Why Should Museums become more accessible?
Access to heritage and culture is a fundamental right of all people, regardless of identity or opportunity.
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) defines museums as “a non-profit, permanent institutions in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment”. Museums are unique venues offering dynamic learning environments that in turn contribute positively to society’s quality of life.
Museums, must improve and ensure equal access to a welcoming and friendly atmosphere in order to inspire visitors regardless of personal circumstances or social background.
In order to increase inclusion and participation in museums, existing or perceived barriers need to be identified and removed. These barriers can be physical, financial, cultural, attitudinal or sensory. Museums need to focus on increasing accessibility beyond legal compliance but as an ongoing commitment to making cultural heritage appreciation and learning was widely available as possible.
MuseumAccess is a project which I have been working on for the last year. It is slowly coming to life with the first two actions launched a few weeks ago. The 6 actions that make up this project are all aimed at making the Mdina Cathedral Museum more accessible to different and potential audiences.
Project Action 1: Learning Center:
One of the Museum’s primary aims is to educate its visitors. The Learning Center launched as part of “MuseumAccess” offers an informal learning environment which, thanks to its fully equipped facilities, is ideal for workshops and other educational activities.
Over the last year museum’s education program, which is held in collaboration with the University of Malta and the Department of Education, the Museum welcomed over 2000 boys and girls from various schools around Malta. Here they had the opportunity to learn about various subjects, touching upon topics such as symbolism in art. The program included activities involving story-telling and discussions centered around various themes, including philosophical questions as seen through art. The Museum intends to continue hosting these educational experiences in a way that elevates the museum to a place of learning rather than relegating it to the status of a showcase of precious artifacts.
Project Action 2: Temporary Exhibition Area:
Adjacent to the Learning Center is a large space that has been adapted to accommodate local artists who wish to exhibit their work in a Museum that also boasts a permanent collection of art by internationally established names. It is our intention to rotate these exhibitions regularly in order to fully exploit the space, giving exposure to as many artists as possible.
Coming September, we plan to launch the Museum as the first Autism-Friendly Museum on the island. We believe in cherishing the diversity that surrounds us. Because of circumstances or conditions beyond reasonable control, some visitors might feel reluctant or disheartened to visit certain venues, including Museums, merely because they believe that their condition impedes this.
October will see the launch of the “Dress Me Up” project, which consisted of creating around 40 costumes, some traditional and some inspired directly from paintings hung in the Museum. Children will be able to pick a costume and wear it during their visit to the Cathedral Museum. This will leave a strong impact on our younger visitors, ensuring a memorable and interactive experience which will nourish their growing minds.
The “Museum Volunteers’ Drive” project will be launched in November. The museum wishes to extend its invitation to the public, welcoming individuals of all ages to participate in and contribute to the Museum’s activities as volunteers. We believe that voluntary work can be soul-enriching, to both the volunteer and the recipient. Our volunteers will be given special training, and this will allow them to be actively involved in the Museum in its projects.
Finally, in December, the Museum will launch a number of digital interpretation tools to help the interpretation of two very important displays within the Museum — the unique medieval altarpiece showcasing the Story of St Paul and the recently restored spectacular medieval choir stalls.
All these initiatives will make the Mdina Cathedral museum more visitor-centered ensuring that people visiting the museum are treated to a safe, engaging, meaningful, educational, fun and accepting environment.