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A Commitment to Inclusivity and Innovation

A tour given to students of John Rolfe Middle School

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Fed Experience museum has given me an opportunity to reflect on the importance of helping students understand the role they play in the economy and how the actions of the Federal Reserve affect them.

When the museum opened in 2010, the nation was just recovering from the financial crisis. While the Fed’s objectives had not changed, the steps we needed to take to address the issues the economy faced were new, and we realized how important it was to help people understand the steps why those steps made sense, and what we expected from them. The Fed Experience played a critical role in our effort to help people better understand our actions, and how those actions impact the economy and themselves as individuals.

Even after the financial crisis, bridging a connection between individuals and the Federal Reserve has remained a goal of the museum. While the majority of visitors are high school students, the Fed Experience welcomes groups of all types, from summer campers to adults. Over the past decade, more than 52,000 people from near and far have passed through the Richmond Fed’s doors to learn about the Fed’s structure and objectives. Students have the opportunity to ask questions, engage in activities that simulate real-world economic decisions, and get a feel for how the Fed’s actions affect their individual choices.

As we commemorate the museum’s 10th year, we find ourselves in the midst of an economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis has led us to not just return to, but expand on, the kinds of actions we last took during the financial crisis. And now, as then, our commitment to helping people understand the role of the Fed is as strong as ever.

But the same crisis that has generated a major policy shift from us and has created incredible turmoil in the lives of so many, is also one that makes it harder to reach our audiences. The Fed Experience has been closed since mid-March because of the pandemic, making it difficult for us to connect with students and their teachers the way we once did.  One component that has our attention is the unequal access that prevails across our Federal Reserve District when it comes to online access to our content. Part of the inequity is along the lines of income or location, but that doesn’t tell the whole story, as recent events have made clear.  The different economies experienced by minority groups, particularly our District’s African American population, is something we will seek to speak more clearly to in the future.

Indeed, this is part of why a physical presence has long been important—our goals have always included inclusion.  But because our doors are closed for now, we need to meet the challenge of how to bring the messages of The Fed Experience to students in Richmond and throughout our District, whether they are in a school building or continuing distance learning from home. With a focus on innovation and inclusivity, the coming months will be ones where we focus on how best to deploy and adapt all of our content in a way that meets our audiences where they are—not where we are. With ten years of The Fed Experience now under our belts, we know we can deliver on this, and are excited about the path ahead.

Kartik Athreya, Executive Vice President and Director of Research

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