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859 - Museums and communities: towards equal partnerships in the 21st century?

17.07.2012 | 09:30 - 13:30

Convener 1: Van Broekhoven, Laura (National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, The Netherlands , Leiden, Netherlands / Niederlande)
Convener 2: Berger, Martin

The past two decades ethnological museums have adopted new approaches to the way they collect, manage and disclose their collections. A central focus in this new approach is the relationship between ethnological museums and the source diaspora communities related to the museum collections. Before, the link between Western museum institutions and source communities were characterized by a one-way relationship, in which the power of knowledge and decision-making resided with the Western institutions. Nowadays, the need for a collaborative approach to museum collections and their management has become apparent. The different kinds of cooperation can range from the sharing of knowledge and heritage, the formation and acquisition of new collections, to the foundation and formation of community museums.  

The aim of this symposium is to present and discuss these approaches and the specific role and function the ethnological museum has in these new relations. For example, can there be a standard practice, or is each case so unique that it necessitates a different approach? Is it possible to shift the skewed balance to an equality of power and knowledge between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’? And what role do national cultural institutions play when a ‘foreign’ museum gets directly involved with local communities? In addition, we would like to discuss the involvement of ethnological museums in the establishment of cultural centers. What are the advantages and disadvantages of ‘culture houses’ or ‘community museums’ and how can museums contribute to the management of these in a sustainable way?  

This symposium will bring together several experts in the field of collaboration with source communities. The main point that will be addressed is the relationships of power enmeshed in the idea of partnerships as well as the (im)possibility of equality in these partnerships. Who and what are the factors that inspire and dictate partnerships? And to what extent do the working methods defined in these partnership actually redraw the relationships of power for greater equality?  

Ultimately the main question that will have to be answered is: how can we arrive at a balance of ownership and decision-making by establishing cooperation between Western museums and communities on the basis of equal partnerships?

Keywords: Museums, partnerships, source communities, balance of power.

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