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2001 "Museums: building community"
"Museums: building community". The theme chosen for this year's International Museum Day was greeted with enthusiasm in all corners of the globe. The reports below certainly reflect the sense of community which prevails among ICOM members and the importance of this event for museum professionals everywhere.

The notion of "building community" is particularly relevant to museums, underlining the importance of their social rôle and recalling the definition of the museum as a permanent institution in the service of society and its development. This year's theme was interpreted in a wide variety of ways and we hope the following examples will give you some idea of the scope offered by this annual event.

A great many countries, such as Switzerland and Russia, celebrated the occasion by allowing free admission into museums and exhibitions or by organising open days. Meetings and general assemblies were held to coincide with the event. In Barbados the ICOM National Committee open day was integrated into Cultural Heritage Week and at the National Committee General Assembly in Cameroon, conference speeches were devoted to the theme and a visit to the Douala Museum was organised. Austria held a symposium of specialists in the Linz Castle Museum, who debated the current social context of the museum institution, stressing the transformations linked to the new economic rôle of the museum and the difficulties of coping with the range of demands made on museum professionals today. Peru organised a month-long programme of conferences and visits nationwide, which illustrated the importance of the museum as a catalyst for national culture and integration. Hong Kong held a highly successful "Museums Panorama" with academic and educational events as well as a programme of entertainment. In Brazil, SEM, which represents state-run museums, organised over fifty events in the regions of Rio Grande do Sul, including the third meeting of the National Committee. The programme emphasised the decentralisation and democratisation of knowledge, aimed at preserving our cultural and social memory. ICOFOM Brazil also published a greetings card on its website, which read "Solidarity is learning to work through difference. Happy International Museums Day!"

For the first time, ICOM-Germany, the German Museums' Association and regional museum groups turned International Museum Day into a nationwide event, by holding a press conference and producing a specially commissioned poster. Croatia also designed an original poster, while Spain published both a poster and a detailed leaflet explaining the theme and in Badalona opened a number of archaeological sites normally closed to the public. Iran's National Committee printed a catalogue of International Museum Day events all over the country. The Museum of Fine Arts in Paraguay held an exhibition to coincide with 18th May, dedicated "to all the museums in the world" , featuring the country's rich tradition of ceramics, the symbol of the collective memory of the Paraguayan people. Bolivia marked the occasion by producing a gift box of postcards representing the lavish exhibition of textiles held in the National Ethnological and Folklore Museum. The box included a detailed explanation of this year's theme in the Bolivian context, stressing the rôle of textiles both as everyday and ritual objects as an expression of national identity and social cohesion, through the involvement and participation of local communities.
Malta devoted 18th May to "the state of the historic heritage in Bormla (Cospicua)". A conference was organised to stir public opinion in the face of the irreparable destruction caused to Bormla's heritage, much of it destroyed for the sake of modern housing projects, and detailed proposals to protect and preserve the site were outlined before national heritage professionals and the general public.

In the United States, the American Association of Museums (AAM) sponsored an international lunch for which each staff member had to display their culinary creativity. The Cayman Islands focused on traditional arts and crafts, with a "Made in Cayman" series of exhibits in its National Museum, artwork by the island's "Native Sons" and a collection of furniture, carved entirely out of local wood, by local artist Wilbanks Miller. North Side community members brought along examples of craftwork and entertained visitors with music, food and storytelling.
In Malaysia, the celebrations were hosted by the Sabah Museums Department and there was something for all, with a sports carnival featuring staff members, a mini marathon (Muziumthon), an art competition for schoolchildren, a museum-hunt and a lucky family prize for visitors to the museum. The organisers, in cooperation with village elders, also selected Kampong Rapak in Ranau as the Museum Adoptee Village of the year. The Prague National Museum in the Czech Republic offered a wide variety of events, including puppet shows and demonstrations of ancient crafts such as lace-making, baking and straw doll weaving. The regional museums also took an active part; in the Moravian Museum visitors were shown the separation of DNA, and in the zoological reserve of Budi?ov, it was the children's turn to act as guides.
Children were also in their element with Canada's specifically designed website, featuring an interactive, bilingual treasure hunt to discover the virtual world of 23 museums and on BCB radio listeners were asked to send in a story describing the item they would like to see included in a "Virtual Roundup Museum" collection. Tomorrow's museum visitors also found plenty to do in Zimbabwe, discovering objects in imitation archaeological digs and participating in a nationwide quiz. Traditional marimba and mbira music also played a significant part in the celebrations.
South Africa's Education Museum at the Centre for Conservation Education in Cape Town interpreted this year's theme in a particularly original manner, by organising an exhibition entitled "Bugs for Africa", chosen because many insects live in communities. Flyers and posters publicised the event and worksheets were produced especially for the occasion. Staff devised a whole range of insect-related activities, such as stamping cards with insect rubber imprints, examining creatures through microscopes, creating bugs from waste materials and carrying out arthropod word-searches.

These reports are an example of the energy, enthusiasm and inventiveness of museum colleagues all over the world, who are already looking forward to next year's theme!

Articles published in: "ICOM News", Volume 54 - 2001 N°4

Updated: 30 September 2005