Recently, museums all over the world have been striving towards occupying a more important place in society than ever before because of the need to make them relevant to the larger society. For this reason, education and cultural activities have become part of the core work of most museums.
A museum, as defined by International Council of Museums (ICOM), is a permanent institution in the service of society and of 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.
Since the establishment of some of the oldest museums such as the British Museum (1759) and the Louvre (1793), the facility has moved from conservation for the benefit of the scholar to serving communities. This definitely conforms to ICOM requirements going by the above definition.
There is no gainsaying that the explosion of museum education in the last few decades has increased attendance in many countries and public attention has never been more intense.
One of the guiding principles of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) is to raise interest in, understanding of, and respect for our history, culture and heritage in a comprehensive way.
The commission, through its stations across the country, has been serving as cultural mediator to visitors from .various parts of the community. This endeavour is aimed at promoting and encouraging the active participation and collaboration between the museums and the public, particularly, for the benefit of school children.
There is power in the museums of our country. They are a well-spring of knowledge about the cultural heritage of our people. They are a vibrant part of our times and have much to offer in helping us prepare for the future.
In these trying and uncertain times, it is vital to seek inspiration and pleasure in the country’s museums.
With the economic crisis of the past years, priorities have shifted and nations have become more introspective. It is wise therefore, for Nigeria and Nigerians to look deeper and see what roles museums can play in strengthening communities for sustainable development.
The duty rests on everybody and not just the government. All stakeholders must be involved in keeping and. promoting the country’s heritage. This combined effort can help the nation address some issues, which have become a menace to our society.
The museums are tourist of sites; they have programmes for various groups in the society and can be agents of social change, sustainable development for youth and women empowerment.
In serving communities, museums can be a voice against racial discriminations, ethnic and youth violence, and hostage-taking to mention a few.
To achieve this, community leaders and the people need to be conversant with the information provided by museums within their locality. Museum educators can assist by interpreting and communicating this information. Mainstreaming museum and heritage studies as part of the school curricula at all levels,’ primary, secondary and tertiary institutions will be another way of reaching out and catching them young.
Schools should be made to visit the museums, at least once every session, so as to benefit from the information and pleasures a museum offers.
The media (print and electronic) should be readily available to partner with museums in disseminating information and programmes that would sensitise the people about the museum and its services.
This could also encourage people to visit museums and heritage sites in Nigeria.
Museums on their part should seek rapid manpower development through meetings, seminars, conferences and workshops at local, national and international levels. These meetings help to show the diversity of positive things that are happening all over the world.
Museum educators should be encouraged to attend conferences and seminars organised by such groups as CECA (ICOM) and GCAM (CAM). Conferences such as these, without doubt, are invigorating for museum professionals as an international platform for evolution and innovation within the field.
Unexpected perspectives will arise in such conferences and people, in the light of these new times, will begin to see new emphasis in museums and the economics of culture. New directions will also be proposed and these will further help museum professionals in the discharge of their duties as they experiment on these.
Public-private partnerships should also be encouraged in the area of funding for museums to achieve set goals.
For instance, museums, need activity rooms for school children especially in lower primary, These groups need to touch and feel to aid their understanding. An activity room provides replicas of objects and other materials with which they can play with. They also need books, vehicles for outreaches, art and craft materials etc.
Onuoha is a staff of the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos.
Louisa Nnenna Onuoha