C o m m o n w e a l t h
A s s o c i a t i o n o f
M u s e u m s
CAM Bulletin Number 6 - Feb. 2000
Museums, Peace, Democracy, and Governance in the 21st Century: Successful CAM Triennial and 25th Anniversary in Barbados
The Commonwealth Association of Museums Triennial Programme and General Assembly took place from May 5-12, 1999 in St. Michael, Barbados (Bridgetown area) at the Hotel PomMarine. There were 41 participants including 21 women and 20 men, 10 from the host country and 31 from 16 other countries: Australia, Bahamas, Belize, Botswana, Canada, England, Guyana, Italy, Kenya, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, South Africa, St. Lucia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The meeting celebrated the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Commonwealth of Museums in Copenhagen, Denmark at the ICOM conference in 1974 and several of the original founders were in attendance.
Museums, Peace, Democracy and Governance in the 21st Century, the main programme of the sessions, was a successful initial attempt in encouraging museums to tackle the challenging issues of the contemporary world from the museum perspective. This topic was and is controversial as many museum professionals do not see these concerns as an important role of museums. Others feel strongly that museums as institutions which operate on behalf of society and for the public good, must use their knowledge and resources, their programmes and collections to relate to the more critical issues of their time on local, national and global levels in order to be institutions for the development of society and agents for change. The practical application of that belief may mean something different in each country depending on, for example, whether there is active civil strife, a need to strengthen democratic institutions, a necessity to encourage harmony, respect for other cultures and social inclusion without assimilation, or effective governance to bring economic stability and poverty reduction.
The programme fulfilled the objective of offering the chance for professional reflection and discussion about museums and contemporary issues, museums and community interaction, as well as the direct theme itself.
The theme is very broad and the presentations and discussions illustrated several facts. There is a huge diversity of circumstances around the Commonwealth relating to the theme. There was also among the delegates a common basic general understanding of the ideas of peace and democracy and good governance but very different understandings of both what those terms mean in practice and how to go about moving from the generalities to how museums actually can address these issues in ways which mean something to their communities.
The purpose of the seminar was to look at the ways that museums can promote and support peace and the strengthening of democracy and good governance in all parts of the Commonwealth and globally, and to develop a visionary statement and action plan to realize concrete results in the promotion and support of peace and democracy through museums.
There were some excellent papers on the ideas and principles of peace, democracy and governance, on the question of whether museums have the power and are able to act on these issues, and on the practical applications of dealing with issues of peace, conflict and reconciliation, instituting democratic processes, and working with diversity in the community.
The keynote speaker, Mr. Terence Dormer, NGO Desk Officer from the Secretary-General's Office, the Commonwealth Secretariat, and several others were included from outside the museum community, an aspect of programme development which CAM has felt to be very important so that we don't simply talk to ourselves.
The Honourable Mia Mottley, Minister of Education in Barbados, opened the conference and eloquently expressed the significance and importance of the topic in relation to a nation like Barbados which has worked hard to develop its independence from Britain, its democratic government and its peaceful environment.
Later in the conference, The Honourable Billie Miller, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, stressed the inclusive nature of democracy and the role of museums.
"In outlining the Government's vision for Barbados in the new millennium, Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur stressed that: 'No country can ever truly develop unless it finds a means of engrossing everyone in the task of nation building, whatever their class, creed, colour or political persuasion.' In seeking to give effect to that vision we are convinced that we must find within ourselves the maturity to evaluate and come to terms with our past, however horrific and painful some elements of that may be. The resilient character of our society is forged from adversity.
With an open mind we can all learn to recognise the importance of the journey we have made and the struggles we have overcome.The role of the Museum, in providing a context through which to view our society's development is therefore pivotal.
Museums have the potential to be a powerful force in the education of a people."
Mr. Dormer discussed the role of the 'Modern' Commonwealth instituted 50 years ago when the decision was made that republican nations could be members and it became a co-operative association of free, independent and sovereign nations. It has grown to 54 nations espousing democratic consensus as its operating principle and democracy, good governance, the rule of law and human rights in all their aspects as its core values. He went on to describe what the Commonwealth does and its strength through both governments and the people working through many and various non-governmental organizations. There are immediate challenges to be faced if we are to "reverse the misery for a substantial portion of humanity", chief among them the issues of pluralism and our ability to live together peaceably on earth, and the greater equalization of wealth supporting sustainable development.
