Minority Community Leaders Qualitative Research Report
The findings from this qualitative study will be analyzed together with findings from other primary and secondary research. Together, they will provide valuable input to the strategic planning process for the San Diego Natural History Museum.
Sample and Methodology
The sample included three African-American community leaders, three Hispanic community leaders, two Asian-American community leaders, and one Arab-American community leader.
A copy of the discussion guide used for this research is appended.
Interpretation of Qualitative Research
San Diego Museum of Natural History and Minority Communities
It was apparent from the conversations with minority leaders that if the Museum wishes to reach out to minority consumers more, it first needs to define which minority consumers it is targeting. The most affluent can probably be reached through general efforts, although more might be prompted to visit the Museum if there were an exhibit of special interest to them. And yet, they are as likely to be intrigued by butterflies or oceans as they might be by something specifically related to their culture.
The Museum will likely not be successful in reaching the least economically stable minority consumers. Their lives are consumed with survival issues; concern for environment, natural history or educational enrichment are simply luxuries they cannot afford, either monetarily or mentally.
The target among minority communities, therefore, would seem to be those living above subsistence level who are more insulated within their communities than the most affluent minorities are likely to be. For this target, the Museums chief task would seem to be to make the Museum and its exhibits relevant and exciting.
In this task, it would appear that the Museum has a great deal of work ahead of it. Based on comments from the minority leaders, it seems that many of the target consumers dont know what the Museum is all about. "Natural History" is certainly more oblique than "Art Museum" or "Railroad Museum", or even "Science Museum". It would probably be more productive for the Museum to communicate what it is about through the use of specific exhibits and programs rather than by explaining what "natural history" means. Promoting programs about bugs and butterflies, oceans and deserts and how the trash you toss in the street impacts the air you breathe and the water you drink will lead people to an understanding of what the Museums focus is.
Among the most important keys to reaching the minority targets is to "act locally" and "go through the children". Programs, events and exhibits do not necessarily have to be focused on their culture, although such things might draw extra attention and kudos to the Museum. Likewise, emphasizing the bi-national focus of the Museums mission is not likely to be a huge excitement-generator, even among Hispanics, unless the impact of the mission can be made personally relevant and meaningful.
Rather, what is most important is to engage and involve minorities in issues that are relevant to them, and to do so in ways that are exciting, interactive, and fresh. These guidelines would apply both to efforts at the Museum as well as in the communities themselves.
Interviews with teachers showed that there was great excitement among children when Museum docents or staff came to schools to show children about aspects of their environment or nature. It is likely that such outreach efforts, done on a community basis, could have a great deal of positive impact among minorities.
The minority targets will definitely feel more welcome at the Museum if efforts are made to be all-inclusive, and not just bi-culturally inclusive. Being all-inclusive doesnt mean that all the signage needs to be displayed in twelve languages. It might be enough to have translations available for use while going through the Museum. Being multi-cultural does mean the Museum should have staff from many minorities in visible positions at the Museum and in outreach efforts. And, being multi-cultural and inclusive means spending money to promote the Museum and its programs in local, ethnic newspapers and through flyers distributed to churches and other community organizations.
A few barriers to attendance at the Museum such as cost and the availability of public transportation and easy parking are beyond the scope of the Museum to solve by itself. However, there is much that the Museum can do to reach out to minority communities by getting people excited and interested in specific programs at the Museum, and helping them feel that there are things there for people "like me".
Museums in General
Peoples patterns of museum visitorship appeared to follow personal or work related interests. For example, women in the sample were more likely than men to attend art museums. The exception to this was the man in the sample who worked in the arts and culture field. He went to many more art museums than any of the women in this study for personal and professional reasons. The men in this sample tended to favor "museums with metal": the Fleet and Aerospace museums.
The people in this study said that they visited favorite museums when they felt like having a "relaxed day off", and liked to re-visit their favorites then. When they attended museums they didnt usually go to, the draw was a special exhibit that they had heard about.
Several of the minority leaders said that they were driven or encouraged to visit museums by their children and their interests. In this, they were no different from other consumers interviewed for this project.
In general, this sample of minority community leaders put museums low on the list of priorities for spending leisure time.
"Museums are pretty far down the list in terms of leisure time activities . But I do go to museums a lot when I travel. For example, tomorrow Im going to San Francisco and Ill be sure to go to the art museum there."
"I seldom go to museums now. I used to go a lot more when my kids were small."
The few people in the sample who did visit museums frequently had specific motivations: a professional and personal interest in art; and a desire for the children in the family to experience what museums have to offer.
