A few years ago, Renana Kehoe was on maternity leave from her career as director of development operations at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. She loved having the time with son Nolan, but she missed being able to take advantage of the cultural offerings that brought her to Boston in the first place.
Kehoe, a museum educator and art history instructor with over a decade of experience spanning virtually every major museum in Boston, took things into her own hands after hearing many of her friends shared the same fears and frustrations. She created Parent Tours to offer tours at museums and cultural institutions for parents to attend with their young babies.
“Parents don’t have to feel bad or embarrassed if their baby starts crying or needs a diaper change in the middle of our tour (in fact, you may even get a helping hand from another parent),” she says. “Art and culture are meant to be inclusive. Parents and babies should feel just as welcome as anyone else in Boston’s world class museums. Parent Tours tries to bridge the gap by offering an informative tour and bringing a group together who all understand what it can be like to be out and about with a baby.”
Kehoe’s Parent Tours takes groups to Boston mainstays like the Museum of Fine Art, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, ICA, and the Harvard Art Museum as well as nichier spots like Back Bay’s Krako Witkin Gallery. After each tour there is an optional gathering at a nearby cafe to continue the conversation about art, babies, and everything in between.
“I still get excited by the notion of introducing people to new art, artists, and cultural institutions that they haven’t heard of (or thought of) before,” she says. “ Recently, we had a wonderful tour that explored feminism through the lens of comics and 1970s punk rock at the Schlesinger Library in Cambridge. No one on the tour had been to the library before or was aware of their exhibitions. I like to think that Parent Tours introduced a new generation to the Schlesinger by bringing parents with their children there together.”
Social scientists believe that exposing children to museums early in their life helps them to develop new ideas as well as experience diverse perspectives. The Smithsonian Institution argues these benefits extend all the way to babies, allowing their rapidly developing eyes and brains to take in new, bold imagery.
Kehoe runs Parent Tours with the help of Pepperlane, an online platform based in Cambridge that helps mothers turn their skills into small ventures that allow them to work flexibly. The site allows mothers to go from idea to real business quickly, with a simple starter website and marketplace where shoppers can discover their business.
“Building a small business allows mothers to make use of their skills and passions and to work completely on their own terms,” says Pepperlane CEO and co-founder Sharon Kan. “So many of the mothers on our platform are buying from each other and understand the challenge of being a mother and a business owner. They are able to tailor their businesses to their own schedule while also helping other local moms.”
On Pepperlane, Kehoe has found the same mom camaraderie she sought to create with Parent Tours.
“It is a great concept and opportunity to connect with other mothers who are business owners,” Kehoe says. “I knew about some business owner networking groups and I knew about some mother support groups but to be both really is a unique experience and I love that Pepperlane brings together a community.” Parent Tours costs $6 per adult and will be at the MFA, Krakow Witkin Gallery, and the Boston Public Library later this month. View the calendar at parenttours.com.