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
Internship Report by Caroline Lanthier
A Community Museum for Barbados
In the corner of a room, sitting on a plastic garden chair, an old man of ninety-four plays the guitar. To accompany himself, he whistles gently, a slow colourful whistle. Around him are men and women, singing, dancing, standing. Some of them young, some of them not so young, but still younger than him.
In the opposite corner, two women watch over the scene as they usher cold drinks and cakes to the people present. Their feet are tired, their features drawn, their voices gone; but yet, they smile. A tremendous sense of accomplishment and freedom overcomes them. Done it is. The Holetown Community Museum is open. It is February 19th, 1999.
But let us go back to the beginning of this story, when the two women did not yet know one another, and when the old man was only a name on a piece of paper. A young woman from Canada, who worked in a children's museum, was dreaming of a more exciting and rewarding experience. Although she liked creating education programmes for children, she had always wanted to design an exhibition. Exhibitions fascinated her. Once, she had the opportunity to play a part in the birth of a small exhibition. But it was soon over, and she was left with the desire to create more.
One day, this young woman's husband brought home an intriguing piece of paper. The Commonwealth Association of Museums (CAM) was looking for someone to help develop a community museum in Barbados. Well, this was just what the young woman was looking for. Did we mention that the young woman was also very interested in the community aspect of museum work? Well she was. So she quickly picked up the phoned and called the Secretary General of CAM, Mrs. Lois Irvine, to learn more about this exciting offer.
Next thing she knew, she was sitting in an office in Barbados, that of Ms. Alissandra Cummins, Director of the Barbados Museum & Historical Society. There, she was introduced to Mrs. Peggy McGeary, who was to become her partner in crime. We will call her Peggy. In the office, the women received their project briefing. They were to develop a community museum in a town called Holetown. They were to research the community museum movement, find out what the community members wanted in a museum, put the two together and make it happen. They were also asked to dig into the recent history of Holetown.
Although she was suffering from the heat and the constant attack of mosquitoes, the young woman started her investigation. She discovered that community museums were often born out of the initiative of keen community members or a dedicated individual. That they were the result of a desire to preserve a threatened building, a collection or even a way of life, as in the case of ecomuseums. She also learned that community museums were often the result of the activities and research of local history societies, or simply, as in the case of her project, of a conscious effort to recover a lost heritage, and restore a distinct identity.
The young woman quickly shared the results of her investigation with Peggy, who also had many things to contribute. Whilst the young woman was burying herself in books, Peggy was interviewing members of the community to see if they knew anything about the recent history of Holetown. They did! So the women decided to interview more people. They interviewed a total of 22 people between the ages of 45 and 94. They also asked the people they interviewed about what they would like to see in a museum, what type of subjects and activities they would enjoy. They went from door to door to advertise the museum project and invited community members to town meetings for them to voice their views and concerns about the project.
Once the women had collected all this information, they sat down and wrote a document outlining the goals, the objectives, and the concept of the community museum project. They established a budget to get the museum started and produce the first exhibition and programme series. They created a list of possible sponsors to fund the museum and contacted them. They found an architect who agreed to volunteer his time to refurbish the museum space, and design and produce the exhibition cases and panels. They asked community members to lend them pictures and objects to create the first exhibition. They wrote the text and labels for the exhibition, in consultation with community members, and learned how to dry mount them. They installed the first exhibition. Finally, they planned the museum opening.
The women accomplished the task that was given to them. But at some point, they thought they would never make it. The community members were not as responsive to the project as the women had hoped they would be. They were quite happy to discuss it, but when time came to get actively involved, very few were willing. The cases and panels did not get produced in time for the opening of the museum as the architect encountered problems with the materials during their fabrication. Money was another problem. Local businesses and companies did not jump at the occasion to fund the museum. The women feel that, if they had been given more time to do their project, some of these obstacles could easily have been eliminated.
The first young woman is now back in Canada. She tremendously enjoyed her experience in Barbados. She had the chance to present her community museum project to several of the CAM members who came to Barbados for a very stimulating conference on peace and democracy. She finally met with Lois, her advisor and confidante during her stay in Barbados. She was introduced to the president of CAM, Mr. Emmanuel Arinze, who taught her how to bargain, and to many interesting people who she hopes will remember her when they have a contract to give out or a position to fill. The young women would like to thank all the people that have made her stay in Barbados possible and wishes them well. Oh! In case you are still wondering who the young woman is, she wrote this article.