ICOM 2013 | A Brief Digest

Museums (Memory+Creativity) = Social Change

The 37th Annual Conference of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 10-17 August 2013 with nearly 1900 delegates from 103 countries, including, for the first time, non-members. ICOM comprises about 30,000 individual members affiliated to 112 national committees and it plays a catalytic role in disseminating museological knowledge and global experiences of museum professionals.

Cidade das Artes

The main venue for the Conference – ‘Cidade das Artes’ – is an interesting modern architectural icon located some 20 km south of central Rio de Janeiro [see image above]. However, many of the 31 ICOM committees held parallel meetings at various museums in Rio de Janeiro during the week, which resulted in an Annual Conference that was largely dispersed between distant locations.

The main theme of the Conference was Museums (Memory+Creativity) = Social Change, which mirrored the current debate here in the UK about the social relevance of museum activities.  My presentation on the ‘Effects of heritage conservation on society at large’ presented at the ICOM Conservation Committee meeting (ICOM-CC) focused on personal impressions gathered during the last two years as Museum Association (MA) London representative and member of the London Museums Group, and drew on the findings of the MA’s ‘Museums 2020’ campaign and its resulting survey (Public Perceptions of – and attitudes to- the purposes of museums in society), as well as the LMG’s Share London and Share Academy. I also discussed the current London museums initiatives aimed at making the museum community more resilient and socially relevant, especially during the hard economic times we have experienced in the UK and Europe for the last half decade.

The Share London scheme attracted particular interest as the concept of volunteering one’s professional skills and ‘institutional’ time to help out other institutions was met by many in the audience with some surprise. Some people were concerned that a strong reliance on volunteers would corrode the rare opportunities for employment for museum professionals.

Among the many subjects and initiatives presented at the meeting, I was particularly impressed by the ‘Pontos de Memoria’ (Memory Points) Programme, a collaboration between the Ministry of Education of Brazil, the Organization of Ibero-American States and the Brazilian Institute of Museums (Ibram) programme, which is being developed in many local communities around Brazil and abroad (http://www.museus.gov.br/programa-pontos-de-memoria/).  Aimed at capturing the ‘social memory’ of local communities, the ‘memory points’ are ‘popular museums’ organized with the assistance of fellowship-holders from the Programme. Open to all citizens, informal events are organized to discuss and document cultural aspects that characterize the communities, representing their heritage and identity. The programme aims at supporting initiatives that empowers and promotes local communities, fostering regional tourism and sustainable development of regional communities. It also helps minority communities to develop a sense of pride and social belonging.

A positive mood dominated the Conference, perhaps influenced by the climate of celebration and optimism within Brazil about the important role museums play as agents of social change and sustainable development in the country.

The next ICOM Conference will be in Milan in 2016. I would encourage you to attend!

Martha Richter, Collections Manager, Natural History Museum, London, Museums Association’s London representative (@Londonrep_ma), LMG member

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