Many thanks to everyone who participated in last month’s Symposium on International museum exhibitions. In this post Leticia Pérez reflects on her experiences travelling from Mexico City to Wellington to help run the symposium.
“Coming back to Wellington was a very interesting experience. I visited first in 2013 when I worked at Dirección de Exposiciones, an area at INAH that manages all international exhibitions organized by the Institute. At that time I was working in the team to put together Aztecs: Conquest and Glory in New Zealand and Australia. Three years later here I am at the Symposium on International museum exhibitions as a professor from the Museum Studies program at ENCRyM presenting advances in research on this interesting topic, some of which were recently published in Intervención. Revista Internacional de Conservación, Restauración y Museología.
So far, my colleague Lee Davidson and I have been working for almost two years, collecting data from staff and visitor interviews, analyzing them and finding very interesting things related with intercultural dialogue, museum practices, and intercultural competencies as well as international exhibitions as a means of cultural diplomacy.
It has been very interesting to meet Dr. Simon Mark and to get to know more about his research on cultural diplomacy. The research topic for my master’s degree in museum studies was an analysis of twelve years of the cultural policy on international exhibition activities at INAH, covering a period from 1988-2006 (dissertation available herein Spanish) during which INAH sent around 68 pre-hispanic exhibitions to 148 venues all around the world. This work has been carried out mainly in co-operation with the Foreign Affairs Ministry and its diplomatic representatives in different countries, as a way to represent Mexico abroad and promote the country. I found Dr. Mark’s comments very relevant with regard to the possible motivations for governments to be involved in cultural diplomacy.
At the same time, comments by Michael Houlihan, former CEO of Te Papa, gave me an interesting framing to think about three aspects related to exhibitions and cultural diplomacy: how a country thinks about itself; how it wants to be portrayed; and how others perceive it. To explore each of these three aspects in relation to Mexican cultural diplomacy and its international exhibitions would be very interesting research questions indeed. Our own study makes some contributions to answering the second and the third questions raised by Houlihan.
Preparing for this symposium was also a challenge. Lee and I worked deeply on a long-distance basis to put together all the data. Some interviews were collected by her, some by myself and others by our respective masters students Alice Meads and Rosa Elba Camacho. It was very nice to get to know Alice and hear from her directly the results she presented in her dissertation (download pdf). Now we are waiting impatiently for the completion of Rosa Elba’s work. I really like the idea of taking students on board and broadening our research capacity with this collaboration. We also worked on building a shared coding system for interview analysis, taking into account that we were searching for comments and meanings in two different languages. Two more students, Edith Quiñones and Greta Morales, from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México have joined us to help with translations. We want to have all material available in both English and Spanish.
I very much enjoyed meeting friends and colleagues again. Part of my session pointed out the relevance of communication and establishing good connections, also about the complexities working in different institutional and cultural contexts, something I experienced first-hand during my former job as Sub-director of International Exhibitions where I project managed and coordinated several projects. That’s why I found so nice the comforting feeling of being made very welcome by the Te Papa staff that I worked with. Many thanks to Liz Hay, Mark Kent, Robert Clendon, Moana Parata, Pat Stodart, Lynette Townsend, Raewyn Smith-Kapa; and to Jeff Fox. Also for those colleagues in Melbourne that I had the chance to interview: Patrick Greene and Robin Hirst. Of course to my Mexican colleagues: Raúl Barrera, Erika Gómez, Fernando Carrizosa, Carlos González, Paola Albert, María Barajas, Martha Carmona, Lourdes Gallardo, Martín Antonio Mondragón. I also thank Córdova Plaza, México, for their support.
Finally, I am very excited about what this project can contribute. Special thanks to my co-researcher Dr. Lee Davidson for all her work in organizing the symposium and to the other wonderful people from Victoria University of Wellington that I got to know.”