UP Museums to mark International Museum Day

Posted on May 27, 2024

Since its inception in 1977, International Museum Day has highlighted the pivotal role of museums in society’s development. Spearheaded by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the annual observance takes place on and around 18 May, uniting museums in a global effort to raise awareness about their significance.

“International Museum Day has served to create a message that all museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures, and development of mutual understanding, cooperation, and peace among people,” says Dr Sian Tiley-Nel, Head of the UP Museums.

The roots of International Museum Day can be traced back to a gathering in 1951 known as the Crusade for Museum, where the international museum community convened with a shared goal: to promote global museum accessibility. This precursor event laid the groundwork for an official International Museum Day 26 years later when it was adopted as an annual event during the ICOM General Assembly in Moscow, Russia.

Each year, International Museum Day offers museums a platform to showcase their contributions to society. While officially observed on 18 May, the celebration can extend beyond a single day, encompassing a week or the entire month. This flexibility allows museums to tailor their activities to engage diverse audiences and communities. From exhibitions and workshops to virtual tours and educational programmes, museums around the world use the day as an opportunity to connect with the public and highlight their role as custodians of culture, history and knowledge. By fostering dialogue and cultural appreciation, museums play a vital role in promoting global understanding and cooperation.

The theme for International Museum Day 2024 is ‘Education and Research’. This resonates deeply with university museums, as it aligns with their core mission. While culture and social responsibility remain paramount for many museums, university museums play a unique role in advancing scientific knowledge, filling research gaps and enriching education within the academic community. Moreover, they serve as bridges between academia and society, engaging with the public and disseminating research findings to broader audiences.

ICOM has embraced the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through International Museum Day by promoting specific goals each year. For 2024, the focus lies on SDG 4 (Quality Education) and SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure). This underscores the vital role of museums, particularly university museums, in promoting inclusive education and fostering innovation.

UP Museums exemplify this year’s theme. Despite being classified as “small museums” in terms of staff and budgets, they attract significant foot traffic, both physically and digitally. With in-person visits ranging from 3 000 to 5 000 a month and digital engagement surpassing 137 000 to 200 000 users monthly, UP Museums are making waves in the museum landscape.

What sets UP Museums apart is their multipurpose approach: while catering to the academic and research community with their diverse collections, they also provide open access to the public, offering inclusive and diverse art and heritage experiences. Their online presence further enhances their reach and impact.

Furthermore, UP Museums actively engage with the community through conservation efforts, curatorial programmes and educational partnerships. Collaborating with organisations like Creative Education SA, they aim to make university collections and art accessible to disadvantaged school learners, aligning with national curriculum objectives and fostering a love for heritage and culture.

Guided by best national and international practices, UP Museums are active members of ICOM-SA and its sub-committees, ensuring ethical governance and professional standards. Their commitment to continuous learning, adaptation and creativity distinguishes them as leaders in the field. As custodians of rich and diverse collections, university museums face the challenge of making these collections relevant to contemporary audiences. This involves not only research and curation, but also addressing difficult colonial legacies and embracing inclusivity.

“Ongoing advocacy, diplomacy and fostering partnerships, as well as leveraging the opportunities of International Museum Day, are crucial in times of raising awareness of museum education and research,” Dr Tiley-Nel says.

- Author JIMMy Masombuka

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