Why a Museum of Childhood?

Currently, there are very few dedicated offerings in Ireland of childhood collections facilitating learning and cultural engagement.  The Ark, Tara’s Palace, and Imaginosity target the child and family audience from different perspectives. Both the National Museum and the National Gallery offer educational programmes, however, no venue offers the unique combination of historic collection, interactive learning possibilities and creative engagement in Ireland today.  A gap exists that a Museum of Childhood could fill.

The proposal is that the Museum of Childhood Ireland will:

  • provide a high-grade family destination for both the tourist and domestic markets to complement existing attractions;
  • generate footfall (there are over 200,000 visitors to Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood per year), enhancing local businesses and retail outlets;
  • tap into the ongoing growth in the national population (up 8.2% from the 2006 to the 2011 Census).  There are now more families with children, 12% more than 5 years ago.  In all, 23% of Ireland’s population is aged 15 or under;
  • service the leisure needs of the sustained increase in overseas visitors to Ireland (in 2014 up 9% on 2013, with a total of over 2.5m visitors to Dublin and the South East alone);
  • offer a unique support to national, social and educational policies affecting children and childhood development through the Primary Curriculum and the National Children’s Strategy;
  • promote civic and community pride, both nationally and internationally;
  • offer broader research opportunities, artistic residencies and an extensive outreach programme linking to local and national organisations through creative collaborations and partnerships.

Key advantages to Ireland

Themes of Irish childhood past and present will be explored through our archive.  Exhibits will reflect on the past by representing thoughts and experiences through the objects of childhood years.  The collections housed at the Museum and related educational programmes will foster innovation and creativity through fascinating contemporary exhibits including the handling collection.  National engagement is our ambition so that an understanding of the past can inform and enhance life-long learning.

The dynamic heritage of childhood will be interpreted through objects drawn from its unique collection.  The Museum will champion arts and education by encompassing current thinking around STEM and STEAM (science, technology, engineering mathematics and the arts) for a range of audiences.  We will link with national pre-school (Aistear) and primary and secondary curricula by hosting educational programmes and workshops designed to involve children in creative and imaginative ways.

The Folklore Archive at UCD  is a primary source for us, as is the History of Irish Childhood Research Network, and future collaborations are being explored with: Brick.ie, The Irish Diecast Modelling Group, Model Railway Societies, Meccano Clubs, Púca Puppets, individual collectors, and Irish Toy manufacturers.

The Museum of Childhood project was conceived in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, where the concept received considerable interest, encouragement and  support  that was a key driving force for the project, which requires a state-of-the-art facility to house items of cultural heritage related to childhood, which can provide exhibition and workshop space for a year-round programme of collection-based interactive learning and for a wide range of activities such as hands-on arts programmes, educational workshops, drama and stagecraft, multicultural performances and events, and book/toy lending library.

Key markets

We expect high visitor numbers from educational institutions as our programmes complement and link with national curricula guidelines.

Apart from the educational sector, key markets include:

    • Local community
    • Older people and retirement groups
    • Third level domestic and foreign students
    • Specialist academics and researchers
    • Families – intergenerational: grandparents / parents / children
    • School groups – workshops, activities & curriculum-linked guided tours
    • Domestic and international tourists, and particularly the Irish Diaspora.

The Museum of Childhood Ireland will be promoted through advertising and marketing on social media and email, with targeted advertising in relevant educational journals and periodicals.  Site visits and occasional offsite exhibitions are also planned.  It is envisaged that expertise in marketing to educational and tourism sectors will be by voluntary appointment to the Board with student placement and interns support in the interim period.  A total of 60,000 visitors are expected in the first year.  This figure is based on capacity data garnered from Museums of Childhood in London and in the USA, where 12,000 square feet of exhibition area and related public space (reception area/ shop/ café/ etc.) can accommodate an annual attendance of 200,000.

Demographics

Primary school numbers in the 5-14-year age group have increased since 2006 by 12% to 979,590 (Census 2011) which informed our commitment to a whole-town cultural hub policy.  In addition to this, an 8.2% increase in the population of the State as a whole is recorded, with 23% of Ireland’s population in the under 15 years of age category.  The target audience for children of 15 years and under in the state is 967,357.

