Community museums in Mexico : local identitiy, national citizenship and global museology
The focus of this study is Mexico's Programa Nacional de Museos Comunitarios y
Ecomuseos, a national programme of community-based museums that aims to strengthen
the relationship between civil society and its patrimony. This study examines the claims
made of the community museum as a federal programme and as an expression of new
museology, and compares them to the actual state of the museums in their communities.
It also approaches the museums as a group of institutions participating in regional,
national and global networks, whose objectives extend beyond the community, aiming to
change how patrimony is constructed, portrayed and managed.
Community museums, which base themselves in an "authenticity" attributed to the
community, endeavour to reverse the museum's top-down structure and expand its social
role, strengthening local identity and community cohesion by basing themselves in
people and their greater environment, not in objects. I illustrate that in Mexico the
museums have largely been unable to live up to the ambitious goals set for them, and that
while they succeed in expanding museum audiences they show limited evidence of widescale
community engagement and largely function as "traditional" object-based
institutions. I argue that this does not mean the failure of the community museum,
stressing that community museologists must move away from their elaborate theoretical
discourse and focus more on providing communities with the necessary resources to
create and maintain more dynamic exhibitions. Furthermore, as a national programme the
museums have an important symbolic value, serving as evidence of a new multicultural
image of "the Mexican, " and through networks community museums have expanded their
scope, forming a power base that enables them to work towards shared objectives.