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Evolution of the American Association of Youth Museums (AAYM) to the Association of Children's Museums (ACM)

AAYM began in 1962 with a small group of children's museum director who decided it would be helpful for them to meet informally as a group during the American Association of Museum's (AAM) annual meeting. Michel Spock says, "AAYM stayed informal for about a decade. We resisted turning it into a real organization. We didn't take minutes or have formal meetings. It was for directors - to discuss our common purpose and our problems and issues." Approximately ten children's museums were operating in the United States at this time.

In the early 1970s, while still informal, and still only for directors, the organization did elect officers and take meeting minutes. Minutes and memories of that time recall both a sense of playfulness and a seriousness of purpose. Bonnie Cusick, executive director of the Duluth Children's Museum says, "I remember one funny day. Michael brought in some objects from a factory - small, red, toy rubber boots. Everyone had them on their finger, dancing with them." At the same time, minutes from those early years of AAYM meetings describe members passionately talking about the role of children's museums, the importance of museum education, and the purpose of the organization. Out of these meetings came plans to research, write, and publish (1981) what became Museums, Magic and Children by Bonnie Pitman, a landmark work in museum education.

A defining moment of change for AAYM came in 1986 at its annual meeting help at the Brooklyn Children's Museum. A discussion of the future direction of AAYM resulted in a decision to take a leadership role in the field of emerging children's museums, providing support and technical assistance. Selma Shapiro was elected president of the association with the stipulation that membership be opened up to all different kids of staff. Remembering that meeting, Shapiro says about AAYM, "I believed in it. It was going somewhere and it had to be open."

The association took its new direction seriously. The first issue of Hand to Hand, the quarterly journal of AAYM, was published in winter 1986/1987. A part-time AAYM director was hired to coordinate InterActivity, to produce Hand to Hand, and to offer other form of technical assistance. Kate Bennett, executive director of The Rochester Museum and Science Center and AYM president from 1990-1992, remembers the late 1980s and early 1990s as a time of many important accomplishments.

During this time the organization's name changed to the Association of Youth Museums (AYM), the Great Friend to Kids Awards was instituted, strategic planning was initiated, the first membership directory was published and the reciprocal membership program was established. Also, in 1991 AYM received an Institute of Museum Services grant to work on standards for the field and published The Professional Practices for Children's Museums document, which AAM uses when a children's museum applies for accreditation.

In 1994, AYM, with the start-up financial support of the Knight Foundation, completed its transition to a professionally staffed office in Washington, D.C., with 247 members and Janet Rice Elman as executive director. Today AYM has become the Association of Children's Museums (ACM), employs nine staff and serves over 500 members, including affiliate museums, museum consultants, museum staff, students, academic professionals and corporate members.

Elman says, "From my first day the phone has rung off the hook with questions from people interested in starting children's museums in their communities. The growth of ACM has paralleled the amazing growth of the field and the pace is still strong. I am constantly in awe of the commitment to serving the needs of children and families demonstrated by our members. So strong is that commitment that children's museums across the country and around the world are willing to share information with one another in an effort to continuously improve upon the best practices in the field.

ACM's strategic framework pushes three strategic objectives: to communicate the value of children's museums, to undertake leadership initiatives, and to promote best practices. Through its work in these area, ACM strives to enhance the capacity and further the vision of children's museums in order to make them places for children and families where play lead to lifelong learning."



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