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Museums and Cultural Diversity: Policy Statement

Contact: crosscultural@icom.museum

Report of the Working Group on Cross Cultural Issues of the International Council of Museums (ICOM)

Presented at the 89th session of the Executive Council of ICOM on December 1997


In 1972, participants at the meeting of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) in Santiago, Chile, argued that museums should become an integral part of societies around them. This is reflected in the 1974 revision of the ICOM definition of a museum with a clear statement that the museum should be an institution in the service of society and its development.

This new spirit and the promotion of the ideals of cultural democracy have led to the opening of museums to a number of community centred initiatives and concerns. In the past two decades issues over the repatriation of human remains and sacred objects, have led to the drawing of new equations in the relationships between museums and indigenous peoples in different parts of the world. The search for relevance and new audiences and increasing global population shifts have also led to new challenges for museums to address issues in multicultural contexts.

During the Quebec General Conference of ICOM in October 1992 the Advisory Committee recommended that a Working Group be established to address cross-cultural issues impacting on museums. Accordingly, at its December 1992 meeting, the Executive Council has established a Working Group on Cross Cultural Issues (WGCCI). It was mandated with the following primary terms of reference to:

  • to examine and report on the ways that museums throughout the world are addressing the wide range of issues with cross cultural dimensions and to propose guidelines for adoption by ICOM concerning the way that museums should endeavour to deal with cultural diversity in general and indigenous and multicultural issues in particular; and
  • to make recommendations concerning the ways that cross-cultural perspectives should be reflected in the work of ICOM and its committees.

Membership of Working Group

The following membership was endorsed at the meeting of the ICOM Executive Council in December, 1992:

Dr. Amareswar Galla (Chairperson), Prof Patrick Boylan (Vice-President of ICOM, Executive Council member) , Mr Emmanuel Arinze (Nigeria), Fr. Gabriel S.Casal (Philippines), Ms Alissandra Cummins (Barbados), Sra. Lucia Astudillo de Parra (Ecuador), Mr Saroi Eoe (Papua New Guinea), Ms Nancy Fuller (USA), Mr Tom Hill (Canada), Prof Pascal Makambila (Congo), Ms Nima Smith (UK), Prof Tomislav Sola (Croatia), Mr. Avshalom Zemer (Israel)

Modus operandi

It was envisaged by the Executive Council that the principle mode of operation for the Group will be through correspondence. The WGCCI advertised its mandate in the ICOM News in 1993. Members have taken further initiatives and participated in a range of meetings, symposia, conferences and workshops. Participation was mainly through the normal professional activities of the members. There has been a sustained effort to raise issues and solicit feedback for the mandate of the WGCCI.

The following is a small selection of the forums in which the relevant issues were addressed:

  • Curatorship and Indigenous Peoples, Victoria, BC, Canada, 1994
  • Asia Pacific Regional Assembly of ICOM, Sydney, 1994
  • Living Cultures and Living Traditions, Honolulu, 1993
  • PREMA (Preventive Conservation for Museums of Africa) Programme of ICCROM, 1993-
  • Joint meeting of  ICOMOS, World Heritage Committee & ICCROM Joint Meeting on Cultural Diversity and Authenticity,  Nara, Japan, 1994
  • Commonwealth Association of Museums, Gaborone, 1995
  • Caribbean Museums Association Meeting, Belize, 1994
  • ICTOP (ICOM Training Committee) Meeting, Rio De Janeiro, 1993
  • International Forum on City Museums, London, 1993 and Barcelona, 1996
  • Indigenous Initiative for Peace, UNESCO, Paris, 1994
  • Regional consultations of the World Commission for Culture and Development,1995
  • General Assembly, International Council of Museums, Stavanger, Norway, 1995

Overview of Findings

Museums across the world are currently going through various phases of transformation as we move towards the turn of the century. This process which is an integral part of the cultural systems of different countries and regions puts museums on a developmental course that could eradicate past and present inequalities in cultural representation of diverse peoples. If culture, as pointed out by the Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development, published in 1995, 'is understood as the basis of development', it follows that sustainable development will only be possible if it is acutely sensitive to, and profoundly inspired by the history and cultures of all people in the global village.

