Putting Poverty in the Museum

Culture has become a more important consideration in the field of international development and 'development' no longer only refers to the alleviation of income poverty. Human development is 'a process of enhancing human capabilities - to expand choices and opportunities so that each person can lead a life of respect and value' (United Nations Human Development Report 2000). This means that people must be able to nurture other capabilities, including cultural ones.

It is not only development practitioners who are talking about culture now. Cultural practitioners are also increasingly talking about development, wellbeing and how important being able to exercise one's cultural rights is to living a happy and meaningful life.

This puts museums, galleries and other arts and cultural organisations into the centre of development.

Putting Poverty in the Musuem: Can museums and public galleries be agents for inclusive development?

This was the topic of a seminar attended by more than 30 cultural, community and development workers and researchers hosted by UTS Shopfront Community Program, Museums and Galleries NSW and the UTS Research Centre for Creative Economy and Cultural Practice on 31 January, 2011.

Lisa Andersen, Michael Huxley, Vanessa Kredler Participants at Poverty in the Museum seminar
L-R: Lisa Andersen, CAMRA; Michael Huxley, Museums and Galleries NSW; and Vanessa Kredler, Program Specialist, UNESCO Participants discuss the issue: 'Can Public Galleries Be Agents for Inclusive Change?'

Vanessa Kredler, Program Specialist with UNESCO's Division of Cultural Objects and Intangible Heritage, talked about her experiences working on museum capacity-building projects in Egypt to highlight some of the gaps between theory and practice. Michael Huxley, Museums & Galleries NSW, shared some of the access findings from their statewide research program, 'Guess Who's Going to the Gallery?', and participants shared their experiences and insights.

Questions on the nature of poverty - including the idea of 'capacity deprivation' - and the links between culture and development were explored. Challenges for inclusive practice include cross-cultural differences and ethics in practice.

Putting Development and Cultural Actors Together

Following widespread interest in the seminar, organisers Vanessa Kredler, Micheal Huxley and Lisa Andersen have created an online interest group here at culturemap to continue the conversation on:

  • Best practice examples of how museums, galleries and arts organisations are contributing to social change, well-being and human development.
  • What policies, strategies and partnerships are working? 
  • Who are the main players? 
  • What are the lessons learnt from experience and how can we improve our work in this area?

Vanessa Kredler says, "These organisations are involved in producing, preserving and interpreting culture and 'making meaning'. But there is not much data on how exactly these organisations are contributing. There don't seem to be any concrete policies or strategies to put together development and cultural actors."

Share your experiences and thoughts.