• Museum and Community

    Museum Ambassadors represent the Museum in their communities and schools. This leads to a direct change in the community's perception of the Museum as it becomes an accessible representative community space. Parents are encouraged to participate in their children's experiences. At the end of each programme, their teachers, families and friends join in the Ambassadors' graduation ceremony. Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and best friends are taken on a tour of the Museum by the Ambassadors and for most, invariably it would be their first visit to a museum.

    Most recently I have worked with a group from schools in Manenberg. The Museum wanted to make a special intervention in Manenberg in response to it being identified as one of the most needy communities in Cape Town and one of the places District Six residents were forcibly removed to.

    The group developed their own photographic exhibition focusing on an open field surrounded by a crèche, the library and blocks of flats in the centre of Manenberg. They identified this field as a space they would like to be transformed into a park. To accompany their photographs and vision for the open field, the Ambassadors wrote anecdotes about life in Manenberg. The hope and optimism reflected in their stories provide insight into the realities of their daily lives and inspiration to their peers. After taking the primary school learners through the Museum, these young Ambassadors guided the learners through their own exhibition which was curated at the Manenberg library and titled: Manenberg: Young Ambassadors Exploring a Creative Future.

    Establishing museums as resources which contribute to the educational needs of our communities and foster a sense of ownership and pride in our heritage is crucial to the development of healthy communities which have pride in who they are today and hope in their visions for their future.

    Background

    The Museum Ambassador Programme was started 19 years ago by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco to encourage young people from deprived economic backgrounds to visit the Museums. The programme was designed to be run by young people for young people in a supportive, non-threatening and fun environment. A challenge for South African museums is the need to give their audiences a sense of ownership of their collective cultural and natural heritage.

    I developed and implemented the Museum Ambassador Programme at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. While I wanted to change young people's experiences in museums, I was also becoming increasingly aware of the diverse and unique educational opportunities museums offered and wanted to develop a programme that would thoroughly explore the museum as a place of learning. Over four years I developed the programme at the District Six Museum, the African Window Museum, the Natale Labia Museum and at two Student Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) community centres. The dynamic nature of the District Six Museum as a living heritage site has contributed greatly to developing the programme to its full potential.

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