On November 8, 2017 the participants to the Expert meeting were welcomed by Paul van de Laar, director of Museum Rotterdam (NL).
Hester Dibbits (Amsterdam University of the Arts & Erasmus University Rotterdam) followed with her keynote, titled Looking for Connections: Collections and Repertoires. Dibbits elaborated on the concept of 'emotion networks', that is based on the actor network theory by Bruno Latour. With the term emotion networks she describes capricious constellations of people who all have different feelings about a (prospective) heritage 'item'. Museums must be aware of those networks when they work on intangible cultural heritage and with its practitioners, and they must be aware of their own role in those networks.
Albert van der Zeijden (Dutch Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage) subsequently presented the position paper written by Sophie Elpers and himself: Intangible Heritage and the Museum in an Age of Superdiversity (you can read the full text of the position paper here).
Following statements concluded the presentation:
- Museums should engage in contemporary society, responding to the new challenges of superdiversity.
- Museums should provide spaces of reflexivity to go beyond dichotomous othering discourses.
- Intangible heritage can help to make museums more relevant for society.
- Intangible heritage calls for the development of participatory methodologies to engage heritage communities and heritage bearers in their projects and opt for an open and inclusive approach, in which heritage communities are interpreted as dynamic and fluid networks.
- Museums should consider to act as laboratories where different people experiment with innovation for a sustainable future.
Up next was Alexandra van Dongen (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen & Wereldmuseum Rotterdam). Van Dongen presented some examples of museum projects in Rotterdam, concerning intangible heritage and diversity (e.g. I cook therefore I am) and focussed on the role of the curator in these projects, having to pay attention to multiple histories and multiple realities in the city.
The statements that were presented by Albert van der Zeijden, were the starting point of an interactive debate. In this debate the participants were invited to formulate their opinion by sharing statements on the topic of intangible heritage, museums and diversity.
Participants physically opposed or agreed to statements that were presented by others, by changing their position in the room: standing close or moving further away from the person that made a statement, was a signal of (dis)agreement.
A selection from the statements:
- Using terms as ‘we’ and ‘them’ is problematic in the context of museums, intangible heritage and diversity. The question is who constitutes the ‘we’ and ‘them’ categories.
- Intangible heritage can help to break (professional and institutional) borders/boundaries between experts, communities, museum professionals and intangible heritage professionals.
- Museums should not all engage in the same way with intangible heritage and diversity: there is not only one 'right' answer.
- A superdiverse society also needs a diverse cultural heritage sector.
- Museums should provide a frame of understanding and bring people together.
- There should be no difference between tangible and intangible heritage.
- It is strategically important to make a difference between intangible and tangible heritage
- Museums should provide spaces for dialogue.
- Museums can provide spaces of dialogue to go beyond dichotomous ‘othering discourses’
- Not all museums should work in a reflexive way.
- Superdiversity is a topic as much as it is an approach.
- People have to recognise their practices – not objects – in museums.
Following the debate, thirteen museums from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy and France presented their inspiring cases on intangible heritage.
Olivier Schinz, Barbara Keller and Prisca Senn continued by talking about the work on intangible heritage in three Swiss museums:
Museums from Belgium and Italy also presented how they work on intangible heritage, and with its practitioners:
The last two speakers that presented inspiring examples on intangible heritage, came from France.
Participants to the Expert meeting subsequently participated in a workshop that invited them to think of tools that could help them and other professionals discuss and work with the theme of intangible cultural heritage and diversity. Participants were asked to think about the main insights and open issues and questions about the theme; to think about what this tool should do for museums and heritage professionals and how it can help them; and to think about the objective of the tool.
Two prototypes of tools that were developed during this workshop will be published online in the toolbox-section of the IMP-website soon. We invite you to test them and give us your feedback for improving the test version of the tools. Next to tools that focus more on brainstorming, the toolbox section on the website will also come to include practical guidelines and recommendations, during the course of the project.
In his concluding remarks, Albert van der Zeijden stated that for practicing intangible cultural heritage ‘we perhaps do not need museums, but they can do very useful things for the safeguarding of intangible heritage’. Linking the statements from the position paper to the concrete inspiring examples that were presented by the group of international museums, he concluded that a lot of museums already engage in contemporary society; that they are places for dialogue, but also for reflexivity in relation to intangible heritage, and that the laboratory-function of a museum is one of great interest for museums that really want to engage with contemporary practices of intangible heritage in our current society.
Paul van de Laar concluded this two-day meeting by stressing that museums should think about working interdisciplinarily and look for convincing business models. In a superdiverse society, museums that are state funded institutions, need to include heritage of all types - tangible as well as intangible. This heritage needs to be debatable and museums should therefore provide spaces for experimenting with contested forms of heritage as well.
Click here to read the report of the International conference on Intangible Cultural Heritage, Museums and Diversity.
Photos taken by © Vera Bos
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