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ACTION-EXHIBITION: MUSEUMS, ART AND COMMUNITIES. NOTES ON THE NEW MUSEOLOGY

Andreina Fuentes (USA) and Gerardo Zavarce (Venezuela)


Abstract:


The emergence of New Museology has brought forth a variety of novel approaches to understanding the role of museums and their societal context. This article explores the intersections between action-research methodology from the field of Social Science and exhibitions to create a platform for community participation, communication, and social change. Latin American institutional practices are at the forefront of efforts to transform the traditional museum experience.


Through reflection on museums and communities, the article describes action-exhibition strategies and their impact through two case studies where the assertion of sexual diversity acted as a catalyst for a new form of citizenship.


Keywords: Latin American New Museology, Art and Communities, Museums and Active Citizenship, LGBT Social Movement, Action Research Participatory, Cultural Institutional Practices, Museum Alternatives.


The interest of Latin American museological institutions in developing methodologies that involve and engage communities in museum policies and decision-making, as well as cultural policy-making, has been evident in various exhibitions and events. One significant initiative for our local context was the Caracas Declaration: The Latin American Museum Today (1992), which underscored the museum's role as a communication medium and a platform for citizen participation.


While translating these aspirations into practice presents challenges, they reflect an institutional awareness of this reality (Georgina Decarli, 2003).


In recent years, museums' interest in fostering community participation in cultural activities has grown, with concrete proposals being implemented. Consequently, it's crucial to recognize the influence of New Museology principles on Venezuela and the development of models to articulate museum-community relationships.


The New Museology movement had its origins in two pivotal events: the Ninth General Conference of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) in Grenoble, France, in 1971, which introduced the concept of ecomuseum, and the Santiago Round Table convened by UNESCO in Santiago de Chile in 1972, advocating for experiences based on the Integral Museum concept. These events provided a framework for Latin American museologists to embark on experiences aligned with New Museology principles.


A pertinent question arises: What are the key concepts of New Museology? New Museology fundamentally transforms the traditional museum by: a) turning a building into a territory; b) converting a collection into local heritage; and c) engaging the public as a participatory community (Fernández, 2007). Additionally, various manifestos of New Museology emphasize that exhibitions serve as a form of communication both within and beyond the museum's confines.


Museum and Community


In discussing museums, art, and their relationship with communities (Ivan Karp, 1992), it's essential to define the term "community" and acknowledge the evolution of museums as subjects of study within museology. What constitutes a community? The term "community" carries multiple meanings, but for the purposes of museum strategies, we may consider it as: a) groups or sectors of society sharing common interests and specialized vocabulary, engaging in joint activities (academic, scientific, educational, sports); and b) a social group sharing attitudes, beliefs, values, common purposes, and interests they seek to communicate (common-community-communication).


A particular kind of museum for each case?


The emergence of New Museology has led to the creation of new museum typologies worldwide. In Europe and Canada, institutions like ecomuseums and economuseums have emerged, while the US has witnessed the rise of local or neighborhood museums. In Latin America, particularly in Venezuela, the integral museum proposal has given rise to community museums such as la casa del Museo Escolar in México and educational community museums in Brazil, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Colombia.


In Venezuela, various experiences such as the Rafael Bogarín renewable roadside museum, the Ecomuseo del Caroní in Puerto Ordaz, and the San Lázaro Community Museum in Trujillo State showcase innovative approaches to the museums-communities relationship without necessarily creating new museum typologies.


These experiences reflect a shift in institutional practices, emphasizing the social function of museums as public services.

The New Museology prompted a reflection on the role of museums within the social fabric. The focus was not solely on creating new museums but on transforming institutional practices to better serve the public. In Venezuela, institutions like the Jacobo Borges Museum, the Carlos Cruz-Diez Museum, and others have developed unique relationships with their communities through tailored exhibition agendas and interactive practices.


One notable initiative is the action-exhibition methodology developed by anthropologist Luis Galindo and museologist Andreina Fuentes. This approach aims to break preconceptions about museums and communities, foster community participation in museum management and discourse construction, and promote cultural democracy. The methodology encourages community members to engage in creative experiences to design exhibitions, fostering a collaborative approach to museum practices.


Action - Exhibition = Action - research + exhibition


The Action-Exhibition methodology is a result of combining two methodological approaches: action-research from the social sciences and exhibition as a form of communication within museology.

Action-research involves practices originating in communities and built through interactive processes, interventions in tangible and intangible public spaces, and exhibitions as communication strategies that generate content produced and critically evaluated by communities within the public sphere.


In this approach, curators, artists, multidisciplinary collectives, and museums engage in creative encounters, acting as participants who catalyze the experience. The methodological strategies of Action-Exhibition can extend beyond the art field and be applied in various areas such as urban planning, social inclusion, health, education, activism, and social movements.


Figure 1. Action-Exhibition Process 






Applying the methodology of exhibition-action implies respecting a set of principles which are indispensable for the work with communities, among which the following may be mentioned:


  • Solidarity: citizens working together to identify and find solutions to the problems and needs of their communities.

  • Respect: regard for the initiatives, values and cultural traditions of participating citizens and of communities.

  • Participation: Active inclusion in the various processes of production, diffusion and reception of cultural contents.

  • Cultural Democracy: exercise of cultural action as a civil, creative and dialogic practice.

