One wouldn't naturally think to look to rural Canada for best practice on community involvement in museums but this case study from the Peace River Museum, Archives, and Mackenzie Centre offers an intriguing look at diverse community engagement. This is also interesting because the definitions of 'community' are wide ranging - in this case local, regional, Aboriginal, and non-Aboriginal groups.
The artist and museum curators worked together to identify who they thought would be interested in viewing the content. To me, this is a critically different approach than understanding who an audience might be. By focusing on who would be interested in seeing items, the museum could expand the definition of 'community' to include the local population but also other Aboriginals across the region, such as Aboriginal inmates at the Peace River Correction Centre. Their work with multiple communities in crafting an exhibition highlights how partnerships can develop ways of honouring strong local cultural practices whilst influencing attitudes toward museum exhibitions.
Our ongoing work with the Science Museum and Wellcome Trust has suggested that understanding what motivates communities to attend museums and how to encourage positive attitudes towards content can be challenging. We've found that the key can often be including diverse communities in parts of the curatorial process. This is something that Nina Simon's blog and her critical look at community involvement in museums in The Participatory Museum have explored in detail. And it's also something that, I believe, they've really championed in rural Alberta.
The Alberta Museums Association's Community Engagement Initiative (CEI) works towards incorporating community engagement into programs