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October 20, 2023

ICOM Georgia Chair and Vice-Chair at the 2023 ICOM Europe International Conference: Strengthening Museum-Community Bonds through Education and Communication Conference

ICOM Georgia Chair and Vice-Chair presented at the 2023 ICOM Europe International Conference: Enhancing Museum-Community Relationships through Education and Communication. This international endeavor was a collaborative project led by ICOM Europe in collaboration with ICOM Portugal, ICOM Georgia, ICOM Croatia, and the National Coach Museum of Lisbon, with the support of esteemed institutions, including Lusofona University, the Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage of the Portuguese Republic, the Ministry of Culture, and the UNESCO Chair on Education, Citizenship, and Cultural Diversity.

The ICOM Europe International Conference, themed “Bridging the Gap between Museums and Communities: The Role of Communication and Education,” took place at the National Coach Museum in Lisbon, Portugal from October 2-3, 2023. This conference brought together ICOM members, educators, museum professionals, and communication experts to explore the vital role of museums in empowering communities and fostering knowledge co-creation.

Over two days, participants engaged in insightful discussions on key themes like the preservation of cultural memory, strategies to amplify community voices through communication and education, the diverse significance of objects to various communities, inclusion of underrepresented groups, addressing societal challenges through communication and education, and the transformation of virtual visitors into active museumgoers.

The conference’s inauguration featured dignitaries including Isabel Cordeiro, the Secretary of State of Culture of the Portuguese Republic, and João Carlos dos Santos, General Director of Cultural Heritage. Leading figures such as Emma Nardi, President of ICOM, and Luís Raposo, an ICOM Executive Board Member, provided their insights through video messages. Juliette Raoul-Duval, President of ICOM Europe, David Felismino, President of ICOM Portugal, and Mário Antas, Director of the National Coach Museum, marked the commencement of this engaging and thought-provoking event.

With over 200 experts from 15+ countries, the conference aimed to explore the role of museums in today’s society by addressing contemporary social challenges. Museums’ significance as catalysts for inclusivity and solidarity, their potential to combat discrimination, and innovative solutions for issues like climate change and fundraising were among the key topics.

The keynote sessions established the conference’s thematic backdrop, focusing on museums, communities, and the future of the field. Notable speakers included Karen Brown, a Professor of Art History and Museum Studies at the University of St Andrews, who shared valuable insights on the sustainability of island heritage communities. Mário Moutinho, representing SOMUS-IC, delved into the domain of Sociomuseology and the crucial role of the new international ICOM committee (SOMUS-IC) in connecting museums with communities. Additionally, Darko Babic from ICTOP; ICOM Croatia, explored the future of museum professionals. His emphasis lay on their competencies in the year 2030 and the journey ahead in reshaping the industry for the future. These engaging talks provided a sturdy foundation for the conference’s overarching themes and discussions.

Subsequent sessions provided a platform for National Committees to present their work, showcasing diverse projects from various countries. These sessions highlighted museums’ evolving role in the 21st century and their contributions to preserving cultural heritage and engaging communities. The conference’s significance also lay in emphasizing the pivotal role of communication in connecting museums with their communities, while innovative digital strategies for education and community engagement took center stage.

The inaugural session, titled “Meeting Challenges: Museums and 21st Century Social Issues,” provided a platform for experts to explore the evolving role of museums in contemporary society. Moderated by Fátima Roque of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage, this session highlighted museums’ critical function as catalysts for tackling present-day social challenges. Mário Antas, the Director of the National Coach Museum in Portugal, emphasized museums’ pivotal role in fostering solidarity and inclusivity within communities. Furthermore, Juliette Raoul-Duval, Chair of ICOM Europe, introduced the French Governmental Plan to Combat Discrimination (2023-2026), underscoring museums’ capacity to promote tolerance and combat various forms of discrimination. Bjorn Stenvers, President of ICOMOS NL and NFN – Nepal Federation Netherlands, as well as CEO of Eye Care Foundation (ECF), raised the concept of whether Museum Marketing could offer a solution for addressing climate change. Together, this first session laid the groundwork for further exploration of how museums can effectively address pressing societal issues and make substantial contributions to fostering inclusive and sustainable communities. This approach emphasizes the collaborative efforts of Museums and Heritage working in conjunction with NGOs to better address their current challenges, including fundraising, health issues, tourism, and sustainability.

In the 2nd session “Empowering ICOM National Committees,” and expertly moderated by Lana Karaia (Chair of ICOM Georgia and board member of ICOM Europe), a vibrant platform was established for National Committees to showcase their initiatives and delve into the synergy between museums, education, and community involvement. Giuliana Ericani (ICOM Italy and Vice-chair of ICOM Europe) presented the accomplishments of the ICOM Italian commission’s work on “Educational Initiatives in Cultural Heritage: Museums, Schools, Territory, and Professionalism” spanning from 2019 to 2023. Alexandre Chevalier (Board member of ICOM Europe), in collaboration with a team including Rafael Alas, Carlos Flores Manzano, Stéphanie Masuy, Sofie Vermeiren, Véronique van Cutsem, Melissa Campos, and Sergio Servellón, shared their innovative project, “Strengthening Museum Connections to Salvadoran Communities During the Covid-19 Pandemic (Closer Museums),” hailing from Belgium and El Salvador. María Auxiliadora Llamas Márquez (Chair of ICOM Spain and Museum curator at Museo de Cádiz, Spain), illuminated the challenges and prospects of “Museums and Communities in Times of Adversity: A Spanish Perspective.

