Dana Andrew, Executive Director of ICOM UK, interviewed Andrea Terrón, an anthropologist and museum specialist from Guatemala, when she was in the UK early this year as a Senior Fellow of the British Museum’s International Training Programme (ITP).
Would you give ICOM UK members an overview of your work with museums as an anthropologist in Guatemala?
My name is Andrea Terrón, from Guatemala City and I am anthropologist and museum specialist. I studied my graduate studies in Japan, with a full scholarship from the Japanese Government, which was a fruitful experience; studying in two languages-English and Japanese- and living and learning in an international environment for 6 years.
I started working in a private museum as a curatorial assistant 16 years ago, and my experience there changed the way I feel for museums. I decided that my future career would be related to cultural institutions. I had to work while I studied and that helped me understand my career choice. I felt that I had a purpose; I found what I wanted to do.
I have worked in private and public museums in Guatemala City for 11 years. I directed and executed successful projects that include reorganisation of storage spaces, managed inventories and registries, created databases and cataloguing procedures, as well as writing and designing scripts for museum exhibitions. As a consultant, I issue reports over collections management conditions and make assessments of collections practices, preventive conservation, packing/moving and storage spaces. Also, I have worked since 2015 as a professor at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, teaching Mesoamerican Ethnology and Exhibition Design for the Undergraduate program in Anthropology and Sociology, and in the master’s program for Heritage and Management of Patrimony.
I have had the opportunity to go abroad and see the ‘innerworkings’ of a museum, and I felt more committed to specialise and pursue a career in the museum sector. I have a strong belief in museums as institutions of change, museums preserve collections and in doing so preserve past knowledge but also, generate new perspectives and dialogues with different communities. Museums have a difficult task in hand which is to find ways to connect with newer generations, creating links with more communities and trying to engage them on new ways of learning and understanding cultures around the world.
I participated in the Intensive course of Museology organised by the National Museum of Ethnology Museum in Osaka, Japan and the Japanese Cooperation Agency-JICA, this helped me get the knowledge on museum and collection management, among other subjects related to Museum work. Later on, I participated in the International Training Programme (ITP) 2017 organised by the British Museum, and just this year I was Senior Fellow of the same programme.
These kinds of opportunities facilitate networking, managing contacts and general knowledge in the museum sector. Rarely, museum professionals can connect and share
experiences that make us feel linked; but having these experiences, one feels that we are all together with the same problems and together we can come up with solutions. At a comparison level, one can comprehend which international practices can be adopted for small-scale museums and work towards a worldwide network, which will help preserve world patrimony and histories.
I think it is challenging, for all of us, to explain the experience one gets by meeting people with much more know-how and perspectives, and at the same time being able to say, “It happened to me too, I resolved it by doing… or thinking…” Everything that we learn participating in these courses and university programs, lectures and international conferences, comes part of one’s knowledge and will be put to work later on the job and other projects.
ICOM Guatemala and the Association of Museums of Guatemala are connected as organisations. Can you give us a short introduction to the organisations, your role on the executive committee, and the current priorities for the organisations?
In 2000, representatives of various museums in Guatemala worked together with the purpose of organising and creating the Association of Museums of Guatemala (AMG )that was recognised by the State as a Civil Association, and it was registered on November 8 of that same year. The Executive Committee of ICOM at its 103rd session held in Paris in June 2003, approved the formation of the National Committee ICOM Guatemala, agreeing that said committee be chaired by the Board of Directors of the AMG. In 2012, the Ministry of the Interior authorised the modification of the original statutes of the AMG, changing the name to Association of Museums of Guatemala and National Committee ICOM Guatemala, which may be abbreviated AMG-ICOM Guatemala.
AMG-ICOM Guatemala is a non-governmental organisation representing the ICOM in our country. It follows the ICOM mission by developing programs and activities aimed at increasing the training and professionalisation of museum staff, while establishing strategies to increase public attendance in museums and to achieve national and international representation, strengthening national museums as well as private.
The AMG-ICOM Guatemala will promote the conservation, promotion, diffusion and exhibition of the Cultural and Natural Patrimony of the Nation, as well as the development, specialisation and diversification of the existing staff and training museums. It will support the newer generations in the interest and learning of their culture and values, laying the foundations for the construction of an authentic identity.
The objectives of the AMG are:
- Promote, conserve and disseminate Cultural and Natural Heritage, tangible and intangible, nationally and internationally
- Design, carry out and supervise projects that contribute to the strengthening of the identity of Guatemala
- Strengthen the cultural, scientific and moral values of the country’s cultures
- To promote harmonious coexistence among the different peoples that live in Guatemala
- Promote the institutional improvement of the museums of Guatemala
- Contribute to the development of national, regional, site, community, university and private museums
- Promote and support training programs and technical, administrative, professional and operational level of museums. 8. Promote projects and activities of education, research, conservation, preservation, exhibition, training and dissemination for the benefit of the national culture.
