European Museums and Interculture – Responding to Challenges in a Globalized World


In his reflection entitled "European Museums and Interculture – Responding to Challenges in a Globalized World", Chris Torch, Trustee for The European Museum Forum and Senior Associate at Intercult, Stockholm, guides us through the transformations, challenges and desirable future of European Museums through an intercultural lens.


Museums and heritage sites are examples of shared spaces. With this concept in focus, Torch emphasises that this means not only observing the 'Other', but also interacting with her. This is where an intercultural approach fits in. In order to develop, we need to use these shared spaces as places for dialogue. This, however, seems not really to have been the case in the past of the museums.


European museums have in history gone from glorifying the building of the own nation and defining its people to affirming the own people's superiority by instead focusing on 'exotic' cultures – 'Others'. After this, the museums entered an 'époque' of a post-colonial 'bad conscience syndrome'. However, during the past couple of decades, Torch argues, the museums have found a new role, replacing multicultural archiving with intercultural exchange and communication. But more needs to be done and this is a part of Torch's recipe:


Needed is a shift of focus, not only asking what we can learn about other cultures, but also what we can learn from them. This leads to reflection instead of simply observation and would help us avoid 'nationalist' perspectives benefiting populist discourse and cultural domination. Since the European population is becoming more and more diverse, one needs to work with target communities in order to create hybrid narratives – the story of the 'Other' should not be a monologue by the dominant culture. Torch calls for exhibitions transforming themselves in collaboration with the visitors – a sort of WikiMuseum.


The way forward, according to Torch, goes through the field of co-producing, transforming museums into meeting places and not letting the archiving and digitalisation of collections be it at the expense of physically shared space. He also advocates inter- rather than mono-disciplinary museums as a way of combating exclusivity and the fragmentisation of knowledge. And not least, let the visitors participate in the creation of an exhibition. It is through dialogue that we can find new intercultural narratives.


by David Ek


Photo © Slavery Museum Liverpool