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In times of increasing migration, museums and other cultural heritage institutions can become places where diverse communities meet and work together towards a stronger society, and better future. Faced with social issues, heritage professionals have first and foremost an individual responsibility as socially aware human beings, and secondly can help their institutions to be places for social innovation. This was my message on 9 June 2016 to the 700+ participants of European Registrars Conference 2016, of which this post is an edited transcript.
Refugees and the European response to increasing migration are topics that deserves more than just a talk. For years, our politicians and others have talked about the boats illegally and dangerously crossing the Mediterranean, and strategies to keep our countries open, with very inconsistent action. Over the past year, this has changed radically, with individuals all over Europe taking responsibility and action. Many of you are well-trained, historically-aware and socially-conscious professionals who will have done projects with refugees and other newcomers, as individual volunteers or in your institution. I encourage you to share these stories with each other, as they always inspire and encourage action.
While in recent months Europeans opened their doors and became volunteers, cultural heritage institutions looked for ways to ‘do more’. Some of them approached me, or joined me in various workshops to look for ways museums and others can act in an age of migration. I would like to share some of their stories, and provide some context based on literature, as well as recommendations based on the work and ideas of cultural heritage activists such as Diana Walters of Cultural Heritage without Borders, David Fleming of Museums Liverpool, projects such as the MeLa research project and my former teachers and mentors when I still worked in human development.
My own story starts over a decade ago, as a recently graduated human development worker. In 2007, I organized a study tour through Tanzania to discover the potential of sport for human development with a group of young people, the Dutch Youth Council and Right To Play. Tanzania is a surprisingly stable country in a volatile region, and therefore home to a lot of regional refugees. We spent a few weeks travelling around the country, getting to know local communities and their problems and playing sports with them. Quite often, the situations we faced were deeply emotional, especially when there were children involved. At the same time, the only thing we could do was play sports with the youngsters, something we also didn’t really excel in. After an especially painful 3 to 0 loss, doubly defeated, I wondered what we were doing in Tanzania. Then one of our team overheard young children bragging. “Did you see how we beat the Mzungu? They’re four times as big as us, but we beat them!” Continue Reading
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