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 7 - Nov. 2001
Museums and ?
It has become a cliché to say that the world will never be the same again after the events of September 11, 2001. Nevertheless it is true that the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the subsequent cases of anthrax and the bombings of Afghanistan do make it crystal clear that none of us live in isolation. We can no longer ignore the larger world as these events at the very least, heavily influence the international flow of money and our own domestic economies, the kind and amount of foreign aid and intervention, and, above all, the relationships we have with our neighbors who are no longer a reflection of ourselves but a microcosm of the diversity of the world. The words of John Donne "no man is an island" were never more real nor more apparent in our everyday lives.
UNESCO has just concluded its 31st General Conference and has adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity "reaffirming their conviction that intercultural dialogue is the best guarantee of peace" (UNESCO Press Release). In so doing they are responding to the current threats to peace and "elevating cultural diversity to the rank of common heritage of humanity" and making cultural diversity and its preservation as necessary and important as the preservation of biodiversity.
But what of museums? What is our response to the crisis around us? Are museums islands concerned only with our collections and what happened in the past? Do these collections not illustrate the same profound and timeless issues of war and peace, governance, politics, social and economic interaction as well as telling us stories about individuals and about particular topics of art, history, science, social and cultural life?
CAM has argued that museums can vividly illuminate and illustrate such broad themes through their collections and mandates by working with their communities and identifying issues of primary concern. Issues felt to be relevant to the community can be explored in research, exhibition and programmes at the same time as more specific themes and particular knowledge about subject collections and topics are revealed. CAM has looked at Museums and the National Identity (1995), Museums and Peace, Democracy and Governance, has launched the art contest "What Peace Means to Me" to be followed by an exhibition, and is exploring the development of a larger exhibit on peace.
Believing that theory and practice must go together, CAM has also concentrated on activities which serve to improve the practice of museum work and pursue professional excellence. The primary activity in this regard has been the Distance Learning Program in basic museum studies. A number of workshops have also been aimed at the practical development of museum skills. The two workshops on Children in African Museums have been collaborative efforts on developing and managing children's programmes in museums and will result in a comprehensive manual on children and museums. A museum policy workshop was held in Guyana in 1999 and outlined a practical approach to developing national policy as well as internal museum policy.
A workshop in Belize in 1993, organized by Winnel Branche and others for the Museums Association of the Caribbean and supported by CAM looked at Museums, Ethics and Indigenous Peoples: Taking the initiative, and in 1994 CAM collaborated with the University of Victoria on a symposium: Curatorship: Indigenous Perspectives in Post Colonial Societies. Both were efforts to create practical frameworks and directions to deal with real issues that museums face in ways which would have real impact on our museums and our communities.
Theoretical study and philosophical consideration of broader ideas and issues and the museum's role and its relevance to the community, are essential to giving museums a reason to exist, a purpose which has meaning to the people that we serve. The study of the practical means to translate these visions into real programmes and real exhibitions is essential to communicating with our audiences and our public.
We have seen world organizations, national governments, politicians and public servants, religious groups, educational institutions, NGO's and many diverse individuals and organizations from all walks of life, speak, act and give with the intention of making a positive difference to the community and the world in meeting the current crisis. What are museums doing? Are they acknowledging these events? Are we behaving as public institutions involved in our societies?
What does your museum put in place of the question mark? What is most important to your museum? How does it connect with the real concerns of your society?
NOTE: We would be pleased to receive information from you about museum activities that have been developed to address the current world political situation. Send us a short description for our newsletter.