The Power of Self-Interpretation: Ideas on Starting a Community Museum

[…] To appreciate the potential of the community museum, consider the challenges local communities, especially disadvantaged ones, face today. The effects of globalization include persistent poverty, loss of cultural identity, accelerated migration, and disintegration of the bonds of unity and solidarity within local communities. In this context, the community museum is not a luxury, and its value is not simply decorative: it is a necessity that allows communities to repossess their heritage, both physically and symbolically. It is a tool for rethinking the future, for facing rapid transformations with the strength born of a core identity rooted in the past. It is a concrete image of the values that bind a people together, and a vehicle to project and legitimize these values. It is an opportunity to remember the vital experiences that should not be forgotten, but should be preserved to educate the generations who will inherit them.

As a repository for the stories a community tells to recreate its way of life, the community museum is a process of self-interpretation. In the museum, community members participate collectively in selecting themes for exhibitions, in choosing and collecting objects, in researching and analyzing their history and culture, in representing their stories, and in creating drawings, murals, photographs, scale models, and life-size installations. In this process, all participants are dynamically engaged, strengthening and developing direct personal bonds to their collective identity. They also have the opportunity to share a learning experience, to step back and collectively analyze the elements of community unity and conflict through creative interpretation.

These museums are also centers for cultural organization and action that mobilize a community and provoke it to develop new initiatives. They generate programs to strengthen the cultural identity of children, train adults in a variety of skills, promote and support local artists and artisans, and develop community tourism. Community museums are a window on the world, offering multiple possibilities for cultural exchange as well as serving as a vehicle for networking with other communities. These networks between communities allow local initiatives to expand and become regional in scope, affecting cultural policies by making the voice of communities heard. […]


Source: Living homes for cultural expression in North American Native Perspectives on Creating Community Museums, pp. 77-86

National Museum of the American Indian Smithsonian Institution Washington, D.C., and New York 2006.

Date Visited: 12 July 2011

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