Science centres need to engage diverse audiences

Linda Conlon, the chief executive of Newcastle’s International Centre for Life, makes call at science centre conference in US
Profile image for Simon Stephens
Simon Stephens
Science centres need to engage with refugees and migrants or risk becoming obsolete, according to Linda Conlon, the chief executive of Newcastle’s International Centre for Life.

Conlon made the call in a speech at the Association of Science and Technology Centres (ASTC) annual conference, which took place in Tampa, Florida, from 24-17 September.

“Major shifts in demographics, and therefore increasingly diverse audiences, are going to impact more and more on science centres,” said Conlon, who is the chair of the (ASTC).

“If you’re thinking that this is something that can be shelved for a few years while you deal with greater imperatives, or that the answer lies in creating a few special programmes for minority groups - think again. This is not an optional box-ticking exercise.

“There will come a point, sooner for some of us than others, when the current core audience becomes the minority. When that tipping point inevitably occurs - we need to be ready.

“This requires a step change in our thinking – and a fundamental re-examination of business models,” Conlon said. “What is fit for purpose today, will not be fit for purpose tomorrow.

Science has the power to be a unifying force. Let’s not miss this opportunity to make a difference.”

Conlon pointed to some innovative work already being done by science centres. This includes the German lessons offered to migrants at the Deutsches Museum in Munich; the dialogue the Explora science centre in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has with a wide range of communities including Mexican, Vietnamese and Chinese immigrant groups; and the Immigration Museum in São Paulo working with some of the estimated one million overseas immigrants in the state.

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