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Minority Community Leaders Qualitative Research Report
Prepared for San Diego Natural History Museum
December, 2001

Objectives | Sample and Methodology | Executive Summary | Conclusions and Implications | Detailed Findings | Appendix

Objectives

As part of the development of the ten-year Strategic Plan for 2002-2010, The San Diego Natural History Museum is conducting several primary research studies. This report details the learning from qualitative research conducted among minority community leaders in the San Diego area. Other reports will cover learning from conservation and environmental education experts, educators, and minority consumers.

  • The objectives for this particular study were to ascertain personal usage and perceptions of the Museum, as well as attitudes toward the Museum, its mission and programs from the leader’s minority community perspective. The research was also intended to help the Museum learn how to reach and communicate better with minority communities.

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

This study consisted of nine, thirty minute long individual telephone interviews moderated by Katie Feifer, the Director of Planning and Research, and Andrew Lasher, Project Manager at Campbell Mithun. Participants for the study were selected and recruited by San Diego Natural History Museum personnel. Please note that because the sample was selected by the Museum, there may be bias introduced into the findings to the extent that the sample is familiar to, and may be favorably disposed towards, the Museum.

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
The findings from qualitative research are subjective and directional. The research is best used to generate hypotheses and insights that can spark ideas, provide an aid to judgment, or be used as input for quantitative evaluation. Qualitative research is neither representative nor projectable. Thus, great care should be used when drawing conclusions based on qualitative research.

Executive Summary

Personal Museum Usage and Attitudes

  • The individuals in this sample claimed to visit any museums roughly two or three times a year. People’s patterns of museum visitorship appeared to follow personal or work related interests.
  • In general, this sample of minority community leaders put museums low on the list of priorities for spending leisure time.
  • Most of the people in this sample of minority community leaders did not visit the Natural History Museum on a regular basis. The key reason for lack of attendance was lack of interest and relevance to them.
  • Several respondents did not have a clear and true understanding of what the Museum was.
  • 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.

San Diego Museum of Natural History and Minority Communities

  • Most of the sample claimed that there were no organizations in their minority communities devoted to environmental education.
  • Most of the respondents claimed that their minority communities had no special relation to or connection with nature. 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.
  • Minority leaders 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. Thus, the Museum was less likely to be relevant to them.
  • Ways to make the Museum more relevant and welcoming to minorities can be summarized as follows:
    • Act locally
    • Reach out into the community
    • Go through the children
    • Focus on their cultures
    • Be inclusive

  • Cost and lack of good public transportation were also mentioned as barriers to attendance at the Museum.
  • Almost none of the minority leaders interviewed in this study were aware of the bi-national mission of the Museum. And while no one objected to that focus, there was little excitement about it.
  • Several organizations and media were suggested to reach the minority communities. Television and the Union-Tribune were general media that minority leaders felt would reach minority audiences as well.

Conclusions and Implications

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 Museum’s 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 don’t 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 Museum’s 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 Museum’s 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 doesn’t 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".

Detailed Findings

Personal Museum Usage and Attitudes

Museums in General
The individuals in this sample claimed to visit any museums roughly two or three times a year. One person went once a month, another rarely went anymore, but most of the respondents fell into the two to three times a year range.

People’s 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 didn’t 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 I’m going to San Francisco and I’ll 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 people’s time were:

  • Concerts
  • Movies, reading
  • Walking outside
  • Visiting family and friends

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… It’s 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. It’s 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
Most of the people in this sample of minority community leaders did not visit the Natural History Museum on a regular basis, even once a year. The exceptions were those who went a couple of times a year because of personal interest (this person had been a docent many years ago), and the couple of people who went when there was a special exhibit that interested them.

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 haven’t gone. The last time was three to four years ago. It’s 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."

"I’ve never been to the Museum of Natural History. I just never have… I’m 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. I’ve had a hard time talking them into going to the Natural History Museum. ‘Been there.’ I’ve seen the dinosaur."

"In the past, you always saw the same items, and there were few or no special exhibits. Once you’ve seen it, you feel like you’ve seen it. There’s 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 don’t 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 didn’t feel that they would get enough value from their visit to the Museum: there wasn’t 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 Diego’s 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 didn’t attend the Museum very often. The question of causality couldn’t 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 Museum’s 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 we’re 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. It’s a great focus."

"It’s 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 it’s 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 :

  • The new construction
  • Quality of the permanent collection
  • Fresh new and traveling exhibits
  • Outreach efforts

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 didn’t 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
It must be noted at the outset that several of the respondents were somewhat reluctant to generalize about their communities, comprised as they were of many different types of people in different socio-economic and cultural sub-groups. This was particularly true for those speaking as representatives of the Asian-American community, which included Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, and others whose cultures were very different from each other. Nonetheless, the respondents did make generalizations, and this report will likewise make generalizations in the findings. Please remember when thinking about these findings that they are based on generalizations, and that the reality is much more complex than reported here.