Thus, beyond the traditional view of culture as either an impediment or facilitator of development, it is now accepted that political, social and economic development can not be divorced from the human and cultural context of any society. Thus while changes in museums are aimed at achieving equity in access to resources and opportunities, the underlying objective is to achieve higher levels of excellence in all spheres of life by engaging the entire population and drawing on the full diversity of local culture, heritage, experience and knowledge.

The following ten key issues are central to the way museums throughout the world are addressing the wide range of issues with cross cultural dimensions. They are not in any order of priority.

  • Increasing recognition that Cultural diversity is a historical and social reality at the local, regional, national and global levels and that museums should reflect the cultural diversity of the clientele constituencies. The cultural diversity of different nations is a rich inheritance of humanity that will endure as the central pillar for peace, harmony and cultural sustainability of the world. The promotion of this global inheritance through the processes of cultural pluralism is the responsibility of all societies. There is a fundamental need to acknowledge that all cultures and their manifestations are equally valid in a culturally democratic world. Within this context museums in different parts of the world are exploring ways of relating to community cultural and economic development, the sense of place, identity and self-esteem of different people.
  •  Exploration of inclusive museology which has the capacity to address different contextual frameworks of cultural diversity including a multiplicity of interactions and cultural borders. These borders include race, ethnicity, colour, gender, class, age, physical ability, regions, location, language, faith, creed, economic status, sexual preference and so on.
  • Increasing awareness about the cultural needs of minorities, indigenous populations and 'societies in transition' who have experienced disempowerment through displacement, dispossession and the ravages of war. The particular concerns of minorities whose cultural self-esteem and hence well-being is at risk through a process of overt or covert marginalisation in mainstream societies are being addressed by museums in different parts of the world. There is an increasing demand to address the post-colonial position of transplanted populations, such as the descendants of slave trades and indentured labour practices, and their disadvantaged inheritance due to the practices of colonialism and imperialism through the promotion of cultural exchanges between root and diasporic cultures. The international museum community is also playing an active role in the reconstruction and development of institutions ravaged by recent developments in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.
  • Increasing recognition of the homogenising and universalising tendencies of a cultural discourse that fails to recognise the cultural borders of gender and ethnicity. The ethno specific nature of women's issues in both cultural and developmental concerns are yet to be properly understood. The urgent need is to consider the spectrum of cultural and developmental concerns of women working to critique histories of race, culture, ethnicity and gender in different parts of the world. The need to address the interface of gender and ethnicity and equity in gender participation are concerns that are poorly addressed in planning and developmental processes of museums. While there is a recognition for the universal considerations of gender discourse, there is still very little effort at trying to understand the ethno specific contexts of gender situations. This has led to situations of cultural alienation and further marginalisation of women in many parts of the world. This is further compounded when intersections of gender and ethnicity include sexuality. Ethno specific concerns of gender and sexuality are an integral part of cultural justice discourse.
  • In some parts of the world museums are addressing gender, culture and developmental concerns through :
    • Forums for the development of a critique of race, gender and ethnicity based on the cultural, theoretical and practical concerns of women in different parts of the world so as to develop a discourse of gender inclusivity in pluralistic contexts.
    • Profiling projects that address the intersections of ethnicity, gender and sexuality.
    • The right to self-empowerment, artistic and cultural achievement of women of different cultural backgrounds, artistic and cultural heritage values.
