Museums are boring!

 

Photo: Benedict Johnson © The Trustees of the British MuseumThis is the tenor of many people, young and old, who were not introduced by parents, friends or even their schools to the rich experience museums can offer. That exhibitions are, in terms of themes and concepts, still often likely to address an exclusive minority is another fact in modern museum landscape. The publication "Museums as places for intercultural dialogue: selected practices from Europe" offers some ideas to counter this widespread tendency. Twelve experts introduce the reader to a variety of exciting and innovative museum concepts from all over Europe.  All of them have been developed in the course of the Places for Intercultural Dialogue (MAP for ID) initiative from December 2007 to November 2009, funded by the European Commission as part of the Grundtvig Lifelong Learning Programme.

 

The connecting element of the publication is, as Christina Kreps highlights in the introduction of the publication, "the role museums can play in promoting cross-cultural understanding and respect for human diversity." The driving principle behind the idea is the claim of the international museum community "to democratise museums and make them more accessible to wider audiences, socially relevant, and responsive to their publics’ changing needs and interests." This claim is in the last years increasingly tried to be turned into practice. But the real innovative potential of the publication lies in the awareness of the (cultural) diversity of potential museum visitors who have to be attracted, in other words to really look at whom this democratic opening and new attractiveness of museums shall be addressed to. Hence, MAP for ID initiative’s main goal is to develop the potential of museums as places of intercultural dialogue and promoting a more active engagement with the communities they serve.

 

How this approach is implemented in practice is exemplified by the museum concept of Reggio Emilia. As one of the many examples outlined in the publication, the action of this pilot city of the Intercultural Cities programme, demonstrates perfectly the enrichment an intercultural component can contribute to exhibitions. Under the theme "mother" the city’s museums addressed one of the most profound themes in humanity. By focusing on intercultural dialogue, the exhibition opened up new, fascinating horizons to the audience. While providing an insight into some of the nearly infinite cultural meanings and expressions concerning "mothers" deriving from different cultures and times, visitors were guided to understand the impressive juxtaposition of diversity and connection between cultures.

 

A fundamental change of perspective from the exhibition to the audience, and the reciprocal interplay, allows the creation of new, innovative museum exhibitions. In addition the publication identifies new ways to re-interpret existing collections, generating a new purpose and meaning for the museum. The reader of the publication sees him or herself, from the first page on in a continuous change of perspectives, from the strange to the known and from the other to the own, in fascinating dynamism, where cultural boarders seem to disappear and to merge within the walls of European museums. The publication will therefore speak to both, museum curators and potential visitors, even to those who might have thought before museums are boring.

 

By Annasophia Heintze