Die Guides des Projekts „Multaka“ © Staatliche Museen Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst

Multaqa: Museum as Meeting Point

Robert Winkler, Razan Nassreddine, Cornelia Weber, Stefan Weber,
Refugees as Guides in Berlin Museums
A collaboration between the Museum für Islamische Kunst, the Vorderasiatisches Museum, the Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst and the Deutsches Historisches Museum.

As part of the project Multaqa: Museum as Meeting Point – Refugees as Guides in Berlin Museums, Syrian and Iraqi refugees are being trained as museum guides so that they can then provide guided tours in the museums specified above for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in their native language. Multaqa (Arabic for “meeting point”) also aims to facilitate the interchange of diverse cultural and historical experiences.

Colleagues at the Syrian Heritage Archive Project at the Museum für Islamische Kunst used their networks to engage potential guides, and the project proved very popular.

Respondents came from diverse professional backgrounds; engineers, architects, artists and lawyers along with professional guides, archaeologists and conservators, giving visitors the benefit of a wide range of approaches to the artefacts.

In collaboration with the department of education, outreach and visitor services at the Staatliche Museen and the education and outreach department at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, a training program for the guides-to-be was fleshed out, based around the themes of the museums and issues of didactics and methodology. The program is aimed primarily at teenagers and young adults, but also addresses older people in mixed groups.

On one level, the guided tours make questions around historical objects relevant to contemporary debates, in order to establish a connection between the past and the present.

In the process, the guides incorporate the visitors into the process of observing and interpreting the objects. In this way, through the mutual dialogue and the consideration of their own history, the visitors become active participants. On another level, the tours focus on historical and cultural connections between Germany, Syria and Iraq.

Through the depiction of such commonalities and the incorporation into a larger cultural and historical, epoch-transcending narrative, museums have the immense opportunity to function as a connecting link between the refugees’ countries of origin and their new host country, in order to create a context of meaning for their lives here.

Through addressing visitors in clear and simple language aimed at all age groups and using peer-to-peer communication, the Multaqa project hopes to facilitate refugee access to museums, and to help them to find social and cultural points of connection, as well as to increase their participation in the public sphere.

Social media and word-of-mouth have been very effective promotional tools – guided tours have doubled since the start. In the near future, printed material will be produced to expand the reach of the project further into the public sphere, particularly targeting emergency shelters, language schools and other places where potential guides or audiences for the tours may be.

Invitations to participate regularly in future events, such as workshops, talks or special guided tours provide an additional context which integrates refugees into the project in a long-term fashion as well. In this way, right from the start, a point of vision is fostered in which cultural and historical activities are integrated into their own lived reality as an element of a productive organisation of leisure time, and an enrichment of their day-to-day lives.

In order to create awareness of the diverse cultural backgrounds of the refugees, from January 2016 Multaqa will also boost the involvement of the native population in the project.

Multaqa should be conceived of as an opportunity to foster the growth of new structures of understanding and acceptance in a heterogeneous and ethnically diverse society.

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