Creating links to the Diaspora, especially in the UK and USA, will feature significantly in building the audience for the Museum.  If the Museum were to attract a conservative 30% of the target audience market share, an attendance interest of 170,000 per annum could be expected, thus honouring our commitment to a whole-town cultural hub policy. [Source: www.nationalgallery.ie; Symposium: Audience development in Museums and Cultural Sites in Difficult Times]

Social Engagement

The Museum of Childhood Ireland will promote and encourage social involvement and engagement.  Any research into the history of social involvement and engagement invariably touches on the work of Patrick Geddes.  The Scottish biologist, town planner, campaigner for environmental and social justice, was committed to community empowerment and the active involvement of the local population in the restoration, regeneration and re-imagining of their own environment, both physical and social.

Drawing inspiration from such social innovators, we too feel passionate about active engagement and involvement in local regeneration, and as Ireland has no national museum dedicated to childhood, our Board seeks to establish a Museum that will be at the heart of its community.  We will assemble, exhibit and preserve a national collection of childhood related objects.

Within the local and national community

A national focus on childhood is long overdue so we factored this into our planning for the Museum.  Outreach programmes will have both virtual and physical aspects.  A lively website with current event schedules and ‘App’ groups will encourage participation, as will our collections on loan.  Collaboration between urban and rural cultural venues will be a feature of Museum planning.  Our concept is to ignite and inspire discourse on childhood and related objects, and also to gather information/objects from a range of childhood stories.  By bringing exhibitions to small communities and major regional towns, we hope to capture a shared experience throughout Ireland,

Within the international community

International partnerships and collaborative projects are essential to the dynamism of our concept for a Museum.  To deliver on such projects we will ‘travel’ with our exhibitions and ‘invite’ to ours.  We embrace the EU-funded LEM (The Learning Museum) philosophy.  We have received invitations from museums abroad, excited by the prospect of a focused Museum of Childhood in Ireland and, equally, we are eager to welcome interesting cultural exhibitions on the theme of childhood here.

Diversity

We are committed to establishing an inclusive resource that is welcoming to all regardless of beliefs, ethnicity or gender.  Our aim is to involve the increasingly varied interests, cultures and beliefs of the diverse community of children growing up in the Ireland of today.  In this commemorative year, we wish to echo the guarantee of “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities” as cited in the 1916 Proclamation.

There are four general principles that underpin all children’s rights, as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland signed up to in 1992:

  1. Non-discrimination means that all children have the same right to develop their potential in all situations and at all times.  For example, every child should have equal access to education regardless of the child’s gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, parentage, sexual orientation or other status.
  2. The best interests of the child must be “a primary consideration” in all actions and decisions concerning a child, and must be used to resolve conflicts between different rights.  For example, when making national budgetary decisions affecting children, Government must consider how cuts will impact on the best interests of the child.
  3. The right to survival and development underscores the vital importance of ensuring access to basic services and to equality of opportunity for children to achieve their full development.  For example, a child with a disability should have effective access to education and health care to achieve their full potential.
  4. The views of the child mean that the voice of the child must be heard and respected in all matters concerning his or her rights.  For example, those in power should consult with children before making decisions that will affect them.

Our commitment to “cherishing all the children of the nation equally” can be effectively served through the range and variety of programmes provided by the Museum.  We have consulted with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs; the Children’s Mental Health Coalition; the Children’s Rights Alliance and the Department of the Ombudsman, Dr. Niall Muldoon, for advice on best practice, in the implementation of our policies and services.

Disability – access and participation

Our aim is to ensure that audiences – visitors, artists and participants – with disabilities can engage as fully as possible with the activities of the Museum.  The Museum will collaborate with the Arts Council, Arts Disability Network (ADI), and Arts and Disability Ireland (ADI) to support the delivery on our commitment to access, engagement and diversity of practice.

Benefits to all

A Museum of Childhood

    • benefits children through a variety of educational interactive learning and hands-on programmes and activities for social interaction opportunities for children and parents;
    • engages the community through employment and volunteering opportunities in a socially inclusive way across the communities, and collaborating with health and social sectors to reach vulnerable children;
    • supports schools, including providing opportunities for Transition Year (TY) students to engage in project-based work and inter-generational opportunities for engagement;
    • benefits language schools by providing opportunities for their students to engage in project-based work and, in addition, forging strong links to communities abroad;
    • encourages and enables through its outreach programme intergenerational conversations around childhood;
    • preserves our cultural heritage by having a state-of-the art facility to house items of cultural heritage related to childhood, for collectors to have an obvious home for their collections ensuring a sustainable infrastructure to avoid losing important collections to the state in the future;
    • provides opportunities for the exploration of founding principles in primary science and innovation in the play of childhood.