NEMO Webinar on museums’ role in making sense of the complex and uncomfortable

 The photograph shows a black museum display with circular holes in a dark room. Behind the holes are illuminated pictures of animals and leafs.

On 28 October 2020 at 11:00 CET, Maria Vlachou, Cultural Management and Communications consultant, will facilitate a NEMO webinar titled “Museums making sense – Dealing with the discomfort of a multicoloured world”. For one hour she will inspire museums to help themselves and others to face ambiguity and complexity with curiosity and joy.

The webinar acts as a kind of warm-up to NEMO’s European Museum Conference 2020 – Museums making sense. The conference will take place online from 16-19 November 2020 and will discuss how museums can help visitors make sense of complicated matters – be it climate change or migration processes or economic relations. 

 Please find Maria Vlachou’s abstract and introduction to the webinar below.

In recent years, a couple of things have become quite clear to us: many (most?) people are looking for simple black or white answers and wish to avoid the discomfort of a multicoloured world. This is because our multicoloured world is full of nuances, becomes complex and cannot always provide simple answers. Our multicoloured world expects us to invest more in getting properly informed and dealing with this complexity. Populists are aware of these “human issues” and base their strategies on few and simple slogans, making things look “easy” and contributing towards an extreme polarisation.  

Where do museums stand in this? 

In an interview for the New York Times in July, amid intense antiracist protests in the US, the Smithsonian secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III said that we need to help our visitors feel comfortable with nuance and complexity. More recently, in a debate organised by the Research Centre for Material Culture (Holland), he elaborated a bit more on this idea and challenged us further: “How do you help your audience embrace ambiguity? Help them be comfortable with debate and not just look for simple answers? Help them deal with complexity and shades of grey?” 

We propose the vision of the multicoloured world, instead of the shades of grey (although we understand and agree with Lonnie Bunch), wishing to bring a positive note and help ourselves and other people face ambiguity and complexity with curiosity and joy. There is pleasure to be found in discovering that the world is much more colourful and nuanced than we might think; and this is not a threat. 

Maria Vlachou
Maria Vlachou is a Cultural Management and Communications consultant. Founding member and Executive Director of Acesso Cultura, promoting access – physical, social, intellectual – to cultural participation. Author of the bilingual (pt/en) blog Musing on Culture, where she writes about culture, the arts, museums, cultural management and communication, access. She is the manager of the Facebook group Museum texts / Textos em museus and co-manager of the blog Museums and Migration. She is currently participating in the European project RESHAPE – Reflect, Share, Practice, Experiment, having joined the trajectory on “Arts and Citizenship”. 

In the past, she was Communications Director of São Luiz Municipal Theatre and Head of Communication of Pavilion of Knowledge – Ciência Viva (Lisbon). Board member of ICOM Portugal (2005-2014) and editor of its bulletin. She has collaborated with different programmes of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.  

Fellow of ISPA – International Society for the Performing Arts (2018, 2020); Alumna of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center in Washington (2011-2013); she has a M.A. in Museum Studies (University College London, 1994) and a B.A. in History and Archaeology (University of Ioannina, Greece, 1992).