Museums hold an unequalled responsibility to communicate the shared history and “cultural, political and economic ties” between Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Museums have enormous capacity to reach all levels of community, from towns to remote villages, and can be neutral spaces for building social cohesion and reconciliation in a variety of contexts. The EU-LAC Museums project created a common vision for community-based museums, and reinforced mutual understanding and cooperation between regions in line with the aims of Horizon 2020 INT12 (2015), and the EU-CELAC Action Plan.
The University of St Andrews-led research project EU-LAC Museums - Museums, Community Sustainability in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, was awarded a Europa Nostra Ilucidare Award for Cultural Heritage-led International Relations in autumn 2021.
EU-LAC Museums (2016-2021) was an international team of 35 museum professionals, researchers and policy makers across the European Union (EU) and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Since its inception in 2014 by Dr Karen Brown of the University of St Andrews in discussion with the EU and LAC Regional Alliances of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), this international collaboration has jointly developed new wisdom about museum community development, youth work, and digital curation, to examine and promote a vision of museums focused on community needs. To date, this project has successfully set-up exchanges and improved relations between 154 countries with 108,365 people engaging in person or online with the project activities and its primary web portal manged by the Portuguese partner (http//www.eulacmuseums.net).
The impressive scale of the initiative is ensured by funding of the Horizon 2020 EU Research and Innovation programme, under Grant Agreement number 693669. Project partners include the University of St Andrews in Scotland (Coordinator), International Council of Museums, the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, National Museum of Costa Rica, Austral University in Chile, University of the West Indies, University of Valencia in Spain, and National Archaeology Museum in Lisbon, Portugal.
The European Heritage-Europa Nostra Ilucidare Jury praised the value of the intercultural, intercontinental and international relations created and sustained by EU-LAC Museums:
“EU-LAC is a well-established international network that shares cultural values through the management and care for cultural buildings and monuments. Not only do they represent an international collaboration between expert organisations, the network gradually built a community with many smaller organisations in several cultural sectors in different parts of the world, creating a common language through the identification of a common goal.”
One of EU-LAC Museums’s many achievements has been their own international and interdisciplinary museum education programme. In this area, we have delivered to policy makers — including UNESCO and EU-level organisations — new scenarios for re-thinking the definition of museums and community museums in ways that accentuate their social role and potential for local development. This is increasingly relevant in the context of the current health crisis and for post-crisis recovery. Such scenarios were co-created by 125 community workshops held between September 2016 and July 2020 in all partner countries. Notably, these community workshops focused on the importance of intangible or ‘living’ heritage transferred between generations, particularly among communities in remote locations, and management in environmental crises.
Organised by the University of St Andrews Open Virtual Worlds team in Computer Science led by Dr Alan Miller, between 2016-17, 3D workshops were also held in all partner countries, leading to an impressive 129 Virtual Tours, 466 3D objects, and 67 virtual galleries, and extending to a Virtual Museum of Caribbean Migration and Memory developed with Barbados Museum and Historical Society and The University of the West Indies (http//www.eu-lac.org).
Over the years, EU-LAC Museums has undertaken many initiatives with great intra- and intercultural community impact, such as the Bi-Regional Youth Exchange Programme (September 2016 – August 2018), organised by Youth Programme Worker Jamie Allan Brown, engaging 7 community museums and 72 young people from remote and island locations in Costa Rica (part of the Network of Community Museums of America), the Porto region of Portugal and Scotland’s Isle of Skye ecomuseum. During the Bi-Regional Youth Exchange Programme, 42 workshops were organised with volunteers, community elders and young people who exchanged and shared practices across regions and opinions on issues facing their communities, e.g. climate resilience and depopulation. Another example is the international dialogue established through Caribbean museums and Higher Education in the form of exhibitions, recordings and publications on Caribbean migration to the UK.
EU-LAC Museums’ findings have led directly to the formulation of one of five new ICOM Resolutions that will determine ICOM’s actions and missions over the next three years. Entitled “Museums, Communities, Sustainability”, the Resolution was adopted at the 34th ICOM General Assembly, Kyoto, Japan (7 September 2019). In the words of the Presidents of the regional alliances of ICOM-Europe and ICOM-LAC, the Resolution: “marks a moment of change within ICOM and its understanding of the value of community museums for society."
"The EU-LAC project succeeded in developing an international network with a great impact in local areas, reaching over 1 million people, including online participants. In the form of community-led museums EU-LAC addresses interaction among civil societies on an international scale, particularly in developing countries where improved community resilience is a necessity in the face of global imbalances and rapid change.,” the Ilucidare Jury noted.
Looking forwards to future project design, one of the main elements that held our consortium together has been shared values. Partners have all been committed to the benefits of the project not resting in the large institutions receiving the Horizon 2020 award. Rather, they worked with their existing networks in more remote areas of their countries that do not usually receive recognition (such as northern Peru, or the Outer Hebridean islands of Scotland), to ensure that the project was designed and delivered to benefit local needs for heritage preservation. Although this strategy made our project more complex at the level of stakeholder engagement and co-curation, it made it more rewarding and ultimately more beneficial for everyone involved.
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