New book – Cosmopolitan Ambassadors: International exhibitions, cultural diplomacy and the polycentral museum

Cosmopolitan Ambassadors: International exhibitions, cultural diplomacy and the polycentral museum written by Lee Davidson and Leticia Perez-Castellanos and published by Vernon Press.

This book is based on a 5-year study of the exhibition exchange between New Zealand and Mexico. The study raised some important questions that the authors felt were not adequately addressed in existing publications such as: How are museums working internationally through exhibitions? What motivates this work? What are the benefits and challenges? What factors contribute to success? What impact does this work have for audiences and other stakeholders? What contributions are they making to cultural diplomacy, intercultural dialogue and understanding?

In Cosmopolitan Ambassadors the authors consider the current state of knowledge about international exhibitions and then propose an interdisciplinary analytical framework encompassing museum studies, visitor studies, cultural diplomacy and international cultural relations, cosmopolitanism and intercultural studies. This is followed by a comprehensive empirical analysis of the exhibition exchange which involved two exhibitions that crossed five countries and three continents, connecting six high profile cultural institutions and spanning almost a decade from initial conception to completion (see more in The Project).

A detailed comparison of both the intercultural production of international exhibitions by museum partnerships and by the interpretive acts and meaning-making of visitors, reveals the many complexities, challenges, tensions and rewards of international exhibitions and their intersection with cultural diplomacy.

Key themes include the realities of international collaboration, its purposes, processes and challenges; the politics of cultural (self-) representation and Indigenous museology; implications for exhibition design, interpretation, and marketing; intercultural competency and museum practice; audience reception and meaning-making; cultural diplomacy in practice and perceptions of its value.

On the basis of this first-ever empirically-grounded, theoretical analysis of international exhibitions the authors propose a new model of museums as polycentral: as places that might produce a kaleidoscopic vision of multiple centres and help to dissolve cultural boundaries by encouraging dialogue, negotiation and the search for intercultural understandings. Guidelines for practice include recommendations for successful international museum partnerships, exhibition development and maximizing the potential of museum diplomacy.