Friday, April 22, 2016

Listen Up! Part Two

I've been doing lots of listening lately. Dave Lewis' guest post last week had me thinking about the sound of museum missions, and this week's work with the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace reminded me of the power of voices in this case, Girl Scout visitors sharing their desire to be inspired (and bringing back my own memories as they sang "keep new friends....")

When I think and talk about community engagement, there are a few inspiring projects I share on a regular basis -- and as it happens, one of them is about sound as well. Kelly Armor of the Erie Art Museum just updated me on the museum's Old Songs, New Opportunities project. The goal of the project is to help refugee women gain employment in childcare and to help them preserve their traditional cultures. The museum, in partnership with other local organizations, deeply understands that everyone in a community is an asset and has something to contribute. In this case, by sharing their traditional songs and culture. It's a great, joyful, meaningful project that holds so many lessons for museums of all sorts about the ways we can build bridges together with the community. The project is currently embarked on a campaign to produce a CD about the songs. Learn more (and support it) here.

And as I watched the Old Songs, New Opportunities video, I found myself re-watching this piece by journalist Christopher Livesay, about the community of Riace in southern Italy. It's a tiny community that sees refugees and migrants as community assets, a way to help rebuild a rural community. The sounds here are many--those of many languages, those of new Italian speakers, and the sounds that make up any thriving rural community.

But it's not just about the sounds, it's about the listening. At one point, the mayor says, showing off a woman's needlework, "Everyone says migrants bring nothing but trouble, but look what beautiful things she brings." It's not easy of course: there's government support and not enough jobs, but there is a sense that this community is building a new future together, in the same way that the Old Songs project is as well.

The first step of that re-shifting of our museums' focus from what we have to give, to what we can make together, is becoming deep listeners and observers--and that always involves getting outside of your museum doors.

Image: Old Songs, New Opportunities graduates at the Erie Art Museum

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