  • Museums are increasingly challenged to address cross cultural generational concerns through being relevant to children, young people and senior citizens in multicultural societies. There are several countries that are concerned about aging populations. Some of these are developing projects and policies on what is called 'successful aging'. The cultural background of aging populations is a recognised concern in addressing developmental approaches to planning in cities. Museums are becoming aware of the need to participate in such initiatives. Similarly the challenges to establishment museums to make themselves relevant to new generations of children and young people and the concerns of governments with high levels of youth unemployment have led to a new focus on children's and youth arts and cultural projects across the world. Museums should connect to play a seminal role where the confidence and cultural self-esteem of youth are coupled with the creation of cultural industry employment opportunities in innovative ways.
  • Museums addressing concerns of cultural democracy are endeavouring to develop frameworks for ensuring that the mainstream cultural development is integrative, not assimilationist, and that there are best practice frameworks built on genuine commitment to being inclusive. This approach to diversifying mainstream museological practice will be critical to negotiation platforms that ensure economic development contributes to the enrichment and not the erosion of cultural and heritage value systems. One of the binary oppositions that continues to haunt cultural and developmental concerns is the dichotomy of cultural maintenance and cultural development. Cultural maintenance or living heritage concerns of language preservation, promotion of voices, values and traditions are central to ensure that the cultural and economic outcomes of developmental concerns are in the best interests of local, regional, national and global cultural diversity. Cultural development is best perceived as a dynamic concern when it contributes to furthering the self-esteem and sense of place of the particular contexts. Thus the non-duality of cultural maintenance and cultural development should be emphasised as a dynamic process in all contexts as an integral part of community cultural development. The role of museums as catalysts in community cultural development is a concern across the world. The role of community cultural centres as hubs of such development is being debated, discussed and recognised.
  • Museums are increasingly using networking and cultural exchanges as critical tools for effective cultural and economic communication and sharing of different approaches to overcoming difficulties, achieving pluralistic objectives and enhancing organisational performance. There is an increasing demand for museums to develop networking frameworks for addressing concerns of cultural diversity. However, the international profiling of model projects or case studies is very poor. There is an urgent need to share and exchange ideas and models on the different approaches to achieving a balance between culture, diversity, heritage and development concerns.
  •  New technologies have become a global developmental reality for museums across the world irrespective of their economic contexts. However, the question of the accessible interface with these new technologies and their cultural impacts have not been addressed. While information technologies will provide better access to services and cultural exchanges, several issues such as the possible global exploitation of intellectual and cultural property rights, the imposition of dominant value systems of those in positions of privilege with the new technologies and the actual control of the technologies are yet to be addressed within the context of museums, culture and development. Proactive measures are needed to ensure that the North South dichotomy is not accentuated by the impact of new technologies. It is clear that an alliance of culture and development must ensure that there are information technology mechanisms for addressing the heritage concerns of minorities and global cultural diversity. Science and technology education also needs to be further developed in several countries through museums addressing the challenges of the new information society.
  • Increasing recognition of the need for museum management practices through addressing cultural pluralism and best practice frameworks. There is a need to promote museums to adopt the basic principle of best practice that ensures a generally pluralistic corporate culture. Organisations that are committed to cultural diversity should nurture a corporate culture that is reflective of the pluralistic nature of the clientele populations. Best practice frameworks could be used as management tools for bringing about change and developing a pluralistic corporate culture. Case studies that demonstrate organisational performance should be show cased and shared. With dwindling state support for museums across the world, addressing the balance between cultural economics and cultural equity agendas will be the biggest challenge for the twenty first century and museums should be positioned to address this challenge.
  •  Museums have increasingly become forums for the promotion of community relations and peace. In addressing the problems of the world created due to inadequate cross cultural understanding, historical fears and ethnic tensions, museums are increasingly connecting with the important role that they can play in the promotion of cultural understanding through negotiated activities driven by community relations strategies.


