Imagine this: A group gathers around a table after lunch. Four art cards are dealt from the deck face up: Georgia O’Keeffe’s Manhattan, Chiura Obata’s Evening Glow at Mono Lake, from Mono Mills, Robert S. Duncanson’s Landscape with Rainbow, and Laurel Roth Hope’s Biodiversity Reclamation Suit: Carolina Parakeet. Game on! Players search the images and compete to identify a connection between two or more of the images. “These two are landscapes.” “I can see natural elements, like flowers or animals, in all four!” Points are awarded and new cards are drawn for the next round.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, museums sought creative ways to connect with audiences at home. At SAAM, we shared our collection through virtual programming, online exhibitions, social media, and more. One audience we hoped to reach in a new and engaging way was older adults. While many of us experienced social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults did so at higher rates. We set out to develop a community outreach resource for seniors that promoted social engagement and sparked joy in challenging times.
Knowing that technology was a barrier for some seniors, we set about to create a hands-on, low-tech experience. Our team of museum educators took the art off the walls—not literally, of course—and made a card game based on our collection. Museum In My Pocket is a deck of fifty-two cards featuring high-quality reproductions of SAAM objects—from paintings and sculpture to photography and video art—along with short interpretive information about each piece. Paired with the deck of art cards are instructions for four games to play—Category, Connection, Curate, and Second Look—that involve skills such as matching, memory, and storytelling. Some games, like Category, are reminiscent of classics like Apples to Apples, while others, like Curate, are uniquely inspired by museum work.
Museum In My Pocket is designed to exercise visual attention and memory, spark imagination and recollection, and promote social engagement for seniors engaging with both age-level peers and multi-generational players. In developing the game, we researched best practices for older adult learning, spoke with experts, narrowed down the goals, tested images, and designed and iterated numerous prototypes. Once we finished testing the game, one of SAAM’s graphic designers created a bright and colorful look for the game that adheres to best practices for accessibility, with large font and oversized images.
We distributed games to older adults across the country—from DC, Maryland, and Virginia to Colorado, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming. We collaborated with national organizations like Meals on Wheels as well as local senior centers to get our game in the hands (or pockets!) of folks familiar with, and new to, the Smithsonian. One player shared that “seeing the game brought the benefits of seeing parts of the Smithsonian once again and in the comfort and convenience of my own home." One caregiver described her mother’s experience with the game: “My mom, who is living with dementia, has spent hours looking at the cards, sorting through them, admiring the pictures, and talking about the ones she recognizes. She was an art history major in her younger days.”
We also had the opportunity to debut Museum In My Pocket at several events. In December, our team raffled off games to hundreds of DC seniors at Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Senior Holiday Celebration at the DC Armory. Back in July, we brought Museum In My Pocket to SAAM Arcade, the Museum’s annual public program centered on gaming that is attended by thousands of visitors. Gamers of all ages enjoyed playing with us, especially young adults. While the game was intended primarily as an outreach resource for older adult audiences, we’re considering making a version for our general museum audiences because of this enthusiastic reception.
What started as a pandemic-era project to engage seniors has turned into a source of joy for many, at home and here at the museum. If you would like to receive updates about availability of Museum In My Pocket, please submit this form. Ready to play?
SAAM offers a host of opportunities for lifelong learners, including blind or low-vision visitors and individuals with dementia, to grow their knowledge and appreciation of American art. To learn more, please visit our adult education page.