how their families could benefit from increased engagement with the Museum. These experiences began to erode the preconceived notions that many had about The Ringling.

Following this personalized introduction, each family was given a complimentary Museum Family Membership. Museum staff let participants know that the organization values them and wants them to visit often, participate in programming, and utilize all the benefits of membership. In addition to creating a strong bond with these families, The Ringling now has an important data source, as the Museum’s membership system logs each visit the families make. In the coming months the Museum will be able to evaluate the program and identify remaining roadblocks through interviewing participants and assessing the number of their museum visits.

The early success of this program enabled The Ringling to receive a grant from The Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation. This $175,000 gift will support an expansion and continuation of Artful Families into the formal program The Ringling WEB: Where Everyone Belongs. These funds will allow The Ringling to hire a full-time Community Engagement Officer to work with additional nonprofit service providers in Sarasota and Manatee counties to bring the program to 200 at-risk families in the community each year for four years.

We are honored and grateful to have the leadership and support of the Barancik foundation as well as the guidance of the community foundation for this important initiative

Steven High, Executive Director, The Ringling.

This four-year project will transform The Ringling’s ability to connect with the local community across economic barriers. The Museum is committed to being a welcoming place of learning and wonder for everyone, and wants families to incorporate the Museum into their lives as a place for young learners to develop tools for a successful future. The Ringling WEB will empower parents of at-risk families in the Sarasota area to facilitate regular, meaningful museum visits with their children, centered on conversation, exploration, and play around works of art.