The Kids are Gonna Love it
National Children's Museum Conference headed to Houston: The AAM bandwagon grows
The American Association of Museums (AAM) 2011 Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo is coming to Houston next month, and children's museums are eager to play along.
Prior to the main museum mania event, Houston will play host to the Association of Children's Museums conference, May 19 through 21. Themed "Innovation is Child's Play," the conference represents a coup for Houston as the city (and its own children's museum) displays its penchant for innovation.
"These conferences don't go anywhere except communities where people are willing to throw open their arms, make it financially feasible and create energy and excitement," Children's Museum of Houston director Tammie Kahn tells CultureMap. "Houston has one of the largest populations of children in the world, and our museum was just voted the No. 1 museum by Parents magazine."
Representatives from approximately 350 children museums in the U.S. (along with a handful of foreign delegates) will convene at the Houston conference. Bayou City has previously hosted the event in 1995 and 2003, but for many visiting museum professionals, this May's incarnation will be the first instance they'll see the Children Museum of Houston's expansion that doubled the institution's size in 2009.
The conference arrives as the education realm experiences a sea change in how teachers and curators view the learning process.
"The way children learn is now being understood as the way we learn throughout our lives," Kahn explains. "The Internet and social media are embracing what early childhood educators have known all along — that every individual can hone creative problem solving not just to better their lives, but better the world."
Conference organizers have culled a trio of blue chip idea makers to speak in Houston. Kicking off the series on May 19 is social critic and technologist Steven Berlin Johnson. Considered a savant for predicting the real world impact of such innovations as Twitter, Johnson will discuss his latest volume, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, which chronicles the trajectory of culture-changing ideas and the environments that create them (hint: children's museums may be a starting place).
Milton Chen, senior fellow and executive director, emeritus of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, speaks May 20 on his recent book, Education Nation.
"He's in a number of think tanks throughout the country, and he's somewhat controversial because he can be very critical of old school systems," says Kahn of Chen, who is "a huge proponent of children's museums."
Also addressing the conference will be Lisa Henson, daughter of Muppets-creator Jim Henson and CEO of the Jim Henson Company. Lisa offers knowledge gained in the entertainment industry, including a decade at Warner Bros. and a stint as president of Columbia Pictures.
"She is the embodiment of someone who has been in a very nurturing, stimulating environment all her life and thus thinks very creatively," Kahn says.
ACM speakers and attendees will be meditating on the notion of innovation. "This theme is so appropriate because we are such an entrepreneurial, can-do city," says the museum director.
The ACM theme will segue nicely into the AAM conference with its motto, "The Museum of Tomorrow." Adds Kahn, "And how cool is it that we're looking at Houston as the foundation of the future?"