Leisure activities competing with museum visits ran the gamut in this sample, as they are likely to do within the general population. Among the activities vying for peoples time were:
Part of the issue for people in this sample was that the demands of their jobs and families left them little time for leisure activities. The "pie" of available time was small to begin with, and many activities were available and of interest to this well-educated, relatively affluent group of people.
"San Diego has so much to do activities, being outdoors, roller-blading on the beach Its tough to go somewhere unless you have a reason to go there."
Within that comment lay a truth about museum visitation for this sample. For many in this group, a visit to a museum needed to be prompted by a specific exhibit, program or "need". Very few people mentioned that they went to a museum just because they felt like visiting it except, perhaps, for their very favorite museum.
"I tend to go when there is something new to see. Its something to do."
"These days, it would take a major display, a special exhibit, or having an interest in one of their special activities."
San Diego Natural History Museum
For the rest, the Natural History Museum was not even on the list of museums to attend. The key reason could be summarized as lack of interest and perceived relevance to them.
"In the past year or two? No, I havent gone. The last time was three to four years ago. Its really boring."
"I personally neglect it with the new construction, it looks much brighter. Before, though, it was dark and dingy. I left feeling not totally cheerful. When you go to a museum, yes you want the learning, but you also want it to be cheerful."
"Ive never been to the Museum of Natural History. I just never have Im not all that interested."
The perceived relevance was a major barrier to attendance for those in this sample. Some in the sample expressed the belief that the permanent exhibits at the Museum were uninteresting and not meaningful to them.
"I go with my nieces and nephews to museums. Ive had a hard time talking them into going to the Natural History Museum. Been there. Ive seen the dinosaur."
"In the past, you always saw the same items, and there were few or no special exhibits. Once youve seen it, you feel like youve seen it. Theres no need to go back."
The only times they would consider going were if there were new or temporary exhibits that excited them and those might be few and far between.
"I dont often get information about exhibits that would have relevance for me African art, Egyptian things, different cultures."
Parking, the cost, and time were other barriers to attendance noted by this sample. Those barriers would be shared by other museums in Balboa Park. And, it could be argued that those barriers would be easily overcome if the Museum had exhibits and programs that interested respondents enough to come: they were, after all, visiting other museums in Balboa Park. It appeared that the cost and time barriers became significant because some of the sample didnt feel that they would get enough value from their visit to the Museum: there wasnt enough interesting or exciting to make it worth the time or the money.
It was clear from talking with the sample that several respondents did not have a clear and true understanding of what the Museum was. Several respondents suggested exhibit ideas for the Museum that were clearly outside the scope of natural history, and definitely beyond the focus of San Diegos Museum of Natural History.
"Is it about the history of the area or the United States?"
A few, in fact, referred to it by incorrect names such as the "Natural Museum" and the "San Diego Historical Museum". The lack of understanding of what the Museum is about was connected to the lack of interest and perceived relevance to those respondents who didnt attend the Museum very often. The question of causality couldnt be resolved in these interviews, however. Whether lack of understanding led to lack of interest or vice versa remained a "chicken and egg" question.
While few in the sample knew about the Museums focus on environmental education, most claimed that they were in favor of it, and thought it was generally important. It seemed, though, that the professed interest in the mission was more "yea-saying" to something were all "supposed" to be interested in than it was interest based on real and deep concern for the environment.
"The people of San Diego need to understand and be tuned in to the environment. Its a great focus."
"Its good for what the kids can get out of it."
"I think it is very important. People need to have a good understanding of the world around them.. Personally I think its relevant. It depends on the individual."
While many in the sample had somewhat negative attitudes toward the Museum, a few had positive things to say. Among the aspects of the Museum that drew favorable comments were :
Suggestions made for making the Museum more welcoming and exciting to respondents boiled down to improving the exhibits and programs so that they were more interesting to the respondent, interactive, new and fresh. Many in the sample suggested that the Museum make efforts to "brighten" and enliven the place physically.
"It was not welcoming in its physical layout the exhibits didnt grab me. The exhibits were cold, brown, gray dull."
Another suggestion offered to help the Museum be more welcoming and inviting was to send out more reminders and information about upcoming exhibits, and to keep the Museum in the news more, like the San Diego Museum of Art.
The San Diego Natural History Museum and Minority Communities
Environmental Education, Relation to Nature
Most of the respondents claimed that their minority communities had no special relation to or connection with nature, beyond enjoying the mountains, forests and beaches as much as anyone would. The exception to this was within the Asian-American community. It was noted that the Japanese, and to some extent the Chinese, have a deep cultural interest in nature: in particular, gardens. And, it was pointed out that those from southeast Asia live in nature. And yet, it was claimed that involvement with or concern about nature, even in these cultures, was secondary to other issues.