Environmental Education, Relation to Nature
Most of the sample claimed that there were no organizations in their minority communities devoted to environmental education. One African-American mentioned several organizations that might deal with environmental education as one component, and that definitely did outreach to the African-American community, but they were not devoted to environmental education. The organizations mentioned were:

  • The Elementary Institute of Science
  • National Organization of Chemists and Engineers
  • CHUM, from UCSD
  • Environmental Health Coalition
  • City Schools with high concentration of Hispanic students

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.

"It’s revered, but people don’t relate to it real well. They consider it beautiful and important, but because of economic issues, they don’t think about the environment a lot. It’s not high on the priority list. It’s 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
Few suggestions were made for increasing the relevance of the Museum to the least affluent minorities, given their need to focus on survival issues. For other minorities, though, this sample had several ideas for ways to make the Museum relevant and welcoming. They can be summarized as follows:

  • Act locally
  • Reach out into the community
  • Go through the children
  • Focus on their cultures
  • Be inclusive

Act Local/Reach Out into the Community
"Acting locally" and reaching out into the community were two parts to the same solution offered by respondents. They pointed out that the issues and topics covered by the Museum would be more interesting to the minority communities if they could see how their own neighborhood was affected. One respondent gave as an example a program done in a neighborhood that showed local residents how their local creek connected with other waterways in San Diego, and how the soap suds and trash that they put in their creek impacted their neighborhood and the rest of San Diego.

"Connections need to be made, with things that run through their neighborhoods."

Several leaders thought that many in their communities didn’t 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" didn’t 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
When the minority leaders suggested that the Museum "go through the children" to reach the minority communities, they were acknowledging a basic fact: parents are often driven to pursue their children’s interests, and want to encourage their educational pursuits in particular. This was true for all the minority communities represented in this study.

Some specific suggestions included organizing programs in the schools for children, that might also involve their parents, and having competitions, where children’s artwork or projects would be on display at the Museum, necessitating a family visit to see the children’s 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.

"There’s 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 don’t speak English. The kids will lead the adults to the Museum."

Focus on Their Cultures
Several of the respondents commented that parents would bring their whole family to the Museum if there were exhibits or programs that related to their particular culture. The Asian-American leader in particular noted that the older generation was frustrated that the youngsters were losing their connections to their culture of origin, and were searching for opportunities to reinforce learning and connection.

"Get people into the museums when they have exhibits that pertain to a particular ethnic group…"

It’s 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."

Be Inclusive
Minority leaders in the African-American and Asian-American communities were particularly emphatic that in order for the Museum to be more welcoming to minorities it needed to be more inclusive. They made the point that to the extent San Diego considers minorities, they think only about Hispanics. There was a feeling that all across San Diego (and certainly not just the Natural History Museum), if there was any "multi-cultural" emphasis, it was only really bi-cultural. They noted that San Diego has a long way to go to be truly inclusive and welcoming of all minorities in a multi-cultural society.

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, wouldn’t it make sense for the Museum to provide for them as well as Spanish-speakers?

Bi-National Mission
Almost none of the minority leaders interviewed in this study were aware of the bi-national mission of the Museum. And while no one objected to that focus, there was little excitement about it, except from one of the Hispanic leaders who thought that might be a way to bring the connection to the Museum "home" to some Hispanics.

"Latinos would love to know that it’s involved in Mexico. The Museum could advertise and say ‘Are you from Oaxaca? We’re 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. It’s something that you can teach kids. It helps them to understand another subject."

"It’s relevant because I live in San Diego, but not beyond that. San Diego tends to ignore all other minorities…. It’s a turn-off. It’s good to have that, but they need to have other focuses as well."

"It seems like too lofty of a thing — it’s about scientists and scholars and money… it’s not really about outreach. It just says it’s a wealthy education and research institution,… it’s not done to get the Mexican people to enjoy the Museum."

Communicating to Minority Communities
Each minority leader suggested that television and radio be used to communicate news about the Museum to minority communities. Several local newspapers were also mentioned as good vehicles to reach specific minorities. Among them:

  • Voice & Viewpoint (African-American)
  • Chinese newspapers
  • Vietnamese newspapers
  • El Sol (Hispanic)

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:

  • Chicano Federation
  • MAAC Project
  • La Raza
  • Parent Institute for Quality Education
  • American Leadership Foundation
  • South Bay Forum
  • The South Bay Leadership Symposium
  • Centro Cultural
  • Latino Student Organizations on college campuses

African-American leaders mentioned other organizations, including a few churches that had influence in the communities.

  • Bayview Church
  • Cavalry Church
  • Division Church of Christ
  • Urban League

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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