The power of education

Simon Stephens, 21.06.2017
Communicating the Museum in Paris
Some of the most interesting talks at this week’s Communicating the Museum conference in Paris were towards to start and near the end of the event, which this year is focusing on the power of education.

One of the speakers on the opening morning was by Danilo Miranda, who works in Brazil for an organisation called Sesc, which was founded in 1946 to deliver culture and sport.

The work of the Sesc network, which operates across Brazil, is funded by a 1.5% levy on business. There is redistributive element to this as some of the money raised goes to the poorest regions of the country.

Providing free access to culture is a fundamental part of what Sesc offers and the aim is to create as few barriers as possible to participation. Everyone is made to feel welcome, whether it is at a sports facility or an art exhibition.

The final session of the conference saw Anna Cutler, the director of learning at Tate Modern, give a very good account of Tate Exchange, a programme to explore the value of art to society that is being carried out in partnership with organisations from the arts, health, education and charitable sectors. This is an experimental initiative that is asking the public to test ideas and explore new perspectives.

Cutler was honest about the challenges of running such an open-ended and experimental programme where outcomes are often difficult to predict. But there is no doubt that the public is engaged with Tate Exchange, as 80,000 people have taken part.

Cutler says that one of the really pleasing elements is the way the programme has created a kind of civic open space for people to share and learn together.

In between the talks from Brazil and the UK, I was also inspired by Erlend Høyersten, the director of the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, talking about the innovative way his museum has been using technology to engage audiences.

It was also interesting to hear from Thomas Bastien from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Canada, who discussed the ambitious and far-reaching education programme at his museum. And I also enjoyed hearing from Peter Aerts, the head of education and communication at SMAK, a museum of contemporary art in Ghent, Belgium, about the work his organisation has been doing to engage young people.

Axel Rüger, the director of the Van Gogh Museum, discussed an interesting challenge at his gallery – having too many visitors. The Amsterdam venue is not huge for the number of visitors it attracts (2.1 million last year), and 85% of them come from overseas. So engaging local people is not easy when they have to battle their way through hordes of tourists to gain entry.

The most interesting projects at Communicating the Museum were those that were ambitious, experimental, innovative and put communities at their heart.

For more cutting-edge museum practice, come to this year's Museums Association Conference & Exhibition 2017. This year's themes are Audiences, Collections and Workforce.


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Jonathan Gammond
Access , Wrexham County Borough Museum
28.06.2017, 23:04
A levy on business to support heritage, culture and 'quality of life' - now that sounds like an idea that could be borrowed.