What is an ecomuseum?

The Ides of March is a significant date for arts and culture. It is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to 15 March. The Ides of March is notorious for one major event, the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Yes, the one Shakespeare wrote a play about, the one with Brutus and the literal backstabbing. It is that one indeed. 

The Ides of March 2017 just so happened to also be the submission deadline for Chapter 1 of my thesis. So it seemed quite fitting to launch this long thought after blog on the same day. When seeing that Chapter 1 was somehow written and submitted, there was truly no time like the present.

It felt really nice submitting that chapter. Even better, I was encouraged and provoked while writing it. Of course, the four remaining chapters do still seem daunting, but the journey and challenge is one I look forward to. A masters research thesis on the topic of ecomuseum is the goal and a diploma shall be my prize.

Now, for the main question. What even is an ecomuseum? First off, the prefix eco can be a bit misleading. Sustainability is a core aspect of the ecomuseum concept but it is not strictly about ecological strategies. There is much more to it. In 1988 René Rivard provided a very concise and cleverly simple way to illustrate what an ecomuseum is. He compared the key components of a traditional museum to that of an ecomuseum.

Traditional museum = building + collection + expert staff + public visitors

Ecomuseum = territory + heritage + memory + community/population

An ecomuseum aims to support and empower a community to develop and manage its own heritage, helping it to conserve its resources and traditions, while encouraging tourists and community members alike to enjoy visiting and utilizing ecomuseum sites. Ecomuseums are focused on the identity of a place, based on participation, and strive to better the involved community and its heritage via an agreement.

An ecomuseum is a cultural phenomenon that stems from the relationships between a specific place, which encompasses heritage and art objects, and the people, which form a community and identities, that inhabit that place. Ecomuseums are formed from the participation of three major agency groups, personnel, visitors, and local inhabitants and their interactions and relations with the accompanying art objects and heritage of the involved community and place. The relationships between and among these agency groups, art objects, and heritage are fundamental to the formation and sustainment of the ecomuseum. These relationships are what my research thesis particularly investigates.

Why then is ecomuseum a significant topic for such a project? The concept and budding trend of ecomuseum has direct and impactful influence and affect within the wider museum field and heritage studies and practices. Traditional museums are ever more concerned with visitor numbers and the experience that their museum goers have. Even the most conservative and traditional museums are implementing public strategies that seek inclusion and participation. Ecomuseums are built from and totally reliant upon involvement and participation. From this, ecomuseums can offer examples or insight for promoting and sustaining participation for other organizations to gain and learn from. Furthermore, they take the integration of community and visitors into an extreme focus. That same focus is being continually intensified within traditional museums. 

The specific research question I ask is: How do the relationships (between the three agency groups, heritage, and art objects) develop and operate within the ecomuseum, thus allowing for its existence, continuation, and success? In relation, two subsidiary questions are asked: How are the relationships configured? And how do these relationships connect and impact within the ecomuseum?

To see an example of an ecomuseum, go here.