Cultural Institutions: Canaries in a Mineshaft?

By Conrad Gershevitch.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper looks at the role of cultural institutions in civil society from the broad perspective of cultural diversity values and human rights. Perhaps even more than the previous century, the 21st century will be an era of rapid transformation: transformation in the physical environment, in technology, in human ecology. In a globalised world, not only will ever-more humans come into increasing contact with each other, but ever-more human creativity will produce further cultural content, at the same time there will be increasing drains on natural resources, cultural homogenisation and commodification. In these circumstances much cultural heritage, particularly intangible heritage, is at risk of disappearing. How human societies negotiate this environment - both globally and locally - will be critical challenges: challenges in social relations, legislation, public policy and security. In this increasingly chaotic and transformative world where ideas, events and systems are constantly re-forming, re-intersecting and re-creating, it is often easy to forget the role that culture, the arts and heritage institutions can play in mediating relations, negotiating community tensions, building sustainable futures, and standing as testimony to the human experience. Cultural institutions, such as museums, can respond to this situation in many ways. Will the ways of the past succeed, where human experience was treated as something to collect, catalogue, exhibit, archive? Or, will this taxonomic approach be replaced by one where cultural institutions are civic spaces that hold up a mirror to society, serve the diversity of the community that funds them, and even can be alive places that preserve living heritage? Cultural institutions can, in this sense, be like canaries in a mine: if they are highly sensitive to their environment (the wider social, political and cultural context in which they function) they may survive. Indeed, they may flourish if they are able to adapt to the needs of their communities in a dynamic, plural and increasingly integrated world.

Keywords: Cultural Diversity, Cultural Institutions, Human Rights

International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp.1-16. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.265MB).

Dr. Conrad Gershevitch

Director, Education & Partnerships, Race Discrimination Unit

During his career Conrad has worked in a variety of different sectors although there has been a consistent theme of his supporting community empowerment. He worked for community radio and with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in a variety of roles; he then joined the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing, for much of this time working in policy and national project management with non-government or not-for-profit partnerships, particularly those dealing with mental health, multicultural and refugee health. He was Director of the peak body the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) for almost four years and for some of this time he was also a visiting fellow at the Australian National University (ANU) in the Graduate Studies in Sustainable Heritage Development program. Conrad has tertiary qualifications awarded by both the University of Sydney and the Australian National University; he is presently writing a PhD through the University of Queensland on cultural diversity, human rights and public policy. He is currently employed as Director, Race and Cultural Diversity Unit, at the Australian Human Rights Commission. The views expressed in this paper are his own and not those of the Commission.

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