During the enlightening 3rd session “Museums and Communities in the 21st Century,” and skillfully moderated by Alexander Chevalier, participants were treated to a rich tapestry of perspectives. This session provided a window into the ever-evolving relationship between museums and their communities in the modern era. Claudia Pecoraro, an independent museologist and curator from Rome, Italy, introduced us to the “DUODOland Project and the Evolution of Museology,” emphasizing the construction of a community-centered museum. Nino Sanadiradze, the General Director of the Tbilisi Museums Union in Georgia, shared profound insights into the pivotal role played by the Union of Tbilisi Municipal Museums in shaping contemporary Georgia.

The 4th session, moderated by Clementina Nogueira from the Piaget Institute, delved into the theme of “Heritage, Community, and Schools.” It explored the intricate intersection of heritage, education, and communities, with a strong emphasis on nurturing the young generation’s involvement in preserving and comprehending our rich cultural legacy. During this session, Anna Bernardoni and Francesca Gentile from the Civico Museo Archeologico di Angera in Italy, along with Alchemilla Cooperativa Sociale, presented “Giving Childhood a Voice: Gentle Digital Technologies for a Fresh Interpretation and Storytelling of Archaeological Heritage.” They showcased a compelling case study from the Archaeological Museum of Angera, highlighting innovative methods to engage and educate young minds. Additionally, Miguel Feio from the Piaget Institute in Portugal introduced “COSMUS – Community Schools Museums,” offering insights into pioneering approaches that promote heritage, community involvement, and education within the school context.

The 5th session, moderated by Cristina Marques from the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage, shed light on the significance of “Communication as a Key to Open Museums to Communities.” This session underscored the pivotal role of communication in fostering meaningful connections between museums and the communities they serve, offering valuable insights for both museum professionals and enthusiasts. Lana Karaia, Chair of ICOM Georgia and Head of the Tbilisi State Art Academy Museum in Georgia, explored the nuances of “Museum Communication and Community Engagement in Georgia.” Her presentation illuminated the challenges and the pivotal role of effective communication in bridging museums with their local communities. Furthermore, David Felgueira, Isabel Victor, and Magda Viana shared a case study “Museum Sporting, Burgled! Sporting Clube de Portugal.” They explored innovative communication and marketing strategies that actively engage and involve the community in museum activities, creating a dynamic and interactive experience.

The 6th session, moderated by David Felismino, Chair of ICOM Portugal, focused on “The Portuguese Experience: Different Museums Engaging with Communities.” This session highlighted diverse approaches used by Portuguese museums for community engagement. The discussions stressed the importance of tailoring museum initiatives to meet the unique needs and interests of various communities, strengthening the connections between museums and the public they serve. Presenters included Silvério Figueiredo, Mário Antas, Vanessa Antunes, and Patrícia Boto from the Portuguese Centre of Geo-History and Prehistory, who shared their project focused on disseminating paleontological and prehistoric heritage to international, national, and local communities. Carlos Mouta Raposo, Director of the Air Museum, highlighted the significant role played by the Air Museum (Museu do Ar) in the communities of Sintra and Alverca. Inês Bettencourt da Câmara, along with her colleagues from Mapa das Ideias, Joana Lino, Liste Carrondo, and Black GunPowder Museum, presented “DREAM – Digital Reality for Educational Activities in Museums,” offering innovative digital approaches to engage audiences and enhance educational experiences in museums.

The event offered cultural enrichment through a musical performance and a concert held in the Ancient Royal Riding School, enhancing the experience of local culture and heritage. Attendees explored the National Coach Museum through guided visits, deepening their connection to the culture and history of Lisbon.

The conference formally concluded with an evaluation and analysis session led by a distinguished panel, including Rita Jerónimo, Sub-Director of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage from the Ministry of Culture; Pedro Florêncio, Regional Delegate of Education of Lisbon and Tagus Valley, representing the Ministry of Education and Science; Juliette Raoul-Duval, President of ICOM Europe; David Felismino, President of ICOM Portugal; João Neto, President of the Portuguese Association of Museology; and Mário Antas, the Director of the National Coach Museum. Their collective insights and reflections provided valuable takeaways and inspired new ideas for the future.

The conference’s success was a result of collaborative efforts, including the ICOM European Regional Alliance, ICOM Portugal, ICOM Georgia, ICOM Croatia, and the National Coach Museum of Lisbon. It garnered support from esteemed institutions like Lusofona University, the Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage of the Portuguese Republic, the Ministry of Culture, and the UNESCO Chair on Education, Citizenship, and Cultural Diversity.

Photo-Credit: «Filipa Alves / MNC / DGPC».

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