Cultural rights and cultural democracy - Museums Association

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Cultural rights and cultural democracy

Access to and participation in culture is a basic human right. Everyone has a right to representation and agency in museums, and communities should have the power to decide how they engage.

A case study from Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 27) states that everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community and to enjoy the arts.

Simply being free to people of all backgrounds is not enough on its own to eliminate barriers and inequality. At Amgueddfa Cymru, we have adopted a rights-based approach to our work, challenging inequality and championing social justice. This work focuses on three strategic areas: participation, representation and agency.

An important example of this work is the exhibition Who Decides? Making Connections with Contemporary Art – a large-scale exhibition at National Museum Cardiff. The exhibition was created with clients from the Wallich – a Welsh charity supporting homeless adults.

Over nine months, a group of ten Wallich curators worked with colleagues across the museum. A series of workshops empowered the group to lead on all aspects of Who Decides?, including selecting and interpreting objects, marketing the exhibition and delivering public programmes.

The project aspired to be an honest and open partnership of equals, questioning established values and structures. Many of the Wallich curators had never previously visited a museum, so their lived experiences brought new knowledge and skills.

The curators changed the way we see and understand contemporary art. For example, they challenged traditional interpretation approaches by writing object labels describing personal connections with the art displayed. Together we delivered an accessible, welcoming and powerful exhibition, visited by over 40,000 people.

Following the exhibition, the Wallich curators took on wider volunteering roles at the museum. Their contribution signalled new ways in which museums can become active civic spaces in our communities.

We are moving to a museum model that operates beyond its own walls. This approach places social justice at the heart of operations, co-producing relevant and engaging experiences with communities across Wales.