FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Bellingham, WA, November 6, 2023—This fall, the Whatcom Museum’s Family Interactive Gallery (FIG) is pleased to introduce Low Sensory Sundays for children ages 12 and younger with sensory processing and autism spectrum needs. One Sunday every other month (or six times a year), the Lightcatcher building on Flora Street will open early at 10 a.m. to offer a dedicated time reserved for children and their families who require a quieter environment to focus, explore, and make art. The next Low Sensory Sunday is November 26 and is free to attend thanks to generous support from Hoagland Pharmacy.
The FIG piloted its first Low Sensory Sunday in early 2020, shortly before the pandemic. Staff heard overwhelmingly from the community that there was a need for a dedicated space with knowledgeable staff and accommodations. Parents were invited to provide anonymous feedback, and one said, “My [child] had the freedom to explore everything during [their] first visit, at [their] speed. Having a day with…other kids who are processing the exhibits similarly is crucial for us… People often mistake spectrum-type behavior as misbehavior… [but] this Sunday at the FIG was amazing.”
Once the museum reopened at full capacity, the FIG team began imagining the program’s reintroduction. The first step was to secure funding.
“Our business believes in giving back to the community that sustains us,” said Carrie Stephens, Hoagland Pharmacy’s administrative director. “We sponsored the FIG’s Low Sensory Sunday program to create a positive impact, nurture growth, and inspire change because together, we can build a brighter future for all.”
The next step was to connect with Beverly Porter, executive director and Parent Coalition co-coordinator at The Arc. “Our goal in all things is to make the Whatcom Museum inclusive,” said FIG Supervisor Susan Buck. “We’ve been fortunate to learn from The Arc of Whatcom County. Beverly has provided invaluable information about building calm settings, listening to families, and following a child’s lead.”
During Low Sensory Sundays, the FIG installs moveable walls to create focused areas for children to explore. Lights and sounds are turned low, and tools such as gloves, activity cue cards, timers, and headphones are provided. These tools are also available every day at the front desk at both of the museum’s buildings – the Lightcatcher and Old City Hall – for people to use any time. The hope is that as families become comfortable in the FIG, they’ll return to view the exhibitions.
Buck also hopes to be able to secure additional funding that would allow the museum to offer Low Sensory Sundays more often. “This is such a special environment. To have a non-judgmental space for children and parents is invaluable. It’s less crowded but not empty, which means children can still interact with each other, and parents can find camaraderie and support,” added Buck. “The art they make is almost a bonus.”
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About the Whatcom Museum:
The Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, WA, is an American Alliance of Museums-accredited museum and a Smithsonian Affiliate. Notable projects have included the 2019 retrospective exhibition Ed Bereal: WANTED: For Disturbing the Peace, featured in The New York Times, the touring exhibition Katazome Today: Migrations of a Japanese Art, and the co-curated, exhibition Many Wests: Artists Shape an American Idea, which is now on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
The Whatcom Museum spans three buildings in downtown Bellingham: the Lightcatcher, Old City Hall, and the Syre Education Center. For more information about our exhibitions and admission, visit whatcommuseum.org.
The Whatcom Museum acknowledges that we gather on the traditional territory of the Lhaq’temish – Lummi People – and the Nuxwsá7aq – Nooksack People – who have lived in the Coast Salish region from time immemorial. The Museum honors our relationship with all of our Coast Salish neighbors and our shared responsibilities to their homeland where we all reside today.