Recommendation A:

That the International Council of Museums (ICOM) accept this report as a flexible and ongoing document which provides a departure point for addressing cross cultural issues through constructive means.

Recommendation B:

That the Executive Council of  ICOM endorse the change of the name of the group from Working Group on Cross Cultural Issues (WGCCI) to Cross Cultural Taskforce (CCT) in order to reflect the task oriented work based on the strategic plan.

Recommendation C:

TThat the Executive Council of  ICOM  agree to the Chairperson of the CCT in consultation with the Secretary General of ICOM, co-opting specialist on particular projects and applying for project based resources from appropriate agencies.

Recommendation D:

That the International Executive Council of ICOM agree to accountability for the CCT work through regular progress reports to the Council for its biennial meetings.

Strategic Plan

Cross Cultural Taskforce: Aims and Objectives

  • continue to examine and report on the ways that museums throughout the world are addressing the wide range of issues with cross cultural dimensions;
  • develop inclusive approaches and guidelines concerning the way that museums should endeavour to deal with cultural diversity in general and indigenous and multicultural issues in particular; and
  • advocate and make appropriate recommendations concerning the ways that cross cultural perspectives should be enhanced in the work of ICOM and its committees.


The work of the Cross Cultural Taskforce of the Executive Council will be guided by the following seven principles:

1. CULTURAL DIVERSITY:  Recognition and affirmation of cultural diversity at the local, regional and international levels and the reflection of this diversity in all policies and programs of museums across the world.

2. PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY:  Promotion of heritage representation with active input from all stakeholders through appropriate processes of consultation, negotiation and participation.

3. COOPERATION AND COORDINATION:  Cooperation and coordination to share projects and enhance cultural exchanges so as to maximise on resources and expertise at the regional and global levels.

4. PEACE AND COMMUNITY BUILDING:  Promoting the sense of place and identity of diverse peoples through the appreciation of their diverse inheritances and the fostering of a shared vision inspired by the spirit of reconciliation.

5. INNOVATION AND INSPIRATION:   Fostering of creativity and the development of challenging approaches to stimulate inclusive heritage consciousness in multicultural societies.

6. CAPACITY BUILDING:   Directed and sustained endeavours to increase the operational capacity of museums to respond to transformation and changes in multicultural societies with vigour and insight.

7. RESOURCEFULNESS:   Maximisation on the ways that will encourage the diversification of resources to address competing demands of cultural equity concerns and cultural economics.

Strategic Action Plan

A. Key Result Area - Capacity Building

Creating an effective program for the development of the capacity of museums to address cross cultural issues.

Strategic Objective:  to establish a strategic program for the development of skills and competencies of museum workers across the world for addressing cross cultural issues

Strategy:   The Executive Council will pursue through the Cross Cultural Taskforce and relevant International Committees of ICOM strategic ways to empower members of ICOM with the capacity to address and manage cross cultural issues in an efficient, effective, sustainable and professional way.

Strategic Initiatives

A.1. In the revision of ICOM Syllabus by ICTOP, consider approaches to the inclusive training of personnel.

A.2. Establish a special project on the skills and competencies required for the development and promotion of science and technology education through museums in multicultural societies.

A.3. Promote Regional Schools of Inter Cultural Museology through the Regional Organisations of ICOM.

A.4. Establish relevant cross cultural professional development programs for regional clusters of countries through distance education or modular delivery combined with work place skills development.

A.5. Develop regional nodal points through existing training resource centres which enable members to access both regional and international materials for cross cultural curricula development.

Performance Indicators

Short Term:

  • enhanced individual skills and competencies of museum workers and their managers
  • a complementary mix of skills within museum organisations which is specifically directed to addressing cross cultural issues
Long Term:
  • a broadening of museum clientele across cultural groups
  • an increased diversity of presentation materials drawing on the resources of different cultures

B. Key Result Area - Development of Inclusive Museology

Promoting a museological discourse that is inclusive of indigenous and cross cultural concerns being addressed by museums across the world.

Strategic Objective:   Development and promotion of Inclusive Museology.

Strategy:   The Executive Council will develop through the Cross Cultural Taskforce and the relevant International Committees of ICOM approaches to promoting Inclusive Museology, including the profiling of identified best practices that can be applied to different environments.

Strategic Initiatives

B.1. Consider the possibility of extending the Definition of a Museum in the ICOM Statutes so as to include Cultural Centres that deal with preservation, conservation and interpretation of heritage values.

B.2. Encourage action research projects for the promotion of Inclusive Museology.

B.3. Develop a framework for understanding and engaging with diverse notions of aesthetics in art museums.

B.4. Develop and distribute a detailed Issues Paper for discussion by the International and National Committees of ICOM.

B.5. Negotiate with the Editor of Museum International for a special issue on cross cultural issues.

