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community-engaged museums

March 15, 2017

Topic: Research

Community-Engaged Museums catalysts for sustainability

With communities revisiting local culture and heritage in an increasingly globalised world, Glenn C. Sutter, Tobias Sperlich, Douglas Worts, René Rivard and Lynne Teather point up the potential of Community-Engaged Museums (CEMs) to help achieve social change on a global scale – this despite limited resources and the push to reach new audiences. Museums are struggling with limited resources; while some have tried to reach new audiences, others have adopted business models which offer financial benefits but affect their social role, point out the authors.

‘Fostering Cultures of Sustainability through Community-Engaged Museums: The History and Re-Emergence of Ecomuseums in Canada and the USA’ explores the potential of ecomuseums as CEMs that can support sustainable development. Building on findings of ‘Newly-Forming Ecomuseums: Development Framework’, a toolkit published by the Saskatchewan Ecomuseums Initiative (SEI) Steering Committee, the authors illustrate two successful ecomuseums in North America – the Haute-Beauce Ecomuseum (Quebec), and the Ak-Chin Him Dak Ecomuseum (Arizona), chosen for their histories, and distinct contexts. They also explores the rise of ecomuseums in Canada, with a focus on Saskatchewan.

The authors attribute the transformative potential of ecomuseums to three key factors. Firstly, by integrating local natural and cultural heritage, these institutions offer ways for people to learn about and address complex issues. As all elements within an ecomuseum’s territory become part of its collection, there are opportunities for different types of learning. Secondly, as collaborative cultural institutions, they can nurture the social transformations required to build sustainable communities. And thirdly, their flexible governance structures allow them to change or adapt easily, giving them an edge over traditional museums.

Ecomuseums become catalysts under two conditions identified by the authors. They need to be locally initiated and led, so that they manifest their place and people, and showcase heritage and meet local issues through community engagement and strategic planning.

Photo: Allesio Lin/Unsplash/cc

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