The AGM board for 2016-2019 has had the priority of establishing clear procedures for the Association, organising priorities and responsibilities, auditing our accounts and to have a clear view on the active members. We have supported many colleagues with their training abroad, asking for courses for other members in Guatemala. We collaborated with the National Institute of Tourism, with a list of museums in Guatemalan territory, which included contacts, descriptions and other important information. We have organised conferences and workshops for the members and the interested public, trying to get more participation from a vast audience.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a project with the Regional Research Center of Mesoamerica (CIRMA) in Guatemala, designing an exhibition to promote the use of archives and to create awareness of their preservation. The plan is to create an exhibition that will open to the public in October 2018, based on a specific archive preserved at the Centre, from an important ethnographer that worked on archaeological research and preservation of archaeological sites located in the Highlands and Lowlands of Guatemala. The process began with digitising photographs, field notes, plans and sketches, overall 11,000 pieces, that enlightens a period of archaeological history that Guatemalans are not aware of.
This exhibition is planned with the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, which holds the pieces that were excavated and that were documented and described in detail in this archive. For the first time, the pieces and archive material will be accessible to the public, together. It will contextualise both collections and the level of interpretation will help divulge and preserve a small part of our history and patrimony. Another key element will be the creation of panels with the documents and archives, which will travel regionally across the country, a key element in countries that are not connected digitally.
On other matters on accessibility, we are working on translating all the texts in two or more Guatemalan languages, plus English and French, with the idea of connecting with more people from other communities. The other great challenge in this project is that we will try to use beacons (transmitters that can be used to deliver proximity-based, context-aware messages) or QR codes (machine-readable optical label that contains information about a specific item) to deliver these translations and other content that is relevant for the exhibition.
What are the main challenges facing museums in Guatemala?
There are many challenges museums are facing. For example, access to museums regionally and in the city; representativity would be a topic that has a direct effect at a national level, including the voice of diverse people that could provide the possibility of multiple identities; paying more attention on content instead of the shell or look of cultural institutions; dealing with funds from private and public sources; managing corruption; and the creation of museum positions for students and museum professionals.
Also, museums should include more diverse and daily topics, to support the financing, and to try to accomplish sustainable museums and not be dependent on a single fund. Museums worry too much on the use of modern technologies and having interactive exhibitions, but I believe that the use and focus should be on enriching the contents and clarifying the interpretation related to Guatemalan realities and diverse identities. Museums should take experiences and methodologies from around the world, that can be adapted to Guatemala and encourage citizen participation through multisectoral alliances, including universities, schools and foundations.
Another challenge would be the preventive conservation procedures and collection management policies, which many institutions do not have. The situation of museums in Guatemala City and regional museums is different in terms of funds and concept or purpose. There are no clear policies on how to deal with patrimony and how to present it. There are good efforts but they are not sustainable.
There are fewer and fewer resources, museum managers complain more, and in a way, it is justified to do less and less. In this sense, it is important to redefine the function of museums, and not only trying to make fancy exhibitions, which are a presumed source of income. Each community should work for a space that represents their cultures, practices, relations and other matters that are important at a community level (community understood, in this context, as a university, a school, a neighbourhood, a town or a diverse ethnic community).
If museums respond to the needs of the population, we could work on good interpretation and include community members to establish what is important for each museum at a local-regional-national level.
Something that is affecting funds and visitors to the museum is security. Many schools are not taking the students to museums, but museums should not wait for this to change.
Museums should go to the schools and learn to adapt to this security situation. There are some museums that are working with ‘travelling’ programs, and they should extend these program to the varied communities.
What is your vision for the future of museums in Guatemala?
One must think about public-private partnerships to generate funds and manage cultural projects. The development of more inclusive projects, adaptation of museums to different audiences in Guatemala and not only foreigners.
The creation of an inventory system to register collections, create standards for policies for conservation and management, and open museums to more professionals and students to encourage research. The point would be to find a common ground among museums, creating partnerships and support. This would help with raising the standards for all museums and teaching more people to protect their museums and patrimony, creating awareness for the tough future we have ahead of us.
Increasing support for museum sites and community museums. Development of new learning strategies based on interpretation strategies and specific content for different audiences and different communities. Make an analysis of the objectives of the museums that already exist so as not to lose resources and focus on a more specific work to the vision of the museum, that is to be incorporated into the employees and visitors. Find a balance between audiences and collections, not just focus on the objects or the audiences, finding a synergy between the two.