One of the most unexpected but satisfying things I have seen in my recent travels has to be during a trip to Antwerp when I was invited to speak at the 'What’s in a name? Knowledge and Research in Museums' symposium held in the library of the Rubens Museum. It was organised by MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) which opens in 2010. MAS staff members as well as speakers from Amsterdam (such as the National Maritime Museum and the Tropenmuseum), London (Museum of London and Greenwich Maritime Institute) and my good self presented a series of papers explaining how knowledge, information and research is dispersed within their institutions.
I have to say that the majority of debate took place between the invited British speakers. All friendly of course and focusing on whether or not the google generation as they are called would have any reason to come to a museum in person as they could access everything off site. I agreed to a certain extent but I think we are some way off the majority of 16-18 year olds googling museum collections in their own time before they have ever visited in person. As a follow up to a visit with parent or school yes, but before they log onto Facebook etc etc I am not so sure. An interesting area for debate though.
The sight of seeing the Obama Bar in a backstreet of Antwerp whilst enjoying some of city’s beautiful architecture brought a smile to my face. His election recently not only caused unparalleled scenes of joy in the streets of the USA but it affected someone enough to open a bar (or probably rename a bar) after him in Antwerp. Take it from me, the location was definitely not on the main thoroughfare and I could well imagine Antwerp locals rather than American tourists drinking under a picture of a smiling Obama.
If only we had someone of Obama’s stature in the UK now, especially after the worrying and frankly disturbing MEP election results which I woke up to this morning. Someone to bring hope to a wide range of voters rather than focus negatively like so many politicians today on peoples differences with the aim of polarising towns, cities, schools, work places etc. Differences are a good thing, different languages, different beliefs, customs and so on. That is why when writing this blog I cannot help but sigh in despair at the fact that a representative of a so called democratic political party here in the North West has gained a seat at the European parliament on an agenda of hate, distrust and manipulation.
Now I am not going to go on a political rant, that is not my job, but as head of a museum which actively challenges racism and discrimination it is my duty to encourage all of you to tell your friends and families to visit the International Slavery Museum more than ever. Take a look at some of the displays and exhibits we have which focus on both the more heinous aspects of world history and contemporary society as well as some of the most uplifting. For every reminder of what hate can do by looking at an object such as the Ku Klux Klan outfit, you can see what the bringing together of cultures can do in our cultural transformations section. Take a look at the Black Achievers Wall, and in particular the Black British achievers and the inspirational sportspeople, actors, poets etc and tell me that their contributions have not enhanced Britain? It is frankly ridiculous to suggest otherwise.
An institution like International Slavery Museum will continue to do all it can to stop the growth and influence of individuals and political parties who espouse division and hate. So hopefully in the very near future the Obama camp will visit the UK as well as Liverpool, Merseyside and Lancashire and give people enough belief in hope rather than hate.
Bye for now.