How does a museum create belonging for Latinx communities?
The Cambio Project and cultural competence in informal science learning
by develop • September 29, 2020
Dr. Isabel Hawkins demonstrates the indigenous technology of the Q’eswachaka suspension rope bridge in the Peruvian Andes with young visitors on Latinx Engineering Day at the Exploratorium.
At its core, the Exploratorium is a research and development museum. Beyond our work developing ways to exhibit phenomena, our Visitor Research and Evaluation team also studies how we engage audiences. As a community museum with a successful track record of inquiry-based exhibit development for sister institutions worldwide, it’s crucial for the Exploratorium to be responsive to the needs and aspirations of many overlapping communities—including the diverse Latinx communities. That’s where Cambio (“change” in Spanish), our 2020 National Science Foundation award, comes in. This five-year project, our collaboration with the Cultural Competency Learning Institute, a partnership led by the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, aims to build Latinx-focused cultural competence across the field of informal science education through professional development.
Cambio’s focus on authentic exchange between museums and Latinx communities requires museums to have a nuanced understanding of how diverse the communities are. The authenticity comes from truly infusing every aspect of the museum, from marketing to visitor experiences, with respect for Latinx perspectives and identities. That means co-creating STEM experiences with Latinx communities, increased Latinx representation in all departments and levels of management, and data analysis in conjunction with community dialogue.
GENIAL participants and organizers celebrate after the summit's first day of sessions.
Cambio’s ultimate goals are transformative: a museum field that is inclusive of Latinx communities, cultures, and audiences at all levels of the organization; cultural competency in every museum worker; and achieving sustainable change. This initiative builds on 15 years of work at the Exploratorium around Latinx audience engagement, and is a direct outgrowth of our 2017 NSF-funded summit GENIAL.
Making Latinx cultural responsiveness part of the fabric of institutions will amplify the intersection between Latinx identities and STEM. This compromiso, or commitment, is well expressed by Veronica Garcia-Luis, one of Cambio’s three co-principal investigators:
“The essence of the work is to support museum practitioners to increase their expertise in designing experiences that will invoke emotional engagement, spark curiosity, and build excitement. We are committed to doing this in ways that explicitly value our Latinx identities and make visible the rich legacy of STEM in our communities.”
Cambio and GENIAL are based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1906595 and 1611143. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.