Museums are best known for displaying powerful exhibits and artifacts, but through Museums Connect, they also facilitate face-to-face interactions and engagement with local communities. As an initiative of the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), Museums Connect pairs cultural institutions in the United States with partners abroad through projects that involve community members – particularly youth – to reach beyond institutional walls and focus on important topics such as climate change, women’s empowerment, disability awareness, and civic engagement.
From September 29 – October 1, 2014, representatives from nine American museums met with their overseas counterparts in Washington, D.C. during the 2014 Museums Connect Colloquium to discuss how they will implement year-long projects, best practices, and program objectives. The Colloquium was held by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and ECA’s senior leadership.
“It’s the ability to bridge cultural divides that makes museums such strong partners in conducting the State Department’s essential work in cultural diplomacy,” said John Wetenhall, member of the AAM board. Museum officials presented two projects from the past year to exemplify the success of the program. Two museums focused on the African diaspora in Brazil and Maryland by exploring the shared history of the transatlantic slave trade, which provided its student participants with a wider variety of academic and cultural resources as well as the opportunity to connect and exchange knowledge with each other. In New York, a museum in Queens partnered with Museo ICO in Spain to pursue access initiatives for people with disabilities by bringing together parents of children with autism in both countries to discuss important topics like social inclusion and creating safe spaces.
The nine U.S. museums participating in this year’s program will connect with museums in Cambodia, China, Columbia, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, and Romania. Museum partnerships will address a range of issues such as urban habitat restoration and conservation practices, examining and developing an appreciation for biodiversity, and youth leadership development to collecting oral histories from women artists.