Tuesday, 1 Nov 2022  |  Reading time:  9 mins  | Read online

Museums and local history

This week, we’re looking at museums and their importance in our communities and in promoting local, collective, and cultural heritage.

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What roles do museums play for local councillors? 

Museums are among our most treasured public institutions. They help inform a community’s view of itself, stimulate local economies and showcase items of cultural significance. They’re a source of knowledge and heritage. Overall, a museum can tighten social bonds and cohesion, wherever it’s based. 

In recent years, though, museum numbers have dwindled. While they’ve adapted to cuts in public funding — often through donations, volunteers and fundraisers — many have been forced to prioritise staying open over conservation and curation. This may harm their importance and relevance in the long term. The current cost-of-living crisis is also turning many museums into “warm banks:” heated public spaces that ease the pressure on people’s energy bills at home.  

Unfortunately, the majority of local governments will overlook the role a museum can play in their constituencies. However, in an unsettled world where learning from the past is so important, they’re valuable environments for community engagement. This week, we’re peering closer into why museums are important, the relationship between local heritage and government, and some best practices from council-run museums.

In Brief: featured content

Museums as community assets

By Laura Catchpole, LGIU Associate

What is a museum, really? And how has its role in cultural and public life changed in recent decades? A new definition by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) describes museums as a “not-for-profit, permanent institution in the service of society that researches, collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage.” Furthermore, they “operate and communicate ethically, professionally and with the participation of communities, offering varied experiences for education, enjoyment, reflection and knowledge sharing.” 

This updated definition highlights how museums are increasingly expected to prove their impact on communities. It’s an important matter for local government, too — successful museums can help councils achieve their cultural and local development objectives. But, given the cost-of-living crisis, can we realistically expect museums to be as transformative as charities and other public bodies? Our most recent edition of Glocal Local examines how these institutions can help develop local resilience and collective understanding, as well as how even the smallest museum can leave a positive effect on the people who use it. 

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LGIU Global Local Highlights

🔒 Culture, heritage and local government in Ireland: A match made in heaven?

This paper examines city and council events design and implementation during Ireland’s Decade of Centenaries from 2012-2022. It assesses the importance of cultural heritage and the role councils undertook to showcase it.
Subscribe to Global Local to read this briefing.

🔒 Heritage for inclusive growth: RSA report 

There’s a strong case for a more integrated approach to heritage and economic policy. The Royal Society for the Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA) has partnered with the British council for a special report on the topic, including case studies and discussion of local policy implications.
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Innovation & Inspiration

Curated case studies and news from around the globe

Canada: Peel Art gallery, Museum and Archives (PAMA)

PAMA celebrates the diverse arts, culture and communities in the Peel region (Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga in the Greater Toronto area), with “nothing about us, without us” — their guiding principle to represent direct communal participation in programming and exhibitions. It also actively contributes to the Region of Peel Council’s ‘Community for Life’ strategy. In 2019, having recently completed a large expansion, PAMA partnered with Museum Hack to revitalise programmes and attract new audiences. In a customised workshop, they used the museum’s objects to drive discussion, uncover personal passions, underline the importance of storytelling and encourage visitors to be active museum co-creators. In 2021, the museum set up a PAMA Youth Council to drive young people’s involvement with their culture and heritage.
PAMA / Region of Peel Community for Life strategy / Museum Hack – PAMA case study / PAM Youth

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Global Local Executive Panel: COP-26

One year on from COP-26, LGIU and VLGA bring you a panel of council chief executives from across the globe to discuss what’s happened in the last twelve months and the ongoing implications for local government of the COP-26 discussions and resolutions.

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Date: Thursday 10 November

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Policy & Resources

Mapping: City Museums Global Mapping Project 
This project aims to develop a current picture of the evolution of city museums worldwide. Its renowned research bodies are interested in learning about the different types of institutions around the globe: where they are, what they do and how they do it, as well as showing their role as key actors in contemporary urban socio-cultural scenarios.

Handbook: Making the most of your museums — for councillors Produced by the UK’s Local Government Association with Arts Council England, this handbook shares innovative case studies and advice for council-run museums on operating models, partnerships and how museums can contribute to wider local programmes.

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This week's Global Local bulletin, next week's In Brief

Our paid subscriber edition this week examines the cost of living crisis and how councils can support their most vulnerable residents.

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