Written by Dimitra Christidou
Culture enriches and changes the lives of communities. Arts and culture enrich our education and lifelong learning, contribute to our well-being and health, empower regional and national creative industries, facilitate understanding between people from different communities, nations and backgrounds through intercultural dialogue, and contribute to the systematic attempts aiming at tackling some of the principal challenges that nations and communities are currently facing across the world. Culture enriches and changes the lives of individuals. Arts and culture enrich and inspire our lives by firing our imaginations, challenge our understandings and presumptions, and open us to reflection, debate, and critical thinking. Working with culture also enriches and changes lives, both of those invited to participate in projects and activities and of those responsible for designing and implementing these initiatives. Indeed, culture changes lives, and it has specifically changed mine.
Museums have always been my little wonderlands. Like Alice in Wonderland, I find myself often getting lost in museums, ‘unlocking’ little doors of wonder. To me, museums are places where I can, most of the time, feel at home and discover more about myself and those with whom I visit the museum. These are places where I feel moved, inspired, and often challenged. My interest in museums and other cultural institutions developed as part of my education as a historian for which I wondered around the city, visiting cultural institutions and monuments, in an attempt to understand the use of culture as a resource for nurturing national identities. During one of my visits, I met my first ‘museologist’ – a word that I had never heard before in my life. Two years after, while I was having my Masters, I was offered a PhD in science education which I rejected for I had decided to sit the national exams for a scholarship in Museum Studies. I was awarded the scholarship and, within 4 years, I was awarded a PhD in Museum Studies. Now that I look back, I think that this exact meeting with my first museologist was the reason why I actually started working for the cultural sector.
Since then, I worked as a museum educator both in Greece and the UK, and in September 2014, I landed in Sweden. Here, I work as a project manager and researcher at the Nordic Centre of Heritage Learning and Creativity (NCK), a Nordic Baltic centre located in Östersund, Sweden, which leads regional, national and international projects exploring learning through heritage. This was the exact reason why culture has changed my life; it challenged my assumptions about informal learning and allowed me to better grasp and unlock the potential of using culture as a resource for developing and honing competences and skills throughout the course of a person’s life.
The most beautiful aspect of my work lies in its interdisciplinary dimensions of the everyday work. NCK is owned by museums and archives from the Nordic and Baltic countries, with its office being situated next to Jamtli, the regional Open Air museum, and located at the building of the Regional State Archives (Riksarkivet i Östersund). This exact location allows us to bridge theory with practice and bring into discussion two different settings of informal and lifelong learning: the museum and the archives, transforming NCK into a platform for dialogue, debate and collaborations between these two settings. Both institutions are involved in the preservation of cultural heritage, which they use as a resource through which people can learn more about their history and themselves while meeting new people. An important part of our work is to help more people, and a wider range of people, to actively participate in cultural activities, and make the publics aware of the power of culture to inspire, enrich and empower.
Working with culture allowed me to grasp a better understanding of the use of culture as a resource for causing change. I aspire to promote the use of culture for lifelong learning, inclusive societies, health and well-being. Working with culture can change lives. At least, it keeps changing mine.
About the Author - Dimitra Christidou
Written by Nelly Fili
Can support be provided to enhance people’s learning if they are to engage effectively with museum collections and resources?
Defined as “a process of active engagement with experience which involves an increase in skills, knowledge, understanding, values, feelings, attitudes and capacity to reflect” (Campaign for learning, 1999 in Consultation Document, Resource 2001, para. 3.3 p.5), learning is no longer considered merely as the result of the strictly formal transmission of knowledge and information.
On the contrary, learning is now more generally recognized as an active lifelong learning process, a basic characteristic of life and a result of every experience a person undergoes. It is the process that creates the confidence, the skills, and the competence, which give people the ability to organize their lives and, at the same time, engage with society. It is the process which results in personal development and change, whether cognitive, cultural, emotional, social, sensory or physical, which is linked to the improvement of the quality of people’s lives and which definitely requires the participation of the learner.
As a result of these current notions and new approaches to learning, a radically different characterization of “education” has been adopted. Education is now concerned with fostering the capacity of people to think critically and one of its central aims is to induct people, living in the modern world, into their remarkable inheritance – physical, social, cultural.
As we entered the 21st century, there is no doubt that closer collaboration has been established between education and the museum sector and that nowadays museums represent an education resource of unique importance.
Museums, libraries and archives, with their unique collections and resources, constitute the most significant “inheritance providers” in the community and represent a valuable source of lifelong learning. They can generate social change by engaging with and empowering people to determine their place in the world and by educating themselves to achieve their own potential. Furthermore, they can provide a venue for informal learning, which plays a key role in broadening people’s understanding and awareness and is considered to be the first step on the long learning journey. So, every experience of museum collections or archive and library resources need to have the potential to be an effective learning experience something that can be achieved only if the institutions, mentioned above, provide the necessary support in order to engage, stimulate or motivate people, change their way of thinking, give them something they do not have before they come into contact with the collections and resources, and in general integrate them effectively in the process of learning (Falk & Dierking, 1992).
The kind of support we are talking about is tightly linked with the two crucial issues of access and interpretation and depends heavily on how these two interrelate. Most importantly, learning cannot be examined in isolation from access, while access must be the foundation of any learning standard (Consultation Paper, Resource 2001).
After the identification of the diversity of users, the next step is to develop more accessible and proactive collections that are user-focused and reflect multiculturalism, to enable users to enjoy and learn from them and to build a learning environment that is welcoming and supports the needs of many different people. Access is about involving the whole “community” in the learning process, including minority cultures as well as people who suffer from different forms of disability.
Apart from the access, it is essential that museums, libraries and archives present and interpret their collections and resources with creativity and imagination in order to inspire and stimulate people to learn more (Hooper-Greenhill, 2000).
The next fundamental step in supporting people, when dealing with collections and resources and their rich information about the historical, economic, social and cultural life, is to try to explain their significance in such ways in order to stimulate their intellectual creativity, maximize their educational potential, contribute to their independent lifelong learning and make the whole experience more enjoyable to them. The explanation of the significance of collections and resources and the construction of their understanding is reached through the process of interpretation.
For instance, the design of very simple displays just showing objects in a showcase and inviting at the same time the visitors to answer questions about them, in order to uncover the correct answer, is one of the most useful and thought – provoking ways of arousing interest and knowledge.
It is indispensable that museums, galleries and archives put education at the heart of their mission and develop partnerships and access policies with aims and objectives that are inter-linked to marketing, visitor facilities, financial and human resources.
The key issue is to succeed in making a powerful impact on their users, so as to evolve into institutions which stimulate and generate focus on thinking, imagining, investigating and creating; institutions which provide a bridge from instruction to enlightenment.
About the Athor - Nelly Fili