A Conversation about City Museums: SAMA at the CAMOC Workshop in Lisbon, Portugal


On May 3 & 4 in Lisbon, Portugal, Vitoria Ramirez Zanquetta and I, Derry Razen, had the opportunity to represent Street Art Museum Amsterdam at the CAMOC workshop: Towards A City Museum Watch. CAMOC, the International Committee for the Collection and Activities of Museums of Cities, is a part of ICOM, and hosted this workshop in partnership with ICOM Portugal. SAMA was pleased to attend this series of presentations and workshops on what makes a city museum and to present our own workshop Collection on the Outside: street art as a tool for connection and community dialogue, which drew on our experiences as a community-based museum and how we are trying to use art to encourage more discussions about difficult topics.

CAMOC’s main goals for this two-day workshop were: to create a framework that allows museum professionals to identify and work with emerging and diverse city museums worldwide, to look at emerging international trends, and to discuss methodology for a future city museums mapping project. Additionally, ICOM, the parent organization to CAMOC, is in the process of creating a new general museum definition that addresses the profound shift in paradigms that most museums have experienced over the last 50 years. This means addressing concerns about diversity, power balances and globalization, just to name a few.

In this spirit of questioning the definition and role of museums, participants came from Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States to present on topics that covered the existential doubts of museums, archiving digital media about current events and the city museum as an omnibus institution. The interactive workshops ranged from exercises that helped to map out museum partners/networks to activities that brought the focus back to the people who create, run and attend city museums. From these presentations and workshops, discussions concentrated on the expanding role that city museums are playing within communities and how museum professionals can continue to address the ever-growing needs of these communities, particularly focusing on diversity, custodianship of local history, new ways to engage the community and story-telling.

The presentations and workshops were held in the morning and early afternoons, but in the evening of both days our hosts took us to see a wide range of museums that fall within the Museu De Lisboa network. These included the Palacio Pimenta, Museu de Santo Antonio, the Roman Theater, Casa Dos Bicos, and Torreao Poente. The Roman Theater museum, an archeological museum that sits on the site of an old Roman amphitheater, and the chance to see one of the storage facilities of the Museu De Lisboa where we got a behind the scenes look at the curatorial work and organization of this museum network were the highlights of these tours for myself and my colleague.

SAMA was very pleased to participate in this workshop series and look forward to continued work with CAMOC. Currently, our museum is in a period of growth. Our staff is expanding and now includes more young professionals than ever before, who are shaping the museum’s future in new and exciting ways. One of SAMA’s goals over the next several months and years is to use and develop digital technology that helps us preserve and provide greater access to our collection. Later this summer we will release the first of several VR experiences that are short tours through part of our collection. Participating in the CAMOC workshop helped us to create a guide for what we are focusing our future projects on, allowed us to contribute to an ongoing conversation about the role of city museums and gain insights from more established museums.

Notes: We are a community-based museum, this means that there is an intimate connection between our museum and the community and this shapes how the collection was created. SAMA is a museum that is creating art whose history is community-based: street art/graffiti is art that emerged from minority groups who had been ignored. We are creating a very different museum experience than the typical museum. We also have an intimate view with the "Artistic Experiences in Public Spaces" because of our role as facilitators and produces of art who function as a link between the artist and the public. These are all strengths of the museums that I think work for this topic.

Trends from the CAMOC workshop in Lisbon:

  • more city museums are emerging to address the needs of the community, this means the definition of what a city museum needs to expand as well

  • city museums as custodians of local history

  • "collections should be where they are most loved"

  • inclusivity/democratization - reaching out to people who are not just wealthy, white Westerners with money, but trying to create conversations with minority groups and people from other cultures and other experiences

  • city museum's role is to: historicize, contextualize, de-naturalize and decolonize our systems of thought

  • addressing privilege

  • telling stories (tangible/intangible heritage)

  • displaying, recording and experiencing the collective memory

  • grassroots archiving and documenting history in real time

#streetartmuseumamsterdam #camoc #icom #conference #workshop #citymuseum #communitymuseum #communityengagement #streetartmuseum #amsterdam #lisbon

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Street Art Museum Amsterdam
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