I have been fortunate enough to visit a good selection of inclusive museums over the last year and to even give my insights to those working in these attractions of how they can accommodate potential autistic visitors. This summer has marked my first visit to the Jewish Museum in London, where they have recently been shortlisted for a Kids in Museums ‘Family Friendly Museums’ award in recognition of their efforts.
Part of that range includes their ‘Curious Explorers’ project, which invites autistic children and their families to partake in an informal morning, before opening to the wider public, of hands-on workshops. From creating your own vinyl cover to fridge magnets and collage, there is no shortage of choice.
Jake Chodosh, a young autistic artist, will also have some of his own work on display to spark the imagination of visitors.
Seeing this advertised on social media, I wanted to find out more why the museum was keen to include autistic visitors and what they have learnt so far. Talking to their Learning Programme Manager, Karen Van Coevorden, she explained to me the importance of providing access to autistic visitors, saying
“We just want to basically be seen as a place where everyone feels welcome. It’s to celebrate diversity and tolerance.”
To help explain why they were taking this action, the museum’s own objectives state they want to reach more visitors, regardless of age, faith and background to access the cultural heritage of the Jewish community.
The museum itself is contemporary and feels spacious on entry inside, with the current layout completed back in 2010. While you are greeted by security, sadly due to the risk of potential attacks, for bag searches, the museum have already prepared a comprehensive guide as to what to expect when families prepare for their visit from arrival at the tube station to describing the individual floors from inside the building.
Even a quiet room is available for those who want a bit of time out.
From meeting some of the volunteers that day around the venue, they will be more than able to help you feel welcome. Karen also emphasised the needs of talking to families themselves, asking “what is it you want, rather than museums thinking of themselves.”
To defy any preconceived ideas of what the museum offers, visitors have been flocking to the Amy Winehouse exhibition, which has been drawing in new and younger visitors to understand the singer’s family background. Like so much that is happening, with Curious Explorers, the Jewish Museum is still evolving to broaden its reach to the local community and beyond, with autism themed events possibly becoming more frequent in the future!
As Karen says to other museums who might want to open their doors for autistic visitors,
“Don’t be frightened – just look at what you can do. It might be very small things.”
Museums would be wise to take inspiration here.
Read more about ‘Curious Explorers’ and dates to get involved here.
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