GROWING A MUSEUM CULTURE!

SFB left, sharing with MAC conference participants at the UWI Museum

The curator, left, sharing with MAC conference participants at the UWI Museum

Synergies are everywhere! I’ve been taking an online Museum Studies course offered by Northwestern University in Chicago, USA, and the recent focus has been on local history and art museums and issues of access and community/visitor participation – especially youth participation. Then, this week, the UWI Museum and the UWI Geology Museum at Mona joined in hosting colleagues from across the Caribbean as the Museums Association of the Caribbean (MAC) had its 25th anniversary conference and AGM here at the University of the West Indies (UWI)s Mona campus. And of course a major thread in the multi-layered conversations related to engaging with audiences, be they traditional museum-goers or the far greater number of persons who are not sure that these  repositories have any relevance to or welcome for them.

So the kick-off was a charge by Ainsley Henriques, Chairman of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, to get more organisations and communities involved with creating heritage centres in old buildings that can be re-purposed and whose histories can also become part of the interpretation. He is talking about something that he has himself done, having spearheaded the development of a Jewish Heritage Centre behind Jamaica’s sole active synagogue in Downtown Kingston; having been involved in developing a small museum at Jamaica College, a traditional boy’s high school dating back into the 19th century and his own alma mater; and now proposing the development of a museum that will focus on Norman Washington Manley, one of Jamaica’s National Heroes with multiple layers of historic interest, whose son Michael Manley also became a hugely controversial Prime Minister and whose wife Edna Manley is considered the mother of Jamaican art. Henriques also urged museums locally and across the Caribbean to collaborate on public programmes to bring more people into museums.

It’s a theme picked up in a presentation by MAC President Sherilyne Jones of Belize, who focused on the development of Houses of Culture in various parts of Belize where there was active community interest and willingness to engage. Jones is Director of the Belize National Museum which supports the Houses of Culture and under whose umbrella they fall. Widely varying in size and focus, the Houses are located in historic buildings of various sorts which could be re-purposed for the new use.

Several presentations also focused on ways of getting more young people into historic museums and art galleries, including school and non- school linked programmes. One presenter, Tracy Commock from Jamaica’s Natural History Museum, focused on a cross-national programme, through the US Museums Connect, to engage young people and museums through environmental action. And there were talks relating to funding, innovative strategies including the development and potential of virtual spaces, conservation and collections research, and means of encouraging access to non-public collections.

Planning for enhanced visitor participation was addressed by Yvonne Tang, Director of Exhibits & Events at Lord Cultural Resources, and her colleague Nicole Dawkins. They are also facilitating a workshop on interpretive planning for museums.

And the first plenary presenter, Bernard Jankee made a connection that sometimes gets forgotten, when he emphasised the importance of underpinning museums’ traditional focus on tangible objects, with a full appreciation of the intangible cultural context. Jankee is the Director of the African Caribbean Institute of Jamaica/Jamaica Memory Bank, one of several divisions of the overarching Institute of Jamaica which is home to museums and galleries including the Natural History Museum, the National Museum Jamaica, the Jamaica Music Museum, Liberty Hall which focuses on the life and work of National Hero Marcus Garvey, and the National Gallery of Jamaica.

Some of the MAC participants touring the UWI Museum during one of the conference field trips:

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Some  of the many points emerging:

Ainsley Henriques: …We need to know more about ourselves and the world we live in….and museums need to invite people in…

Bernard Jankee: …the distinction between tangible and intangible heritage is more artificial than real because a serious museum can’t really approach the one without taking the other into account…

Sherilyne Jones: …Houses of Culture are a catalyst for community involvement…

Monique Barnett-Davidson: …we must adapt or the relevance of our collection in the national dialogue will diminish…

Natalie Urquhart: …we’re making the collection and the gallery experience directly relevant to the schools and the Ministry of Education…

Nimah Muwakil-Zakuri:…how can private collectors balance art acquisition and art access in a way that benefits all…?

Sherene James-Williamson: …we can make research on one monument count in showing us how to care for others…

You can see more on the conference on MAC’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/caribbeanmuseums

 

Suzanne Francis-Brown, UWI Museum Curator

 

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