Community Engagement - it's all Greek to me

Lucie Fitton writes about her experience as Course Leader for the British Council’s Cultural Skills International Museums Academy in Greece...

I've just had the pleasure of being the course leader for the British Council's Cultural Skills International Museums Academy. This has involved an intense but amazing week working with 20 museum professionals in Greece to support their skills and confidence around community engagement practice.

It was so interesting to learn from the participants about some of the very similar and different challenges to engaging communities. The most similar experiences [surprise surprise] were around definitions and terminology, and purpose, but these questions developed into lots of interesting debates. Clearly the economic and political climate in Greece is very different, but we could draw parallels and share solutions.

Participants really enjoyed thinking about how engagement practice relates to their museums' missions, and strategic planning tools were really welcomed. We also had some fantastic guest speakers to share a range of case studies - from British Museum's Object Journeys project to People's History Museum Never Going Underground. These provided lots of food for thought when it came to the opportunities and challenges of bringing together communities and collections - especially questions around knowledge, expertise and power.

It was also fantastic to welcome a Greek guest speaker - Augustus Veinoglou - the Director of Snehta Residency, who shared their work within their local community in Athens. This got us all thinking more about the how artists can be agents for connecting museums and communities in Greece.

We managed a visit to the stunning Benaki Museum on day four. Our course was based here - at the Museum's Pireos Annex which is in the really cool (slightly industrial chic/artsy) part of town. The 1917 photography exhibition had lots of beautiful images of Athens in 1917. I also managed a quick look around the Industrial Gas Museum after... Being from Birmingham, I do love a gas cylinder.

It was lovely to meet so many museum professionals committed to engaging communities with their museums. We had participants from as far as Thrace, an Aquarium in Crete, a folk museum, a children’s museum, the Jewish Museum and more... despite some real challenges - they all have lots of ideas to take back and apply. We look forward to catching up with them in the future to explore what they've been up to.

Check out Lucie’s Storify of her time in Athens.

Lucie Fitton – Head of Learning & Participation