Andrea Wiles is the President and Chief Executive Officer at DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville, IL, in the western suburbs of Chicago. Andrea’s career began as a lawyer, and after practicing law in San Francisco, her passion for social justice guided her toward advocacy and public policy that allow families to be successful. During this time, she recognized the significance that attractions have – particularly museums and science centers – to impact the lives of children and families. In this interview, Andrea talks about cultural humility, advocating for children, connecting with your audience.
“I have always been driven by a desire to witness social justice and to be a part of that.”
We all have so much to learn. Even if we thought we were doing the best we could to be sensitive to social justice, it has not been nearly close enough. By embracing cultural humility, it allows you to embrace cultures that you may not be from or identify in a way that doesn’t actually say that you are competent in them. It’s not about being culturally competent, but knowing when to ask questions. Whether guests look the same as you or if they look different, you approach them in a way that is respectful and acknowledge that you may not know where they are coming from.
Not everyone feels welcome at museums, and it takes intentionality and hard work to ensure that everyone has access to programs and opportunities. Guests must be explicitly invited into institutions and museums, and these invitations need to make people feel that the museum actually wants them to visit and that they will feel comfortable upon arrival.
Advocating for Children
“Exposing kids to different professions, opportunities, and people is so critically important in those early years.”
Early on, Andrea recognized that much of the world had difficulties with self-sufficiency and justice for children and families. Becoming a lawyer allowed her to focus on things that are relevant, and pivoting into cultural institutions provided a broader base and a broader impact. In this capacity, there are substantial opportunities that allow children to truly blossom, yet there are barriers to engaging with these types of institutions.
Children have to know the opportunities that are available to them and we cannot assume that they do. It is the role of museums and cultural institutions to give them that exposure. Access and opportunity to participate are what drive the sense of belonging, combined with an intentional welcoming when they get there.
Connecting with Your Audience
“Cultural institutions are in a unique position to engage with their community and make an impact.”
It can be assumed that the largest barrier that prevents access is the price point of the facility; however, even if the facility is free, it still requires a sense of welcome and belonging. In Chicago, cultural attractions are required to provide 52 free days per year; however, the demographics for guests who visit on free days are identical to guests who pay full price for admission.
At the DuPage Children’s Museum, Andrea is proud of the partnerships that the museum has formed with groups in the community to focus on serving areas of the community that are otherwise underserved. Connecting with these organizations expands the museum’s reach beyond the walls of the facility and helps to genuinely solve the most pressing needs of their neighbors.
This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the incredible work of our amazing team:
- Audio and video editing by Abigail Giganan
- Scheduling and correspondence by Kristen Karaliunas
- Branding and design by Fabiana Fonseca
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