How can we build strong relationships between museums and remote villages? Before answering this question, one may be interested to know more about SAMP- Sociedade Artística Musical dos Pousos and its values. As a public utility institution founded in 1873, its structure was built on the foundation of a Philharmonic Band, further expanding into a Music School and implementing social intervention projects through art over the last 30 years. Nowadays, SAMP brings music and art closer to people of all ages, from the very first stage of life until their final days, promoting and contributing to each community's personal and collective well-being.
Museum in the Village is part of SAMP’s portfolio of projects. In 2019, it unfolded by the collaborative hands and minds of a group of experienced museum professionals and artists, brought together at the invitation of Leiria’s Municipal Council as part of Leiria’s application as European Capital of Culture 2027.
Museum in the Village connects 13 museums and 13 communities from 26 Portuguese municipalities, and it’s aimed at decreasing social isolation and promoting territorial cohesion among self-sufficient seniors living in rural areas with reduced accessibility to culture and art. As it is, museum professionals, artists, politicians and communities are brought together to enjoy art and culture and use it to learn, share, revive local folklore and cherish local heritage.
Museum in the Village_SAMP_Photo by Gil de Lemos
SAMP’s team works with communities, museums and artists throughout the project’s implementation, allowing for better communication and connections among everyone involved. This is achieved, first and foremost, through a reckoning stage. Villages are visited, and the elderly get to know the team and the project and decide whether or not they are interested in participating. We start building relationships through music and theatrical activities so everyone gets to know each other and shares their cultural heritage and memories. At the same time, historical and sociological investigation takes place. Once a defined number of participants is enrolled, participants work with our team and museum partners to better prepare to receive a museum object in their village.
Then, each community welcomes a masterpiece from a museum, keeping it in the heart of their village from one day up to two months. Museum masterpieces are selected according to historical and artistic relevance, both for the museum and the community. Maintenance conditions and its creative potential for the elderly are also considered in this process. The unveiling of the chosen masterpiece is celebrated with an artistic performance in each village. These temporary exhibitions occur in unexpected settings, such as inactive primary schools, a fish market, and local associations. They are looked after by the elderly, who also become its guides.
After interacting with the museum object in their village, the communities are invited to create a new artwork based on what they consider most meaningful about their village and themselves. Workshops take place, and the elderly are invited to discuss, reflect and reinterpret art pieces, becoming a beacon for new artistic creations. The artwork created by the 13 communities is inaugurated and temporarily exhibited in the museums, further extending the emotional and social impact of the project. Just as villages host museum's masterpieces, museums host their artwork. The elderly are welcomed into the museum with a performance that represents both the community and the institution, during which they enjoy the inauguration of their work and see it alongside the masterpiece that jump-started their creative process.
Finally, museums, communities, municipalities, and partners are invited to come together and celebrate the work developed over almost three years. For the first time, everyone involved gathers and meets each other at an event that offers an artistic performance, an exhibition, an interactive art installation, virtual reality, a documentary, and even the co-creation of the 14th project´s artwork. It is truly remarkable to observe the diversity of artworks that emerge in the villages, each with something very particular and special that conveys the community's engagement.
Museum in the Village_SAMP_Photo by SAMP
We consider the project innovative in light of its proposal and territorial scope. It brings an intervention model that allows for sharing knowledge and appreciating the material and immaterial Cultural Heritage of the 26 participating municipalities. Mediation through art, especially music, allows for working with Cultural Heritage on different temporal scales, relating the past, memories, legacies, and local traditions to contemporaneity while introducing new tools and collective artistic practices.
Museum in the Village received a Europa Nostra Award for its unique approach through the implementation of tailored activities according to each focus group, as commented by the Europa Nostra Awards' Jury regarding the project “The variety and tailoring of activities to each participating focus group makes the Museum in the Village project very special. In answering the specific needs and interests of young and older people, they have ensured a greater and more significant impact. The project also convincingly demonstrates the clear relationship between cultural heritage and well-being”.
This project faced several challenges even before its implementation. Its creation was led by Leiria's application as the European Capital of Culture in 2027. As such, one of the first obstacles was the lack of coordination between inter-municipal communities. To overcome this challenge, working groups were formed. The involvement of professionals from different cultural areas provided a broader scope of what could be achieved through a project like Museum in the Village and the potential structures for its implementation.
Nonetheless, COVID-19 was the biggest challenge faced by the project, as cultural exchange between municipalities and building bonds with the participants was at the very core of this project. Our team of experienced professionals and the support of municipal partners was essential to get the elderly to trust the project and keep them coming to the workshops. Despite these barriers, the pandemic made it more urgent to find new ways to reduce and prevent higher levels of social isolation.
To succeed in implementing this project, it was necessary to establish common goals and guidelines, constantly reassess strategies and methodologies and adapt them according to the current reality and its social transformations. This project features several resources that can be shared: a dissemination notebook, an exhibition catalogue, an impact evaluation, and a virtual museum. As for future goals, we would like to invert the dynamic of the municipalities involved. The municipalities that participated with a museum would participate with a community and vice versa.
This collective work went beyond implementation, revealing opportunities for sharing experiences and creating new methodologies in a large inter-municipal and multidisciplinary environment. Museum in the Village is promoted by SAMP, co-financed by PO ISE - Portugal 2020, through Portugal Inovação Social, has Câmara de Leiria as a Social Investor and counts on Rede Cultura 2027 as a partner that connects the 26 counties that belong to the network. It also counts on the support of Politécnico de Leiria and União de Freguesias de Leiria, Pousos, Barreira e Cortes.
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