Two big awards. Different reasons to brag.

Dear Friend of the Museum,

We are a museum that does not believe in signs. We don’t label our galleries and our visitors don’t need to know the names of our exhibits. Signs hinder the behaviors we love to see in kids: We are about jumping in and trying, not pausing to read instructions; finding your own way, not following a single way; judging an experience on its own merits, not someone else’s rating. Is it fun and fascinating? Did I want to do it over and over? Did it give me a happy memory to recall later? Did it make me more curious about my world? If yes, then the rest, as they say, is gravy. 

So, you might imagine how unusual it is that by July 1 we have already blown through our signage budget. The signs and banners we’ve made this year, announcing that we are winners of the Institute of Museum and Library Services National Medal for Museum Service and—just last week—Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston® 2024 for Best Family-Friendly Activity, West, now appear all around our museum and property.  

Have we gone overboard? I say absolutely not! There is a lot to brag about.  

IMLS National Medal for Museum and Library Service

The IMLS National Medal recognizes a museum’s significant and exceptional service to its community. It is the nation’s highest honor for a museum. And here are the numbers: There are more than 35,000 museums in the U.S. In 30 years, 106 of them—all kinds, including art and history museums, science centers, botanical gardens, historic houses, etc.—have been awarded the National Medal. And of those, only 18, including us, are children’s museums. Eighteen out of the more than 400 children’s museums in the country!

But here’s the piece we’re especially proud of: Of those 18 children’s museums, all but Discovery Museum are in an urban center. Indeed, city museums do incredible work and can meet family needs in special ways. Their visitors can use public transportation, experience exhibits that speak directly to the culture and history of their city, and benefit from deep partnerships between the museum, city government, and the city school district.

Discovery Museum serves families and students from more than 300 cities and towns across the Commonwealth. We partner with dozens of nonprofit organizations that understand the unique hopes and needs of the families in their communities. We serve students in their classrooms in more than 100 cities and towns throughout Massachusetts and beyond. We seek out ways to help that may not be conventional for a museum—like our collaborations with prison leadership to support incarcerated young fathers and their children—and, well, jump in and try, find our own way, and take time to reflect on how we can do better. It’s simple: From here in Acton, Discovery Museum strives to be all it can for as many kids and families as possible. 

graphic for Best of Boston award

And Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston® 2024 award is clearly a sign that Discovery Museum is fun! It is also fantastic publicity. The visibility of Best of Boston brings new visitors to our doors and communicates that this 42-year-old, decidedly non-trendy, west suburban museum is getting something important right. For this award, we were judged against all the different types of activities families like to do, and I’m proud that we edged out laser tag and roller coasters.

I like to think that one of the key reasons Discovery Museum won is that we are designed to serve equally all visitors without regard to difference in ability—and that also makes us a uniquely wonderful place for adults and children to spend time together, focused on each other and learning and the kinds of shared experiences from which memories are made.

So, two awards (so far!) in 2024: one that recognizes service and mission, the accumulated work of hundreds of people over the arc of our museum’s history; the other that calls out our well-earned reputation for fun. Lots to brag about—even if it does require a few signs! 

At the end of the day, however, awards and honors and recognition are grown-up things.  

So, I ask the children that visit us: 

Is Discovery Museum fun and fascinating? Did you want to come play again and again? Did being here give you a happy memory to recall later? Did it make you more curious about your world?  

If yes, then the rest is gravy.


Marie R. B. Beam


several children explore a giant pile of dirt together


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