Questioning Collaboration

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As an intern with Ancient Shores, Changing Tides, I interviewed several of the participants about what they hoped to achieve by taking part in the Museums Connect exchange. Answers included cross-cultural understanding, new exhibition and storytelling techniques, and enhanced understanding of local heritage. All noble causes, but I was skeptical at first. What do an established museum in the United States and an underfunded museum in the Philippines have to teach each other? Luckily, I was able to journey across the Olympic Peninsula with the delegates from Sibaltan and their Suquamish hosts. After two days of touring heritage sites on the Olympic Peninsula, sharing meals, and swapping stories, it was apparent that they would reach their goals.

Since the delegation’s visit, my involvement with Ancient Shores, Changing Tides has been more peripheral, so I am eager to catch up with the participants midway through the grant. I am particularly curious about the progress they have made toward their goals, and whether their desired outcomes have changed after the first visit.  Of course, I can and will ask them about this, but first I would like to share a few questions and musings about the benefits of community museum exchanges:

How does a cultural exchange program such as Museums Connect strengthen the implementation and functioning of community museums?

Ancient Shores, Changing Tides project leader Lace Thornberg has identified six principles to which community museums aspire: they 1) are committed to social justice, 2) place a strong emphasis on training local people to preserve the collections and manage the museum, 3) are built by activist leaders, through a participatory approach with an emphasis on collaboration, 4) preserve both material cultural heritage and intangible cultural heritage, 5) link the past with the present, promoting community identity and cultural regeneration, and 6) collaborate, cooperate and share best practices. Both the Suquamish Museum and the Balay Cuyonon can be characterized as community museums, founded by and for community members as places in which to shape and share their histories and identities. Museums Connect has presented these museums with the opportunity to fulfill the sixth principle: collaboration, cooperation, and sharing best practices. This principle may seem a little surprising; community museums should focus on the local by definition, so how does collaboration and sharing with other communities contribute to their missions? I’d like to know more!

Maybe you can help answer some of these questions:

  • Why are collaboration, cooperation, and sharing best practices especially important to community museums?
  • How do these activities support the other five principles mentioned above?
  • How does international travel strengthen this collaboration?
  • In what other ways can community museums effectively collaborate, cooperate and share best practices?

Add your comments here, or click over to the Ancient Shores, Changing Tides Facebook page to contribute to the conversation!

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