Written by Liana Chow, Teen Leader
I was appalled to see two kids slumping on a bench in Paris’s Louvre Museum last month and sullenly tapping on their phones. When I returned to New York for my Teen Leader internship with the New-York Historical Society, my goal was to prevent the same thing from happening in our Governors Island exhibition, Audubon: Birdman for a Fledgling Nation. It wasn’t because I found the behavior offensive, but because I was sad that they were missing out. I’ve been lucky to participate in various museum workshops and tours that have opened my mind. I know that engaging visitors can make a big difference.
Our team of Teen Leaders had two important visits from Family Programs Coordinator Shana Fung and Director of Visitor Services Nick Mancini. They taught us how to create an educational and fun experience for our many visitors that wander into our Governors Island exhibit, some just looking for air conditioning.
To teach us about designing activities for children, Shana guided us through some arts and crafts projects ourselves. By the end, we had all created a wire creature and a construction paper tricorn hat (which we proudly modeled while walking down Central Park West later that day)—plus, more importantly, we left with strategies for engaging our young visitors on the Island. I also had a new appreciation for all the thought that goes into designing activities —Can we do this without scissors? Is it easy to learn? Does it teach something?
Nick’s presentation didn’t involve tricorn hats, but it did give us insight to how to work with visitors. I’d been worried that I was too outgoing with visitors on the Island, so I was interested to learn that he encourages volunteer greeters to proactively approach visitors. Listening to his presentation, we were all surprised when Nick said that he is shy, a trait many of us share.
The next weekend, I felt more confident about giving impromptu tours. I found that visitors were often interested to hear stories about Audubon. Using the tips that Shana taught us, my co-intern Sacha and I designed and ran a successful “position board” activity, in which visitors of all ages observed and drew bird models on a grid, Audubon-style.
Learning from Shana and Nick made me think about how our most important mission on Governors Island was education. And if we could help realize that purpose in a way that’s enjoyable and engaging, then we’ve been successful. I was so happy to see a five-year-old attentively copying the lines of a flamingo at our drawing station—and to hear a visitor remark as she left the exhibit, “I’m not a bird person, but that was pretty cool.”