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Museums & Society Newsfeed

Title: Museum Diplomacy
Keywords: museums, news, research

Museums collect and display objects from all over the world, including places whose political significance changes according to current events. Behind the scenes, organizing an exhibit that may have international implications engages the museum in a more or less overt form of diplomacy. The Director of the Louvre Museum characterizes its mission as "increasingly a major player on the cultural diplomacy front" explaining that "naturally this international outreach finds expression in exhibitions" (About the Louvre: Message from the Director "International Outreach") - (and perhaps also in the planned Louvre Abu Dhabi - Alan Riding, "The Louvre's Art: Priceless. The Louvre's Name: Expensive" NYTimes, March 7, 2007). The British Museum director travels regularly to countries whose communication with the British government just as regularly stalls (William Lee Adams, "The Art of Museum Diplomacy" Time Magazine World, February 19, 2009). In the case of Europe's publicly funded national museums this may not be so surprising, but recently the news coverage of several American museums and exhibits have highlighted their involvement in international politics (click here to read more).

This month the Metropolitan Museum in New York reopened its galleries of Islamic art, now titled the galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia. The press coverage has focused on the significance of the Met's coincidental timing, practically the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks and soon after the events of the Arab Spring. Is the Met trying to change the American conversation about Islam? Holland Cotter reads the exhibit as a story about a complex, always varying, and largely secular culture (Holland Cotter's review in the NYTimes; see also Lee Lawrence in the Washington Post). Who exactly is the Met trying to reach with its representation of cultural understanding? Charlotte Higgins of the Guardian reports a novel aspect to this diplomatic story: the Met is working directly with the state department to promote the new galleries in the public spaces of US embassies worldwide ("New York's Met Museum Showcases a World of Islamic Treasures" Guardian, October 26, 2011).

Jennifer Kingsley

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