Monday, 22 June 2015

Community Engagement and Social Action

By Susan Burrows-Johnson, Galt Museum & Archives

As a museum worker, I have been confused and concerned about the entanglement of social issues and community engagement in museums. The current literature on the future of museums directs workers to participate in the community to seek remedies for injustice and troubles. Following this strategy is full of perceived risks such as mission-drift, loss of financial support, a threat to scholarship, and insulting activists while museums join an unsolvable civil society challenge. 

Tangling participation and social issues together as a strategy makes the prediction of the outcome feel difficult and dangerous. It seems easier to understand when the museums’ actions are described on two axis. A more explicit description of where a museum, exhibit, or program chooses to be can be plotted in relationship to the two choices.

Community engagement is on a continuum of “little interaction” to “a great deal of community two-way participation”. At one end, the museum is very self-contained. In the middle of the continuum, the museum seeks the community’s advice. The far end of the continuum has the museum in a two-way, power-sharing relationship with the community.

A social action continuum moves from "not being a change agent" to seeking "a particular change or justice" in the community. This museum continuum is, at one end, object-focus to the other end of social issues focus.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Demonstrating Resiliency to Maintain Relevancy

By Charleen Davidson, Operations Lead, Alberta Museums Association
At the 2015 Canadian Museums Association Conference: Public engagement… not a trend, but the future, Jack Lohman, CEO of the Royal British Columbia Museum, cautioned delegates in his keynote address that museums must engage with their increasingly diverse communities or risk becoming irrelevant. We must be flexible and adaptable in our efforts to connect with our communities, while ensuring museums continue to strive towards meeting their mandates and missions.