Building Inspiring Dialogues Between Museums – Notes From a Visit to Liverpool

Added on Friday, June 29th, 2018

rafaela In this blog, Isabela Arruda and Ina Herbert from the Museu Paulista recount their experience of an innovative partnership with the ICC and National Museums Liverpool, which has focused on the potential value of the House of Memories dementia awareness training programme in a Brazilian context.

Museum collections can generate the most different emotions. Curiosity, nostalgia, estrangement and even indifference. Taken from everyday life and preserved in an institution that is able to attribute to them different senses, these objects begin to receive other glances from the moment they enter the museums, provided by the vision of each of their visitors. Often, we imagine that the only way to relate to them is through exhibition visits, but it is possible to go further and create other approaches that stimulate different ways of creating dialogues between preserved collections and the lives of individuals, promoting health and wellbeing.

The partnership between Institute of Cultural Capital (ICC), National Museums Liverpool and Museu Paulista of University of São Paulo (MP-USP), which started with the project “The value of museums in meeting the global dementia challenge“, has provided significant exchanges addressing museum education strategies and practices, as well as accompanying research methods. Two transnational meetings were part of this project. In May 2018, Rafaela Ganga (ICC Research Associate) visited Sao Paulo, and in June 2018 Ina Herbert and Isabela Arruda (MP-USP) visited Liverpool.

MP-USP is composed by two venues, one in São Paulo (Museu do Ipiranga) and another one in the interior of the state in the city of Itu (Museu Republicano Convenção de Itu). Museu do Ipiranga, closed since 2013 for major restoration and renovation of its main building, has maintained its commitment to the public through actions that seek universality of access to its collections. Through partnerships with different institutions – schools, social and health organizations, other museums – and using resources from its handling education collections, the museum is committed to keep working with its outreach audiences.

A long-lasting project with local social organizations dedicated to the care of old people is just one of the examples. This project involves a series of workshops aiming to discuss healthy ageing and memory. Aligned with the principles of social inclusion, respect for diversity, and universal access of the museum, this project seeks to create a safe space for people from different social backgrounds to meet and share what they have in common.

Another example of the education strategy that crosses all departments of the MP-USP is the conservation engagement programme. Since 2014, a series of workshops have been led by the conservation department in which participants are encouraged and provided with tools to preserve their own collections, discussing their meanings and the memories built around their personal objects.

Although these programs are not specifically designed for people with dementia, MP-USP education strategy shares the same values that underpin House of Memories, which we had the opportunity to get to know in depth this month. The core purpose of our visit to Liverpool was to observe the House of Memories dementia awareness sessions – dedicated to health and social care professionals and family carers –, to meet the House of Memories team, experience the programme’s educational resources (digital and non-digital), and to discuss the possibility of creating an effective program of collaboration between the two countries through the implementation of House of Memories in Brazil.

During our visit to Liverpool, we observed how some of the city’s cultural organizations are committed to bringing different audiences closer to museums, not only through the works of education departments, but also through community programs, new exhibitions, and an overall involvement with other organizations and fora in which social themes are openly discussed. We also saw a high attendance of groups of elderly and disabled people in the museums, where there are appropriate resources available and teams prepared to receive them. The contact with different professionals from National Museums Liverpool, National Conservation Centre and Tate Liverpool throughout the week made us realize how the institutions in the city are committed to address its education role as a whole. We could observe a cross-departmental (e.g. between the education and the conservation departments) collaboration. Those collaborations were in place even in a period of harsh budget cuts; or those collaborations were born because of those cuts and the subsequent need to readjust audience development strategies. Equally, we could observe a significant strong link between the universities and local cultural organizations, led by the ICC, with its research on House of Memories as a key example of the vast portfolio of community-engaged research.

The participation in House of Memories dementia awareness sessions gave us an opportunity to expand our experience not only by observing the Museum of Liverpool’s educators who are great enthusiasts of House of Memories; but, also, we learned a lot about House of Memories with the audience of the program itself. We had the opportunity to discuss the reality of the day-to-day work of dementia formal caregivers and their challenges, which involves challenging topics such as the humanization of the profession. We could also better understand the daily life of relatives of people with dementia who were received with great affection and support from the team of educators at National Museums Liverpool, making them feel safe to share their emotions and caring experiences. The core messages of the programme and the experiences of people who care for someone with dementia know no national borders. We could recognize in Liverpool the same challenges that we observe in Sao Paulo.

Some of the education resources to support carers to overcome those challenges are, for instance, memory boxes and the My House of Memories App that proved to be great triggers of conversations and memories. Equally, in MP-USP we use objects from our educational collection with the same purpose – to trigger memories and spark conversations. The use of the My House of Memories App was very intuitive and simple, including collections of other partner museums across the UK and bringing us closer to the reality of British society through personal stories of everyday life. We admired how  dementia session participants were encouraged to autonomously use the resources – the Memory Suitcases, the App, the Memory Walks around the museum –and to own the museum space as their own with the person they care for.

We returned to Brazil very excited about the potential of this partnership, although aware that we face very different social realities. For example, a constant theme in conversations with English colleagues was the pure size of São Paulo. São Paulo has 12 million inhabitants, meaning that is 24 times bigger than Liverpool. However, the ethos, values, and collections of both social history museums are a perfect match to developing a strategic partnership to develop a programme that will support people with dementia and their whole social network to deal with the caring challenges associated with the condition.

We hope this was the first contact of an open and generous dialogue between the ICC, National Museums Liverpool and MP-USP that will lead to the implementation of House of Memories in Brazil – a country where more than 1 million people live with some form of dementia. Taking part in House of Memories is another expression of our museum’s commitment to its diverse audiences, even during the period of the main building renovation.

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