The National Steinbeck Center (NSC) is a museum and cultural repository dedicated to promoting the literary work and cultural values of John Steinbeck. As in the case of many cultural institutions, there is a discrepancy between the regular patrons of the Center – who are majority Caucasian and from middle- to upper-income households – and the members of its immediate community, Salinas California, who are primarily of Latino or Hispanic descent and of more limited means. In an effort to better serve the citizens of Salinas, in 2012 the Center launched Niños del Mundo, a series of programs occurring at the Center and in the community that were designed to engender awareness of and interest in the NSC.

WolfBrown was retained to conduct a summative evaluation of the Niños del Mundo program designed to address three questions: 1) the extent to which families' participation in the program was associated with ratings of importance of the arts in general and the Center in particular; 2) patterns of attendance at arts and Center events; and 3) levels of personal investment in the arts and the Center. Surveys were designed to gather this information from two groups of families with children: a treatment or intervention group of families that had received the Niños del Mundo program, and a matched comparison group of families with children who had not. Additional contextual information about families' incomes and the primary language(s) spoken in the home was collected to ascertain whether families in the two groups were similar in these regards.

Analyses revealed that families in the treatment group rated the arts in general and the Center in particular as more important, indicated higher degrees of attendance at arts and Center events, and reported higher levels of personal investment in the Center. The differences between groups in attendance at arts events in general and personal investment in the arts approached statistical significance, while the difference in levels of attendance at Center events was statistically significant after controlling for differences in income and primary language between the groups. While establishing that the program caused this effect would require a more involved evaluation assessing change in attendance over time, these results indicate that in the Niños del Mundo program the NSC may have discovered a way of addressing an issue with which many cultural institutions grapple: how to serve – and be perceived as serving – the residents of their immediate community.

Note: Findings from this evaluation will be presented at the national conference of the American Alliance of Museums in April 2015.

Consultant: Steven Holochwost

Year complete: 2013