B.6. Negotiate with the Secretary General for producing small scale publications assisting the promotion of cultural diversity in museum practice E.g. Indigenous People and Museums as part of the Study Series.

B.7. Initiate discussions for an inclusive museological text with commercial publishers.

Performance Indicators

Short Term:

  • increased diversity of background amongst museum workers and their managers, better reflecting the range of race, ethnicity, class, gender and faith found in the client community
Long Term:
  • increased diversity of museum users, better reflecting the range of race, ethnicity, class, gender and faith found in the client community

C. Key Result Area - Cooperation and Coordination - Inter Cultural Exchanges

Promotion of cooperation and coordination for inter cultural exchanges and mutually enriching partnerships between members.

Strategic Objective:   Promotion of Inter Cultural Exchanges based on the principle of cooperation and coordination to address key cross cultural concerns and share experiences and constructive projects.

Strategy:   The Executive Council will develop through the Cross Cultural Taskforce and relevant International Committees of ICOM an Inter Cultural Exchange agenda to empower members of ICOM with the capacity to address cross cultural issues and further the cooperation and coordination of the global museum community.

Strategic Initiatives

C.1. Promote interdisciplinary dialogue and approaches through the International Committees of ICOM for enabling meaningful intercultural exchanges.

C.2. Negotiate with regional, national and international organisers of meetings, workshops, exhibitions and conferences of cultural agencies to address the benefits of inter cultural exchanges.

C.3. Increase support for smaller regional clusters of countries such as those covered by the Museums Association of the Caribbean and the Pacific Island Museums Association.

C.4. Stimulate and promote research on the understanding of cultural diversity in regional, national and international contexts.

C.5. Establish a program through strategic partnerships to raise global museum awareness about the role and needs of indigenous peoples in the preservation of their heritage.

C.6. Promote heritage projects that address the links between root and diasporic cultures.

C.7. Promote exchange of museological projects dealing with gender and ethnicity.

C.8. Explore the feasibility of designated cultural exchanges through museums for projects dealing with the heritage values and concerns of children, young people and senior citizens.

Performance Indicators

Short Term:

  • museums expand their range of partnerships and networks for cultural exchange
  • museum workers and their managers enhance their awareness of cultural diversity and linkages
Long Term:
  •  presentation of cultural resources draws on an increased range of perspectives, including cross-cultural viewpoints, comparison of cultural values, and viewing resources from a multiplicity of viewpoints

D. Key Result Area -Cross Cultural Museum Communication

Promotion of communication between members and museums of ICOM for sharing of cross cultural ideas and projects and developing effective ways of maximising benefits from the use of new technologies for the promotion of cultural diversity.

Strategic Objective:  To promote ICOM Cross Cultural Communication activities to empower members of ICOM with the capacity to address cross cultural issues.

Strategy:   The Executive Council will, through the Cross Cultural Taskforce and relevant International Committees of ICOM promote Cross Cultural Communication activities to address key cross cultural concerns, share experiences and projects and engage in a constructive dialogue.

Strategic Initiatives

D.1. Negotiate with the Editor of ICOM News for regular contributions through a Cross Cultural Museum Column - including a "Marketplace of Ideas" and projects.

D.2. Negotiate with the Editor of Museum International for regular contributions on cross cultural dimension of museums that are relevant to the particular focus of different issues.

D.3. Establish a Web Page on Cross Cultural Issues.

D.4. Develop the criteria and a discussion document for consideration of the Executive Council to provide endorsement to multimedia products including CDs that promote cultural diversity in museums and associated heritage agencies.

D.5. Consider the establishment of a focus through the ICOM Documentation Centre for members to send information, publications and project reports that deal with relevant cross cultural issues.

D.6. Negotiate with key publishers in different languages to commission manuals, texts and readers focusing on cross cultural heritage concerns.

Performance Indicators

Short Term:

  •  museums draw on external assistance to address challenging concerns or develop innovations
  • common challenges and opportunities are identified by museums, leading to joint strategies and actions
Long Term:
  • information about individual or joint initiatives and their relative success is disseminated to other museums on a regular basis

 E. Key Result Area - Policy Development

Continuous policy development that informs cross cultural dimension of the development of museums.