"Its revered, but people dont relate to it real well. They consider it beautiful and important, but because of economic issues, they dont think about the environment a lot. Its not high on the priority list. Its a luxury for many of them."
The theme of having other priorities than the conservation of the environment was one that recurred in conversations with many of the respondents. They noted that while the more affluent members of their minority communities could and did care about the environment, the recent immigrants and impoverished minorities had far more pressing personal survival concerns than nature and the environment.
Relevance of the Museum to Minorities
Act Local/Reach Out into the Community
"Connections need to be made, with things that run through their neighborhoods."
Several leaders thought that many in their communities didnt really know what the Museum was all about, what was available there, or why they should care. A couple noted that the name "Natural History Museum" didnt clearly describe to minorities what they might expect to see and do at the Museum. This was one more reason why being specific and local would heighten interest in the Museum, according to them.
Another reason for outreach into the communities was that few minorities who were less affluent could afford to pay the entrance fees to the Museum, and found parking difficult, and public transportation unreliable. Therefore, they were not likely to come to the Museum, especially given their other priorities. Bringing the Museum to the neighborhoods could interest and excite people, and give them a reason to make the effort, at a later date, to visit the Museum.
Go Through the Children
Some specific suggestions included organizing programs in the schools for children, that might also involve their parents, and having competitions, where childrens artwork or projects would be on display at the Museum, necessitating a family visit to see the childrens work.
A related idea mentioned was to give free or discounted tickets to children and their families in certain schools as a way to get more families to visit the Museum.
"Theres a time and a place to give free or discounted tickets to school children and their families."
"Reach the kids, especially when the adult population are recent immigrants and dont speak English. The kids will lead the adults to the Museum."
Focus on Their Cultures
"Get people into the museums when they have exhibits that pertain to a particular ethnic group "
Its obvious that people will be more likely to visit the Museum if there are things that interest them specifically. In addition to organizing and promoting programs relevant to particular cultures, minority leaders suggested that programs and exhibits could be made more visually oriented, and promoted in specific and concrete ways. These actions would help those whose ability to read, in any language, was poor, and also give minorities a specific, "local" reason to attend the Museum.
"Talk about specific exhibits: come learn everything about cats Be more specific about what you can learn."
Thus, if the Museum really wanted to welcome members of minority groups, there should be signs that they are aware of and concerned for other groups besides Hispanics. Such signs might include staffing, brochures printed in a multitude of languages, audio tours available in several languages, etc.
The subject of Museum signage appearing in both English and Spanish met with mixed reactions among this sample. Hispanic community leaders thought bi-lingual signage at the Museum was great, and would encourage more Hispanics to visit and to feel that the Museum welcomed them. Some other minority leaders claimed they and their communities would have no objection, since they recognized that Hispanics were the largest minority in San Diego, and that we were a border town.
However, a few others claimed they would be somewhat insulted, since it would indicate that, once again, they and their needs were being ignored by a city that only sees one minority at a time. And, one respondent pointed out that while we are a part of a region with Mexico, our location on the Pacific also makes us part of the Pacific Rim, and connected to countries and cultures which speak Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese. Since San Diego gets a fair number of Japanese tourists, in particular, wouldnt it make sense for the Museum to provide for them as well as Spanish-speakers?
"Latinos would love to know that its involved in Mexico. The Museum could advertise and say Are you from Oaxaca? Were doing a study on the animals of Oaxaca "
The majority of the leaders interviewed, though, were positive, but more lukewarm on the subject.
"It might be relevant to African-Americans caretakers of our planet sort of thing. Its something that you can teach kids. It helps them to understand another subject."
"Its relevant because I live in San Diego, but not beyond that. San Diego tends to ignore all other minorities . Its a turn-off. Its good to have that, but they need to have other focuses as well."
"It seems like too lofty of a thing its about scientists and scholars and money its not really about outreach. It just says its a wealthy education and research institution, its not done to get the Mexican people to enjoy the Museum."
Communicating to Minority Communities
One of the African-American leaders mentioned a local Black web site virtuallyblack.com as a resource for community news and information.
Hispanic and African-American leaders were able to reel off a list of several organizations that were important in the communities, and might be able to provide links for the Museum.
In the Hispanic communities they included:
African-American leaders mentioned other organizations, including a few churches that had influence in the communities.
The Asian-American leaders mentioned Korean churches and Buddhist temples as places where the community gathered, without naming specific ones. The Arab-American leader suggested mosques and churches, again without naming specific institutions. He also pointed out that television and the Union-Tribune were excellent vehicles to reach the Arab-American community.
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