When thinking about the museum role, many words come to my mind. Are museums solely about collecting, exhibiting, or educating? Although these roles are vital, relationships with internal and external communities are equally important. It is actually the starting point of everything else, and it should be the core of what museums do. It doesn’t matter how many exhibitions you have a year, or if you have the biggest or the best collections. What really matters is investing in the internal museum community to love and understand their role and commitments. This will reflect consequently on the museum’s guests, who will be transformed into museum lovers and eventually a community who sees museums as their second home. So a museum consists of two communities: the internal and the external and when the internal community is clear on its obligation to the external then the museum is invigorated.
A Google search for “museums + dialogue” will deliver 77, 200,000 results in 0.70 seconds; a lot of which will help form the idea of what dialogue means in the context of museums. However, if we don’t practice it, we will never understand it. A lot of museum professionals are accustomed to finish work behind the screens of their laptops and phones, forgetting the importance of interacting with internal and external individuals and parties, to form relationships, and to take the extra mile in having a meaningful dialogue. Although it doesn’t come in the job description, but it is what takes your job from being typical daily routine to an outstanding experience, both for you and to the person or group you are exchanging information with; to learn, improve, and flourish locally and internationally.
Interpretation has multiple meanings. It can mean the media that are used to communicate: graphic panels, interactives, education programmes, events. Interpretation can also mean the story that the curator chooses to tell, the knowledge the museum wants to transfer, for example an object’s academic significance or representation. Thirdly, interpretation can be described as the transfer of the responsibility of meaning-making from the museum to the visitor: interpretation facilitates and guides the visitor to create their own personal and unique understanding of the object or exhibit. Museum objects are tangible items that are used to communicate abstract ideas on topics such as society, religion, and personal truths. Importantly Fatima Ali reminded us that, ‘the position of the museum should be made very clear before the museum asks visitors to create their own perspectives’. So the museum needs to consciously take control of the messages and reactions it provokes. Techniques used to achieve this are experiential or allegorical. They produce genuine reactions using real environments. ‘This vastly increases the scope of the museum’- (Angelita Teo, in Appropriate Museology= Appropriate Language, Intercultural Communication and Translation in Museums. Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, Sharjah, UAE. https://opus4.kobv.de/opus4-htw/frontdoor/index/index/docId/357).
At the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation (SMIC) the word ‘audience’ is redundant. It implies a passive group enthralled by the oratory of a great expert. Alya Burhaima describes how the people who USE the museum are the ‘Museum Community’. SAWA practitioners, those who actually worked in museums, seemed to have a consensus summarised by Mamdouh Froukh that: ‘Everything, is related to audiences, audiences are the most important facet of the museum’. What I learned from SAWA regarding the definition of audience is twofold. Firstly, to acknowledge your actual audience. Secondarily, to arrange your content and programmes around their needs. For example the audience at SMIC is mainly tourists, some local adults and school groups on an education programme. The museum consciously selects the content and the programmes to meet their needs. The Abu Bakr Gallery of Islamic Faith is dedicated to introducing the principles of Islam and the Holy Qur’an. The Museum acknowledges that many of its visitors will not have experienced the essentials of Islam and uses objects, art and text to make them feel comfortable in their learning. The museum has the confidence to wear its expertise lightly and in doing-so is welcoming and successful. This approach could be beneficial for European museums seeking to cast-off their patriarchal, colonial practices.