  • Work networks: Exchange of knowledge and experiences, development of individual and collective skills, organization of common work agendas.

  • Planning: Encouragement of the organization and the strengthening of the various levels of social cohesion, through strategic planning of community processes. Integration into this planning of aspects related to: a) patrimony,

  • cultural heritage and

  • the individual and collective aspirations of community members, consideration of the public space and the spheres of public opinion as fields to strengthen the horizons of cultural activities.

  • Innovation: consideration of the various strategies of experimentation in the field of cultural action. In this sense, exploration of the incorporation of perspectives and tools instrumental in the development of the different fields of cultural praxis: the field of art, the social sciences, the new technologies of information and communication (TIC).


Can exhibitions transform the communities?


Álbum de Bodas and Tránsito


The exhibitions Álbum de Bodas (2004) at the Rómulo Gallegos Center for Latin American Studies (CELARG) and Tránsito (2005) at the Nelson Garrido Organization (ONG), alternative cultural spaces, serve as examples of the impact of the action-exhibition methodology in working with communities. These exhibitions aimed to use the exhibition as a tool for fostering citizenship and promoting human rights values, particularly within the LGBT communities in Venezuela.


Over the course of two years, extensive collaboration took place with individuals, groups, and institutions associated with sexual diversity. Despite not being recognized by some specialized art critics as traditional art exhibitions, they involved significant participation from visual creators and included various installations within the exhibition space. However, both exhibitions had significant impacts on both the LGBT community and society at large:


  • The first ecumenical blessing of same-sex couples in Venezuela occurred in June 2004, with a repeat in 2005.

  • Extensive national and international media coverage brought visibility to LGBT-related issues, elevating them into the public discourse.

  • Workshops on civil, economic, and cultural rights from the LGBT perspective were conducted, along with sessions for educators, parents, and families.

  • The exhibitions facilitated networking and organizational experiences among diverse LGBT groups.

  • Publications and resources focused on LGBT topics, including the first LGBT guide for Venezuela, were developed and distributed.

  • The outcomes of the First and Second Workshops on Sexual Diversity at the Universidad Central de Venezuela were presented.

  • Publications such as GAY NEWS and TRANS NEWS were disseminated as part of the exhibition.

  • Advisory and follow-up support was provided for the establishment of civil organizations aimed at supporting LGBT communities, including Divas de Venezuela, Transvenus of Venezuela, Fundación Reflejos of Venezuela, and Contranatura.

  • Active involvement in organizing and celebrating GLBT Pride Month in 2004 was achieved.



Conclusion:


Action-exhibition is a methodological strategy that transcends the precepts of the New Museology. It promotes the position of the museum outside the museum; it intends to foster cultural practices in the scenarios of social demonstrations, thence its incidence on the construction of new forms of citizenships and this result very important in Latin American contexts where social movements, inspired by the right to have rights, involve a new kind of citizenship (Evelina Dagnino, Sonia Alvarez and Arturo Escobar 1998).


Exhibitions are a form of communication and as such they can be applied outside their traditional scenarios, in other contexts, beyond the white cube. In this sense, it is important to encourage the diverse communities to participate actively, not as passive agents, in the construction of their communication codes and in the critical transformation of that complex universe of our realities.


References


Crooke, Elizabeth M. 2008. Museums and Communities: ideas, Issues and Challeges. New York: Routledge.


Davis, Peter. 1998. Eco museums: A sense of place. New York: Continuum IInternational Publishing group.


Decarli, Georgina. 2003. “Vigencia de la Nueva Museología en América Latina:


conceptos y modelos” Edición electrónica Instituto Latinoamericano de                                                       Museos.


Accessed February 13, 2010.

 

 

Evelina Dagnino, Sonia Alvarez and Arturo Escobar. 1998. “The Cultural and the Political in Latin American Social Movements”. In Cultures of politics,

politics of cultures: re-visioning Latin American social movements, 1-23. Colorado. Westview Press.


Fernández, Luis A. 2007. Introducción a la nueva Museología. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.

Fuentes, Andreina, and Carrano, Ana María. 2004. Guía GLBT. Caracas: Ediciones Abre Los Ojos.

Greenwood, Davydd J. 2000. “De la observación a la investigación-acción participativa: una visión crítica de las prácticas antropológicas”. Revista de antropología social No 9: 27-49.


Howell, Steven. 2008. A complete Guide: Montreal and Quebec. Woodstock: The Countryman Press.


Karp, Ivan (eds). 1992. Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture.



Smithsonian Institution Press.



Levin, Morten, and Greenwood, Davydd. 1998. Introducction to Action Reasearch: Social Research for Social Change. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.


About the authors


Andreina Fuentes (Venezuela, 1968) Social Museologist from José María Vargas University. She has worked as entrepreneur in art and museums management, social museology, contemporary art fairs and exhibition production. Also she develops contemporary art research, social art and community outreach. She currently head the Chill Concept Project in the city of Miami (Florida, USA).


Gerardo Zavarce (Venezuela, 1972) Bachelor of Arts from the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV). He has worked as a researcher, developer and advisor in the

area of culture and visual arts. He has taught in the departments of sociology of art,

analysis of socio-cultural reality, aesthetic seminar and community service of the arts school of the UCV. He has participated as an organizer and speaker at national and international events and collaborates permanently with various art publications. He currently serves as curator and researcher independent.




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