Designing the inclusive museum

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The Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark The Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark
Hello, I am just back from the Inclusive Museum conference in Copenhagen.  I gave one of the plenary papers alongside Kigge Hvid CEO of INDEX: Design to Improve Life, which leads the Danish government's mandate to advance the humanist tenets of Danish design and W. Richard West Jr., President and CEO, The Autry, Los Angeles and founding Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.  Amareswar Galla the Executive Director, International Institute for the Inclusive Museum, Denmark & India said he was pleased ISM was represented; not only for its current work, but that it would highlight the host country’s role in the transatlantic slave trade, something which had caused a heated debate in Denmark.  Kigge gave examples of how INDEX aims to ‘develop sustainable solutions to global and local challenges’.  There were some intriguing examples and as someone with an interest in design I found the ELEMENTAL MONTERREY social housing scheme particularly fascinating as it consists of three story buildings with a framed void that can be expanded by the owners as and when needed – what they call ‘Incremental Design’.  Richard ‘Rick’ West, Jr. is a well respected museum professional and ended his talk - which had focused on the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience of which he is a Board member – with a quote from the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum  on the Danish peoples opposition to the Nazis in WWII.  A thought-provoking end to our session. The conference was held in the imposing National Gallery of Denmark ‘Statens Museum for Kunst’ where I had the opportunity of checking out the art galleries, and the Royal Library ‘Det Kongelige Biblioteks’ with its iconic modern extension known as the ‘Black Diamond’ by Danish architects schmidt hammer lassen.  I don’t claim to be Andrew Graham-Dixon but found myself captivated by Peter Paul Rubens The Ascent to Calvary, rather unnerved by Elmgreen & Dragset’s Please, keep quite (2003) and invigorated by wonderfully vibrant examples of Danish experimental and abstract works by the likes  of Ib Geertsen and Paul Gernes. I also visited the Danish Design Museum which has an excellent exhibition on Post-War British textiles as well as some superlative examples of Danish modernist furniture.  I might sound a bit of an anorak but I could have spent hours looking at the chairs by some of the great Danish designers like Arne Jacobsen and Finn Juhl. However, I was less impressed with the shop stocking a Danish version of Helen Bannerman’s Little Black Sambo – we have an English version in our racism and discrimination collection. I mentioned this in my talk as I actually use the image and afterwards was approached by a Danish museum professional that was glad I had raised it as this form of racist caricature was not something widely discussed in Denmark.  A positive move is that she was including the image to provoke such a debate in a forthcoming exhibition on Danish media history. Closer to home, our recent screening of PBS America’s The Abolitionists was well attended and we are hoping to screen episodes 2 & 3 for those of you who do not have Virgin or Sky so watch this space. Farvel as they say, Richard