The Children’s Museum of the East End is smack dab in the middle of what many people think of as one of the wealthiest places in America, but this Bridgehampton refuge for families and their children has been devoted for several years to making the museum experience an inclusive one for working people trying to make a living here.
The museum is just down the street from the Bridgehampton Child Care Center, founded more than half a century ago after two children of migrant farm workers died in a fire in Bridgehampton while their parents were working. The museum in recent years has been working to build on the ethos of this solidly blue-collar neighborhood, which is within walking distance of the mansions of Ocean Road.
In late 2015, the museum joined the national Museums for All program, which enables families to use their EBT food stamp cards in place of museum membership cards. They’ve also been working hard to employ bilingual staff, install bilingual signage, and reach out to the Latino community.
Last year, they began a partnership with Riverside Rediscovered, a group working to revitalize the blighted hamlet of Riverside just south of Riverhead.
CMEE’s education coordinator, Liz Bard, has been traveling to Riverside to teach art classes to young children who live in an area that doesn’t have access to cultural activities for kids.
Children of clients at the domestic violence resource non-profit The Retreat are also able to take part in the classes, which have been packed since they began last spring.
The museum also teaches art classes at the Shinnecock Nation pre-school.
This inclusive ethos has been an important part of Museum Director Stephen Long’s mission since he became director in 2008, after working at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City for more than a decade.
“People will claw tooth and nail to help their kids,” he said this week. “That’s what we all share, no matter where we came from. We want what’s best for our kids.”
Since the EBT card program went into effect six months ago, about 65 families have used their card for entrance to the museum. Many have been families from out-of-town who found out about the program from the Museums for All website.
But the museum staff is hoping to get the word out so that local families who take part in the EBT program can use the museum’s services.
To that end, museum staff is looking to make the experience as stigma-free as possible. Staff members at the ticket desk accept the EBT cards the same way they would a regular museum membership card, and families need to show just one EBT card for their whole family to enter the museum.
While the museum doesn’t receive any revenue from the program, Mr. Long says it fits right in with the museum’s mission.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” he said. “The museum is reaching an audience that doesn’t participate in museums. This is why I got interested in museums.”
“Every child needs to have the opportunity to play,” he added. “We’re trying to figure out how to ensure that happens.”
The stigma associated with “food stamps” or welfare is also lessened somewhat by the use of the phrase EBT, said museum marketing coordinator Paul Johnson.
“Some people don’t even know what EBT means, but if you have that card, it means something to you,” he said.
Mr. Johnson added that the museum has also made the Latino community an integral part of the museum experience, holding an after-school Spanish science program, “Ciencia.”
“They’re a part of the community we live in and we made the effort to overcome the language barrier,” he added. “We’re trying to make the institution bilingual.”
Mr. Johnson said one Spanish-speaking parent of students who take part in CMEE events has joined the board of the Sag Harbor food pantry after realizing that her input is valuable to the community here.
“I always feel it’s going to come back. If we’re engaging the local community today, those kids will be leaders of the community in the future,” said Mr. Long. “That relationship will be built.”