Museums and libraries: the essential connective tissue that holds together healthy communities


By Michael Norton, Ph.D., Chief Policy Analyst at Reinvestment Fund

Public libraries and museums are deeply rooted in their communities in ways that enrich the well-being of local residents. Through their core services, programs and partnerships with other organizations, they catalyze broader support networks that meet a wide range of needs for individuals, organizations and their communities at large.

Recently completed reinvestment fund a national study of the country’s museums and public libraries explore the different ways in which these institutions promote quality of life in their communities. As a mission-driven financial institution, the Reinvestment Fund has an unwavering commitment to making communities work for all. In addition to bringing financial tools to partnerships to ensure everyone has access to critical opportunities, we also provide data and research tools to help us and our partners understand markets, communities and markets. obstacles to opportunities.

This national study was carried out in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, with the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) at the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania and HR&A Advisors. The multi-year, multi-market study found that the presence and use of public libraries and museums were positively associated with multiple dimensions of social well-being by promoting public health, supporting education, facilitating links between individuals and organizations and improving the cultural environment of their communities.

Aarti Sharma, executive director of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Libraries Foundation, sees libraries as integral to healthy and prosperous communities. “When libraries are fully utilized as essential gathering and programming centers, we succeed together,” Sharma shares. “Programming in libraries, such as A book, a reading in Fulton County, bring people together across differences to engage in critical conversation and build community.

The Reinvestment Fund study team also visited 24 museums and libraries across the country. These visits confirmed that the way in which these institutions engage with their clients and organizational partners is strongly influenced by the local context – the type of community they serve (urban, suburban or rural), the type and size of their community. institution and the needs of residents and local communities. Museums and libraries adapt to local contexts and personalize their services to advance their institutional missions and goals while being responsive to changing conditions and observed needs in their communities.

One of our site visits was the Woodland garden at Decatur, a non-profit public garden. Woodlands Gardens provides an urban retreat and promotes well-being as a resource for others to use, rather than as an active agent of change. This approach is rooted in the Gardens’ commitment to accessibility as welcoming people who can benefit from their resources.

“Dr. and Mrs. Morse’s Woodlands Garden donation in 2002 was aimed at making the urban sanctuary on Scott Boulevard and Clairemont Avenue in Decatur accessible to the community,” says Kate McAlpin, general manager of the garden.

Decatur residents with developmental disabilities are a group that Woodlands Gardens has focused on serving. Le Jardin is currently in partnership with a local chapter of a nonprofit, L’Arche Atlanta, which provides semi-autonomous housing for people with disabilities. As part of their recent expansion, the Garden acquired an eight bedroom house on an adjacent plot of land. Le Jardin has sold the property to L’Arche, which is working on its renovation. The house will be owned and managed by L’Arche, allowing residents permanent and easy access to Woodlands Garden. People with intellectual disabilities already participate in many of the Garden’s annual activities, and those with sensory sensitivities find the Garden to be a therapeutic environment.

“We look forward to expanding our partnership with our new neighbor, L’Arche Atlanta, by collaborating on volunteer projects, sharing educational opportunities and continuing to promote accessibility for all audiences in Woodlands, inspired by family. Morse, ”McAlpin said.

The biggest Garden event of the year, “Fairies in the Garden”, also represents the focus on urban education and engagement with the aim of contributing to social well-being. The event is hosted for children and families in the community in partnership with the Skyland Trails Clinic, a local residential psychiatric clinic and a non-profit mental health treatment organization. For the past nine years, art therapy patients at the clinic have worked together to create fairy doors and fairy houses that are installed throughout the garden. Children and families come to Woodland Garden to find fairy houses and participate in arts and crafts activities, run by volunteers from the local YMCA. The event is free and extremely popular with the local community: over the past year, the event has attracted 750 people in two and a half hours.

This event illustrates the ways in which the Garden seeks to contribute to social well-being: the event provides a sanctuary for the children and families who come to the event each year. For local YMCA campers, the event is an educational experience and an opportunity to demonstrate their leadership skills by planning and staffing arts and crafts activities. For participants in Skyland Trail’s therapy programs, the event is an opportunity for patients in the organization’s Expressive Therapy program to share their work and give back to their community.

The missions and programs of cultural institutions across the country offer communities the opportunity to reflect the best of themselves. The results of this study suggest that local libraries and museums are actively involved in facilitating social and institutional bonds that catalyze creativity, ingenuity and empathy within their communities in ways that promote well-being. personal and social. By working with community partners, they are able to meet the needs of the community more effectively than they could on their own.

As essential civic institutions that engage communities and advance inclusion, they are uniquely aligned with the Reinvestment Fund’s own work to build strong, healthy and equitable communities. The services provided by these institutions, the collections they maintain, and the interactions that occur (intentionally and incidentally) through their community spaces and networks are essential threads in the broader social and institutional fabric of places that foster human development.

Learn more about our study Understand the impacts on the social well-being of the country’s libraries and museums. To learn more about the Reinvestment Fund Policy Solutions team and its analytical work, visit: Policy Solutions | Reinvestment Fund

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