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Tables, with coloring pages, at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science for their Relaxed Nights, on Thursday, June 15 2023.

NM museum's Relaxed Night

The New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science holds Relaxed Nights – sensory-friendly experiences for the public. Anthony Fiorillo, the executive director for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, said the museum strives to make programming accessible to everyone and that Relaxed Nights are important to have.

The Relaxed Nights stopped while the museum was closed due to the pandemic, but as the museum opens back up, they have decided to reintroduce them during their busiest months in March, June and July. The museum will also hold a Relaxed Night for veterans in November. 

“Our Relaxed Nights play an important role – encouraging a wide variety of visitors to enjoy and explore the museum without the crowds, sounds or flashing lights that normally accompany a trip to the museum. We’re thrilled to bring these evenings back during the summer months,” Fiorillo said.

The staff volunteers time to run the events., Kristin Hsueh, a volunteer coordinator at the museum, works with the education department to create public programs like Relaxed Nights. They began in 2019 after screening the movie “Superpower Dogs.” The owner of a dog in the film reached out to the museum asking if they could do a sensory-friendly showing of the movie, Hsueh said.

“I started doing research into sensory-friendly viewings of shows. … We decided this was something we definitely should do here at the museum and have this as an available option … We had activities and workshops for our guests as well as just some areas for folks to relax and to take a moment to recharge themselves,” Hsueh said.

The Relaxed Nights are focused around a certain theme. Relaxed Night in June was themed Moon Mars and the one in July will be Fossil Fun, Hsueh said.

“We found having a specific theme is really good for each of the nights. … I think it's kind of fun for folks who come to these – or come to multiples of these – that each time it's something a little bit different,” Hsueh said.

The museum caps the Relaxed Nights at 150 people and provides attendees with inclusion backpacks for the night. The backpacks are checked out at the front desk for free; they include hearing protection, sunglasses and fidget spinners, Hsueh said. 

Alongside the Relaxed Nights, the museum wants to curate more sensory-friendly programming in their everyday exhibits, Hsueh said.

“(It) includes having a lot of different elements in the exhibit hall so it's not all text or it's not all specimen heavy, but there's tactiles available. There's different ways to engage with the exhibit … It's something that we look to enhance as we look to update any of our permanent exhibits,” Hsueh said.

Having sensory-friendly evenings is important as the museum is able to engage an audience that might not feel comfortable coming to the museum during a busy summer, Hsueh said.

“What we are trying to do here is make sure that we have things not only for the kiddos but for the families themselves,” Hsueh said. “This is an opportunity to try out the museum to maybe reach audiences that we didn't have before. Then have those unique experiences that kids will remember as they grow up – walking on a moon map or handling an actual dinosaur bone.”

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Addison Key is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @addisonkey11

Addison Key

Addison Key is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo and served as the Summer 2023 culture editor. She can be reached on Twitter @addisonkey11. 

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