The European Advantage

Sometimes, I like to use my train commute to catch up on work-related reading (other times, I like to nap). Last week, I took the opportunity to read Revisiting the Educational Value of Museums: Connecting to Audiences. It is a well-illustrated and concise report drawn from NEMO’s 23rd Annual Conference, held last November in Pilsen, Czech Republic. NEMO is the Network of European Museum Organisations and its mission is: “to ensure museums are an integral part of European life by promoting their work and value to policy makers and by providing museums with information, networking and opportunities for co-operation”. I first encountered NEMO through LEM, The Learning Museum Network, an EU-funded project that launched in 2010 and was due for completion in 2013. The network’s success led to an extension and it has now been incorporated into a permanent NEMO working group. I recommend exploring the NEMO Reading Corner, as well as signing up for the e-newsletter, which always has lots of interesting project reports and information on upcoming conferences across Europe.

With the EU Referendum just around the corner, my reading of the NEMO report was totally overshadowed by my concerns for the future. The report is filled with examples of museum education practice and thinking from across Europe, as well as the US, Asia and Ibero-America. Some articles I could relate to more than others, but all of them introduced me to a different perspective from my everyday practice in the UK – and it’s valuable to be reminded that our way isn’t the only way. From this single report, I learnt about: Denmark’s Learning Museum project (2011-13), a nationwide multidisciplinary collaboration involving 30 museums and 13 teacher training colleges; the Asia-Europe Museum Network (ASEMUS), a cross-cultural network of museums with Asian collections from Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) countries; and Santiago de Chile’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights, a museum dedicated to commemorating the victims of Augusto Pinochet’s regime.

The advantages of EU-funding for the UK cultural sector are also worth thinking about. A really strong example is the Dancing Museums project (2015-17), where dance artists are working with eight museums across Europe to explore new ways of interacting with audiences. The National Gallery in London is working alongside museums in France, the Netherlands, Austria and Italy. I’m really interested in the potential of embodiment within learning programmes and I’m looking forward to seeing the final results. For an engaging introduction to performative pedagogies, art historian and museum educator, Marco Peri has shared a Prezi online from the recent conference at the University of Leicester, The Museum in the Global Contemporary: Debating the Museum of Now.

The People’s History Museum in Manchester has taken a pro-active approach to the EU Referendum by commissioning an installation that greets visitors at the main entrance. The EURO Tunnel, by artist Alex J Gardner, provides an impartial summary of the remain/leave debate through a series of graphics and text panels. Given all the hot air and hyperbole flying around this issue, a measured presentation must be a tonic for anyone who encounters it. For more information, there is a brief article about the EURO Tunnel in Museum Practice. Gardner’s installation also feels very timely alongside the newly-launched Inquiry programme, a Calouste Gulbenkian-funded initiative to explore the civic role of arts organisations.

There is so much to be gained by continuing to participate fully as European citizens. I enjoy being part of a global, outward-facing community of museum practitioners and working for a large cultural organisation that has staff from all over the world. Pulling up the drawbridge and hunkering down on our little island doesn’t feel a constructive solution or an effective means of meeting future challenges. I realise I’ve wandered a bit off-piste from my blog theme this week; normal service will resume next week.

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