What better way to foster international relations than through museums? That’s the thinking of the EU-funded EU-LAC-MUSEUMS project, which aims to use community museology as a means of promoting cooperation between European and Latin American and Caribbean countries. “Understanding museums as tools for sustainable community development is one of this project’s key priorities,” says Karen Brown, a researcher at the University of St Andrews, the project’s coordinating partner. “By researching state-of-the-art initiatives in museums and community empowerment and implementing actions in partner countries, we aim to transform individual lives within museum communities – and beyond.” The EU-LAC-MUSEUMS team is comprised of leading academics, museum professionals and policy makers elected by the International Council of Museums (ICOM). These include the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, National Museum of Costa Rica, Austral University in Chile, University of the West Indies, University of Valencia (Spain), and National Archaeology Museum in Lisbon, Portugal.
Collaboration is key
The underlying premise of the project is a belief that community-based museums allow under-represented communities to stake a place in history, as well as contribute to environmental sustainability and community empowerment. Building on this belief, the project is conducting a comparative analysis of small- and medium-sized rural museums and their communities in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and, based on this, developing an associated history and theory. “Though many miles lie between us, working together as a bi-regional team has brought about a substantial increase in cultural understanding,” explains Brown. “This has been achieved through such collaborative initiatives as an art exhibition, the launch a dedicated YouTube channel, publishing a manual on museum best practices, and conducting international research into such issues as traditional water heritage practices in southern Spain and northern Peru.” The project also created a virtual museum, which is currently being used to support a series of 3D workshops held across 20 museums in nine different countries. The workshops aim to help museum professionals better leverage the power of digital technologies. To date, over 350 people have participated in these workshops, resulting in the creation of three mobile apps, 32 virtual tours, 180 3D models, 400 photospheres and 24 hours of video. However, for Brown, one of the highlights of the project so far has been a bi-regional youth exchange between Costa Rica, Portugal and Scotland. The cultural exchange involved monthly workshops to engage young people with their heritage, as well as a physical exchange where 24 young people were able to live and learn in one of the participating countries. “We deliberately selected remote and island locations so participants could share and experience new cultures, including music and dance, along with understanding new challenges like over-tourism and depopulation,” says Brown. “It was truly a transformative experience for everyone involved.”
Right on track
Despite some setbacks due to unexpected natural disasters and political instability in the participating countries, the EU-LAC-MUSEUMS project remains on track. As it enters its final phase, the team is now focused on ensuring the project’s legacy. “We would like to see other countries benefit from our work, so we are exploring the idea of launching travelling exhibitions and creating a shared database,” adds Brown.
EU-LAC-MUSEUMS, international relations, Latin America, Caribbean, museums, sustainability