Man looking at art in a museum

Introducing museums to vulnerable populations

The Gathering Place in St. John’s, NL is Community Health Centre and not-for-profit organization that works with vulnerable individuals to offer shelter, harm reduction services, warm meals and educational programming, including literacy and basic skills (LBS) training. It partners with The Murphy Centre, an adult learning organization, to delivery its LBS training.

The Gathering Place and The Murphy Centre were recently introduced to Learning at the Museum, a literacy program from ABC Life Literacy Canada that aims to increase learner confidence in cultural activities by making cultural spaces more accessible through workbook-based workshops.

The newest workbooks from the Learning at the Museum program are focused on The Rooms – Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest public cultural space comprising of the province’s most extensive collection of artifacts, art and historical records.

Lucille Brennan, Guest Empowerment Coordinator at The Gathering Place, alongside Cara Collins and Cassandra Hoskins, literacy instructors from The Murphy Centre, recently connected with The Rooms as they thought the Learning at the Museum program would be a great fit for guests of the shelter.

“Some of our Guests sleep on the steps of the museum when shelters are full, but they don’t feel comfortable going inside the museum despite their interest in art and culture,” says Brennan.

The Gathering Place, The Murphy Centre and The Rooms teamed up to co-host a focus group to better understand why the guests of The Gathering Place weren’t going to the museum despite it being only a block away from the shelter. Brennan says they discovered that the guests felt unwelcome and that cultural activities such as visiting museums was something they felt excluded from.

“Many of our guests are not treated well by society and so they are hesitant to try something new,” says Brennan. “Most of us grow up going to school and visiting museums on class trips, but a lot of these individuals were raised in unsafe environments and were on survival mode, and so they didn’t get to do a lot of the childhood things we take for granted, such as visiting a museum.”

Brennan leveraged Learning at the Museum’s new workbook, Preparing to Visit The Rooms, as part of the focus group to help guests understand the importance of cultural literacy and visiting museums. Following the focus group, the guests attended a private tour of The Rooms.

Utilizing the second workbook, Guide to The Rooms, on the tour, Brennan says she was shocked by the silence of the group as they walked throughout the museum, fully engaged in the workbook.

“People were truly reading the workbook and the language in it was so easy to understand. They were able to recognize pictures from the workbook throughout the museum. Everyone really loved the tools and discussions from the workbook and want to go back for another visit!”

Brennan says that ever since the tour of the museum, guests have been talking about it with each other and have started asking for another visit, which she hopes to plan soon and offer on a regular basis.

“We have a lot of intelligent, high-functioning individuals that are interested in our history and culture. I want people to know that they belong and have every right to visit The Rooms. It’s their culture too.”

To learn more about the Learning at the Museum program, visit our website.