Community museums are usually the face of local heritage. They are the places where local artifacts and connections to local history are pondered, preserved and promoted. And so a local museum is a natural partner and ally for any group or individual seeking to undertake their own history or heritage project.
At the same time, museums have their own distinct mandates, and while they likely will be interested in any project that promotes or increases local heritage awareness, people also need to appreciate that they are not the default site or authority on all things heritage.
Moreover, the role of museums has changed over time, and never more so than in the last 10-15 years. As well as undertaking their traditional role of collecting, preserving and sharing their collections, museums more and more are playing a role in supporting the development of communities. Engaging youth is often a major aspect of a community museum's mandate.
Given this range of opportunities, heritage groups seeking to showcase or promote a project or initiative via a local museum should keep a few things in mind:
- A museum may have a theme or approach that directs their collection and promotion/education policies. You should be aware of those issues before approaching a museum with your own project results. Think about how your project fits with the museum's mandate
- Museum personnel and boards are busy people – you will need to do the communication work to be able to make a good case to them about including a project in their space
- Unlike a library, museums are into the display of artifacts and information. Think about how your project meets that goal, or consider those parts that can be made to meet that kind of requirement – for example revising information to be used as a poster
- At the same time, museums can be a place to help shape community identity and bring different community groups together. Think about how to promote your project with those goals in mind. Or even consider developing projects in this light.