Strategic Objective:   Policy development for ensuring that cross cultural Issues are addressed as an integral part of mainstream museum development initiatives.

Strategy:   The Executive Council will, through the Cross Cultural Taskforce, address relevant aspects of cross cultural policy development and coordination covering all appropriate areas relating to museums.

Strategic Initiatives

E.1. Draft a discussion document through the National Committees of ICOM for the development of inclusive membership.

E.2. Consider modifications or additions to the ICOM Code of Ethics through the Ethics Committee of ICOM in addressing clearly identified cross cultural issues.

E.3. Invite National Committees of ICOM to send to the ICOM Documentation Centre copies of their national cultural policies, museum policies and any other relevant documentation that deals with policies in relation cross cultural issues, especially Indigenous and Multicultural concerns.

E.4. Encourage regional organisations to address during regional assemblies as to how best they can address cross cultural concerns in partnership with member countries by focusing on common agendas of their national policies.

E.5. Promote discussions and seminars on Museums and Cultural and Heritage Tourism so as to encourage responsible tourism development.

E.6. Initiate liaison with ICOMOS, World Heritage Centre, ICCROM and WIPO for addressing common cross cultural concerns.

E.7. Develop discussion documents for the membership of ICOM based on the UN Draft Declarations on the World' Indigenous People and the Rights of Minorities in relation to museums and cultural rights issues.

E.8. Consider the establishment of sponsored international awards for model museum policies that promote cultural diversity.

Performance Indicators

Short Term:

  • individual museums are aware of policies being developed, and feel able to contribute
  • policy development draws on the broad range of experience of museums, and their appreciation of implementation issues
Long Term:
  • policies are developed which are useful in guiding decision making and resolving problems for individual museums
  • there is broad support amongst museums for the policies that have been developed

F. Key Result Area -Resource Development

Development of a resource base or fund for promoting the cross cultural dimension of museums.

Strategic Objective:  To develop an enabling environment for members in countries where economic constraints may impinge on effective development of cross cultural dimension of museums.

Strategy:  The Executive Council will, through the Cross Cultural Taskforce, develop a feasibility study addressing a resource enhancement strategy for the promotion of cultural diversity with particular reference to regions and countries that face economic constraints in the development of cross cultural approaches in museums.

Strategic Initiatives

F.1. Resourcing of a feasibility study that takes into consideration the following:

  • development of funds for regional museum development and cooperation on cross cultural issues
  • identification of potential donors that are prepared to commit themselves to the promotion of cultural diversity through museums
  • sponsorship projects between countries with established museum infrastructure and those which need assistance
  • criteria for accessing ICOM sponsored resource base assistance for the promotion of cross cultural issues.
F.2. Conduct a study into the impact of dwindling government support on the smaller organisations, especially those dealing with indigenous and multicultural concerns.

F.3. Develop through ICTOP Train the Trainer initiative an intensive program of development focussing on long range programming, board management for strategic development and rigorous fiscal planning for small organisations that are dealing with indigenous and multicultural heritage.

Performance Indicators

Short Term:

  • identified strategies for broadening the resource base of individual museums, involving the private as well as the public sector, and drawing on community resources
  • identified opportunities for commercialising museum functions in ways which will not prejudice their core objectives and values
Long Term:
  • practical guidelines used by individual museums seeking to expand their resource base or otherwise commercialise their operations

Prepared for discussion by International Council of Museums (ICOM): Museums and Cultural Diversity  Working Group on Cross Cultural Issues , April 1997, and to be forwarded to the ICOM General Assembly, Melbourne, Australia, October 1998 for consideration and adoption.

Comments should be addressed to the Secretary-General of ICOM or the Chair of the Working Group (address below) or to the Chairperson of your ICOM National or International Committee.

Contact details:

Professor Amareswar Galla, Ph.D
Chairperson, Cross Cultural Taskforce,ICOM
PO Box - 3175 Manuka,
ACT 2603 Australia
Fax +61 2 6298 3908
Email: A.Galla@anu.edu.au
Updated: 22 November 2005