Rooted in the community:Tools for engagement at public gardens

Levin Stevenson, Sara
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University of Delaware
Public gardens are important cultural institutions in their communities but the audience walking through their gates may not reflect the diverse demographics of their local community. In order to remain relevant, public gardens must do more to become socially inclusive and intentionally reach a broader audience. Every public garden offers a different experience for its visitors but this research aimed to document how public gardens can learn from one another in developing engagement strategies. Primary objectives of this research were to document success stories in community engagement and to create a toolkit of best practices. This research surveyed 18 public gardens and included interviews with selected staff from nine public horticulture institutions to identify how community engagement programs are best created and sustained. The interviews also provided specific examples of current programs that aim to reach a variety of underrepresented audiences. Recommendations for community engagement initiatives were compiled based on key findings from interviews and survey results. Research indicated that successful programs stand on the foundation of making community engagement an institutional priority. Data emphasized the importance of having a clear understanding of the needs and interests of the local community. Additional findings identified the most valuable benefits of community engagement as increased public awareness and the ability to extend the institution’s mission and messages to a broader audience. The most common obstacle to this is funding but the research revealed a variety of ways to fund engagement efforts such as securing public and private grants and developing creative partnerships. Strategy for creating successful programming included a willingness to experiment and creativity in adapting current organizational capacities in order to attract new audiences.