by Clara Rice (Jack Rouse Associates), special to InPark Magazine
At this week’s American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo, attendees noticed an increasingly international flavor to the annual event. Learning sessions were translated into several languages and carried such titles as “Lessons from the International Community”, “A Scottish Perspective: Creating a Story-Based Museum ” and “Global Focus: Stories of Museums and Armed Conflict”. The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture booth towered above the MuseumExpo floor, and the Ibero-American Pavilion featured museums from Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and other Central and South American countries. But what does all this mean for the American Alliance of Museums?
[box] Read Clara’s report from AAM [/box]
According to Dean Phelus, Sr. Director of International Programs, AAM’s commitment to spurring international dialogue on museum issues is not a new phenomenon. He pointed to Museums Connect, a program begun in 2008, that partners US museums with their international counterparts on projects of mutual interest and strong community engagement. Through monies provided by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, Museums Connect supports ten projects annually, ranging in budget from $50,000 to $100,000 and covering a wide range of topics. For one project, the Scripps Aquarium collaborated with its sister aquarium, the National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium in Taiwan, to create coral reef environments that could be shared in schools, educating children in the preservation of these delicate ecosystems. Another project paired a delegation of Pueblo Native Americans with Smithsonian staff to complete a field study on petroglyphs at the Gobustan National Historical-Artistic Preserve in Azerbaijan.
In 2010, AAM fostered a partnership between the Smithsonian and the Chinese Museum Association to create a series of programs of interest to Chinese museum leaders and bring Chinese delegates to the United States. Phelus explained that China is on track to build 300 museums per year, but their staff members have little to no professional training on how museums are operated or the role they play in communities. “We look forward to developing this first generation of Chinese museum professionals,” said Phelus, “we’ve enjoyed bringing international colleagues to the Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo and connecting them with our members.” Phelus said that in future years, China would like to host its own expo, also featuring educational sessions and an exhibition hall, to create its own national museum community.
Since 2011, AAM has also developed a strong relationship with the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (KACWC) in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The Center, an initiative of petroleum corporation Saudi Aramco, will be a state-of-the-art institution, featuring a “library of the future”, archives, children’s museum, café, gift shop and natural history museum. As with China, AAM is helping train Saudi Arabia’s emerging museum professionals. The Center for the Future of Museums, an arm of AAM focusing on museum trends, challenges and opportunities, hosted a strategic forecasting workshop for the KACWC leadership team this past January, with more planned for the future. Additionally, an international internship program places KACWC professionals in U.S. museums for four- to six-week professional development experiences.
As mentioned in our AAM overview article, the 2013 MuseumExpo marked the debut of the Ibero-American Pavilion, which showcased museums from throughout Central and South America. The goal of the pavilion was to introduce US museums to the rich cultures of Ibero-America, while creating a cross-cultural conversation on best practices. The pavilion tied in with Annual Meeting session case studies from Argentina, Mexico and Peru, as well as conversations on how American museums can best communicate about cultures outside of their own. One delegate from Mexico said she benefited greatly from the experience: “The pavilion was a wonderful way to meet professionals from the United States and other Ibero-American countries,” she said. “It really helped me connect the dots between different museum concepts.”
Regarding future international initiatives, AAM wants to deepen its relationships with its international colleagues, but also wants to ensure that the conversation on museum excellence is a bilateral and collaborative undertaking. “We want to make sure we’re not just sharing, but learning,” Phelus said. “While we want to continue to communicate the best practices of U.S. museums, we also want to create a richer conversation that informs our work and theirs. The ultimate goal is to foster a shared understanding of museum operations and practices around the world.”
Clara Rice is JRA’s (Jack Rouse Associates) Assistant Project Manager. She has contributed to InPark Magazine before.