CAM's Patron, Sir Shridath Ramphal, sent a thought-provoking address on the importance of global governance, i.e. a governance model beyond nations alone, and an overview of global interaction since the establishment of the 'Modern' Commonwealth fifty years ago. While applauding the spread of democracy, he also noted the difficulty of establishing the democratic culture and the critical need for economic development to alleviate poverty and narrow the gap between rich and poor.
The content of the papers is too extensive to summarize all of them here. CAM will be looking for funds to publish a selection of the papers in the near future. In addition to the Introduction to the Theme, there were:
- two papers on museum work with a society in conflict - Dermot Francis and Jane Leonard, Northern Ireland
- an outline of UNESCO's Culture of Peace project - Leslie G. Atherley, former Project Director, Barbados
- three discussions on the power and ability of museums to act as agents of change because of their nature and structure, Duncan Cameron, Canada, Ivan Murambiwa, Zimbabwe, Rodney Reynolds, Barbados
- two descriptions of professional development courses relating to the theme - Martin Segger, Canada (talking about a Canadian- Croatian University joint venture) Ramzie Abrahams, South Africa, and one description of a broad new professional and museum development programme to come in Africa through ICCROM - Terry Little, Italy
- one discussion of the complexity of developing democratic structures - Professor Elo Amucheazi, Nigeria - another look from outside the museum community
- several papers, including some of the above, which treated the museum's role in fostering understanding of different cultures and circumstances within the community - Anne MacDonald, Australia, James Maikweki, Kenya, Uzoma Nwosu, Nigeria, Mubiana Luhila, Zambia, Patrick Bulenzi, Uganda, Penelope Hynam Roach, Barbados
- several papers which described ways in which museums could promote peace and democracy - principally, Emmanuel Arinze, Nigeria, Nakiso Kubanji, Botswana
- joint commentary on the experience in South Africa of making the principle of inclusion and equal opportunity for all citizens real for the museums and arts community in South Africa - Doreen Nteta and Gordon Metz
- one presentation on a museum of slavery - David Devenish, England
The complete list of authors and titles is available on the CAM website.
It was apparent from the beginning of the programme planning that the conditions relating to peace, democracy and good governance vary hugely across the Commonwealth. The difference in immediacy and urgency and the difference in aspect of the theme which is currently most important and critical in the different nations came through clearly in the presentations.
Several points emerged from the conference discussions:
- The critical importance of respect and understanding in culturally pluralistic societies and the particular contribution that museums can make because of their cultural focus The papers constantly echoed the emphasis of the international speakers that the relationships of one group to another in society whether ethnic, religious, racial or economic were key to the development of sustainable peace and democracy.
- The critical importance of access to economic resources and educational opportunities
- The complexity of each of the three themes and the intricate relationships between peace, democracy and good governance; the importance of peace as a foundation for democracy and democracy as a foundation for peace; and, peace as a prerequisite for development.
- The sharing of general principles but the greatly different circumstances in different countries which necessitate careful consideration of the processes and details of working out peace and building democratic structures and effective governance.
Each museum must address these themes in its own ways. One solution does not fit all cases. For some it will be serious and open presentation through exhibitions and programs about such topics as peaceful co-existence and tolerance or about the democratic voting process or about how the local elections work. For others it will be underlying thematic threads in a military exhibit or an artistic exhibit. Such significant actions as the placement of Indigenous art work in the National Art Gallery (Australia), as described by Anne MacDonald, constitute very important messages to our audiences. Taking up the themes of this conference means living the ideas in a multitude of ways beneficial to our own circumstances as well as creating very specific and explicit exhibits and programmes.
In the course of the conference, we asked the group to develop a statement of principles and an action plan. The Declaration is printed later in the Bulletin and a short introduction describes briefly how such declarations fit into the larger picture of CAM's activities.
The visit to Barbados was enhanced by the opportunity for interaction and conversation with our Commonwealth colleagues in relaxing surroundings and during museum visits. Participants were welcomed to the recently established Barbados Gallery of Art, Tyrol Cot: the former home of Sir Grantley Adams, Sunbury Plantation House, and the new Barbados Folk Museum. A highlight was the visit to the Holetown Community Museum, just opened by the Barbados Museum (see article by Caroline Lanthier). Most participants were able to explore this beautiful Caribbean island and make the most of a memorable and enriching meeting.