09 July 2012
Keynote address on museums and cultural identity
How do museums represent cultural identity in plural societies? What role does cultural policy play in shaping the role of museums?
These questions were discussed by RMIT University's Dr Ian McShane in a keynote address at a major European museums conference recently.
The EuNaMus conference, held at the University of Oslo, Norway, presented studies from around the globe on how national museums are involved in the redefinition of nation states, in an era of mass migration and globalisation.
Dr McShane is chief investigator on the ARC-funded project, Collecting Institutions, Cultural Diversity and the Making of Australia Citizenship Since the 1970s, a three-year collaboration involving RMIT, Deakin University and ANU.
A senior research fellow in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, Dr McShane said the conference in Oslo had strengthened collaboration between researchers working on the ARC project and EuNaMus, a major research project on museums in Europe.
"EuNaMus is looking at how museums in Europe are responding to major changes in the makeup of national populations through migration, the implications of those changes for cultural identity and social cohesion, and the role museums can play in encouraging reflection and dialogue," Dr McShane said.
"Because of our nation's multicultural make-up, Australian museums have been at the forefront of these important national conversations, particularly around questions of migration and cultural diversity.
"For this reason, European museum professionals, policy-makers and academics are keenly interested in the recent history of Australian museums, and developments in cultural policy more broadly."
Dr McShane said Australians could also learn much from European cultural institutions through engagement with policy settings and professional practice.
"These places are our cultural storehouses," he said.
"Museums face challenges in documenting and representing cultural heritage in diverse societies, but they are also active participants in social issues and debates.
"Making them accessible and relevant to all citizens requires supportive policy and imaginative and inclusive programming."
The conference examined the role of museums in culturally diverse societies.
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