Today, May 18th, is International Museum Day. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) established International Museum Day in 1977 to increase public awareness of the role of museums in the development of society, and it has been steadily gaining momentum ever since.
In 2019, International Museum Day garnered record-breaking participation with more than 55,000 museums hosting events in some 150 countries.
This year, with museums all over the world suffering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, ICOM has decided to adapt the format and focus on digital activities, to promote the values of IMD while ensuring the safety of the public and staff alike.
This this year’s theme of “Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion”, International Museum Day 2020 aims at becoming a rallying point to both celebrate the diversity of perspectives that make up the communities and personnel of museums, and champion tools for identifying and overcoming bias in what they display and the stories they tell.
An ICOM statement reads: “The potential of museums to create meaningful experiences for peoples of all origins and backgrounds is central to their social value. As agents of change and trusted institutions, there is no time like the present for museums to demonstrate their relevance by engaging constructively in the political, social, and cultural realities of modern society.
“The challenges of inclusion and diversity and the difficulty of navigating complex social issues in increasingly polarised environments, while not unique to museums and cultural institutions, are important ones, due the high regard in which museums are held by society.
“An increasing public expectation for social change has catalysed a conversation around museums’ potential for social good in the form of exhibitions, conferences, performances, education programmes, and initiatives created. However, there remains much to do to overcome conscious and subconscious power dynamics that can create disparities within museums, and between museums and their visitors.
“These disparities can relate to many topics, including ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and identity, socioeconomic background, education level, physical ability, political affiliation and religious beliefs.
“Whether large or small, located in urban or rural areas, dedicated to science or the arts, we invite museums around the world to join International Museum Day 2020“.
ICOM President Suay Aksoy says in her annual message: “Today, as every 18th of May since 1977, the global museum community comes together for the International Museum Day. This year, the celebration is being marked in the most exceptional circumstances since its establishment. It seems like a strange time to celebrate, as thousands of museums remain closed and the uncertainty of what will happen in the coming months overwhelms our thoughts. Yet it is precisely now that we need to spread the message of the International Museum Day.
“This global celebration was created with a clear objective: to promote museums as an important means for the development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples. Peace is often -and wrongly- associated with the absence of war. The COVID-19 crisis, far from being a conflict as we conventionally understand it, demonstrates that the reality is much more complex.
“As there is no peace without equal opportunity, representation and access for all; there is no peace without decolonising our institutions and minds; and there is no peace without a sustainable future for our planet. Museums, with their ability to build a common ground of understanding based on cultural exchange and dialogue, have the power to contribute a great deal in advancing our pursuit for a real, lasting peace.
“With the theme Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion, International Museum Day 2020 aims to become a rallying point for both museums and civil society in general, because this day is not only about museums: it is a celebration of every single person who makes them the places of wonder that they are. It is about wide-eyed schoolchildren, passionate curators, art enthusiasts, dedicated security people, occasional visitors. It is about our natural heritage and its outstanding biodiversity. It is about our common memory and the diversity that unites us in our differences.
“In this edition, we want to celebrate the manifold perspectives that make up museums, their communities and people, and to champion tools for identifying and overcoming bias in what they display and the stories they tell. These ambitions are not limited to the 18th of May, we will pursue them for as long as they are needed, alongside the trailblazing museum professionals who are already at the frontline of the quest for equality.
“On this 18th of May, I want to send you a message of hope. We must keep moving forward while nurturing the spirit of solidarity, resilience and innovation we have found. Each one of us has an important role to play in reimagining and building a future based on equality, diversity and inclusion. On behalf of the global community of the International Council of Museums, I wish you a happy International Museum Day 2020!”