Global Perspectives on Museums

Added to Medium, September 20, 2018

I recently received AAM’s recent Museum magazine, What Binds Us? Global Perspectives Local Solutions, in the mail. As I read the articles, it made me think about my own experience in learning more about perspectives outside of the country. The magazine provided numerous examples of how museums outside of the United States face similar situations U.S. museums deal with as museums continue to maintain their relevance in society.

In her introduction letter, Laura Lott, the president of AAM, wrote about the importance of connecting with other countries around the globe. Lott revealed in her letter that she expanded her knowledge of countries around the world in her earlier years. She went to Tokyo, Japan as an exchange student for a year. Lott briefly revealed this about her experience:

I learned more during that year—about the world, about myself, and about life—than I could have in 12 years of school. A global perspective will do that. In many ways, I am still on that journey, as one of the greatest attributes of museums is their ability to create fresh vantage points from which you can see the world.

By having a global perspective, one can learn so much about the world around us and about oneself. I had a couple of similar experiences of having a global perspective, and I wish to broaden my global perspective more than I have in the past.

When I was a young child, I traveled outside of the United States for the first time. I went to Ontario with my family. A couple of things we did on this trip was to see Niagara Falls and saw a documentary about the history of Ontario and Niagara Falls. In middle school, I went on a French class trip to Quebec where we met our French-Canadian pen pals.

Before traveling to Quebec, my class were assigned to French-Canadian students of the same age to communicate our experiences in French. I learned a lot from the experience and from my pen pal Audrey. For months we communicated about various things such as what our schools were like as well as our families, our favorite places to visit, and what activities we like to do. Our teacher arranged to have our class travel to Quebec to meet our pen pals in person.

During this trip to Quebec, my class and I explored Quebec City learning about the history and culture of the French Canadian city. While we were in the City, our class stayed in the Chateau Frontenac, a historic hotel located in the historic neighborhood of Quebec City. The Chateau Frontenac opened in 1893, and was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981. Then we traveled on foot around the historic neighborhood and visited many sites including historic churches and The Battlefields Park where it is home to 50 historical artillery pieces. We met with our pen pals during our visit, and talked with them about our visit so far. Our class learned about maple syrup and ate at a place where the maple syrup was gathered. Also, we went to Village des Sports where we went tubing. While I treasure these memories, I do wish to continue to broaden my global perspective.

When individuals visit museums and historic sites they can learn so much about history and culture, as well as making connections with the people around the world. Lott discussed identifying with one another and learning from one another:

When we at AAM discuss issues with our counterparts in the United Kingdom and Europe, South America, and even farther afield, we find that issues we had thought were uniquely American are more universal than we had imagined. Race relations, complex histories, even models of advocacy and funding—museums around the world are laboratories in which we can hold these issues up to the light in order to understand them better.

Since these issues are universal, we can communicate with one another about what all museums can do to educate our global community and resolve problems our institutions face. In my previous blog post, What Can We Learn from International Museums? Encouraging A Global Relationship Between Museums, I pointed out “If we continue to engage with museum professionals both within our country and outside of the country, we will not only have a better understanding of one another we will also be leading by example on dealing with current issues in the world.” There are a few examples of museum organizations that help museum professionals around the globe help one another in pursuit of understanding and education.

In my blog post, I discussed about Museum Next, Museums Associations, and the International Council of Museums. These museum organizations have the common goal of serving the global community.

Museum Next is an organization that began in 2009 with the question “what’s next for museums?” They discovered that the answer to this question is as varied as the people who are building it. This organization builds a global community of museum leaders, innovators and makers who champion future thinking in museums. MuseumNext has led to collaborations that span the globe, and the influence of this passionate community can be seen in action in museums all over the world. It offers conferences held throughout the year in Europe, North America and Australia to offer participants the opportunity to hear inspiring presentations, pick up career skills in expert hosted workshops and network with fellow delegates.
Museums Association is a UK based organization that inspires museums to change lives. It is the oldest museums association in the world (set up in 1889) based in London, and is independently funded by memberships.
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) is an organization created in 1946 by and for museum professionals with more than 37,000 members and museum professionals who represent the global museum community.

Global work in the museum field is discussed in the articles featured in the Museum magazine.

I will share a couple of examples from the magazine to show common issues museums face and the work museums throughout the world do to serve their communities. One of the examples is the article “Full Engagement: Museums globally are expanding their social role—and value—by engaging underserved communities” by Yael Grauer (p.17-21) which discussed the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities change to serve the local community since the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, and discussed how this museum and other cultural institutions are working to figure out how to better engage with underserved communities. Grauer shared a few tips on how to engage with underserved communities:

1. Think local. When making programmatic decisions, put yourself in the place of the people in your community that you want to serve. Consult with people who already work with the communities you’re trying to reach. Asking questions and being open to seeing things from another perspective will help you develop skills to apply to new programs or initiatives.

2. Make time to listen. While museums excel at structured programming, sometimes it’s important just to listen, particularly when you are visiting people in their schools or homes. Often, people want to share their own small treasures or connection with the art. This is a good way to strengthen your museum’s connection with the community.

3. Embrace new ways of operating. Engaging different audiences may mean that the museum needs to move from its comfort zone and try new things, or focus more on relationships than imparting knowledge.

4. Learn from peers. Seek out projects that are similar to what you’re trying to do so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. However, keep in mind that you’ll likely need to develop new ideas or make adaptations to meet the specific, unique needs of your community or institution.

5. Be patient. Accept that you might make some missteps at first. It takes time to draw interest from different parts of the local community.

These tips can help all museums around the world engage with their communities, especially their underserved communities. With adjustments to reflect what the communities’ needs are, following these tips will help museum professionals on the path to better serving communities within their countries.

Another example of articles in this magazine is “Confronting Canada” by Karine Duhamela (p. 32-37). The Canadian Museum for Human Rights attempted to tell the story of Canada’s history as it celebrates the country’s 150th anniversary in 2017. A tough reality check came during the celebration for the country as a historical and contemporary world model for peace, tolerance, and respect for human rights with projects and stories that emphasized themes of diversity, inclusion, youth, the environment, and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The definition of reconciliation was challenged since for most Indigenous people the country’s anniversary is not a cause for celebration; they saw this as a celebration of 150 years or more of land theft forced assimilation, and genocide. This argument caught curators and interpretive staff’s attention and worked to find out how they could approach the reconciliation process in a different way to tell a different story. The article shared three keys to meaningful engagement which are: invest in relationships, invest in time, and invest in resources. Meaningful engagement is a continued effort for all museums especially for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights who continue to work with Indigenous peoples.

The lessons shared in this edition of the magazine would help all museums face similar situations within their own communities. By sharing these lessons, museums will be able to effectively serve the global community and strengthen all of our global perspectives.

What museums and sites outside of the United States have you visited? How did your experiences help shape your perspective of the world around you?

Museum magazine, What Binds Us? Global Perspectives Local Solutions, September/October 2018, American Alliance of Museums
What Can We Learn from International Museums? Encouraging A Global Relationship Between Museums, October 26, 2017,