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Heritage institutions for everyone

How can heritage institutions make their organisations, collections and exhibitions more inclusive and accessible? University lecturer Eliza Steinbock will investigate this using a NWO Smart Culture grant.

Eliza Steinbock

The critical visitor

Currently, Dutch heritage institutions are working hard to become more diverse, inclusive and accessible. There is a new national “Cultural Diversity Code” and the national Museum Association announced 2019 as year of connection and inclusiveness. And for a reason, because visitors to heritage institutions are currently more critical than ever. Eliza Steinbock says the following: ‘Visitors place new demands on the presentation of culture through physical, virtual and interactive means that are accessible to everyone, regardless of their personal limitations or background.’

According to Steinbock, more is needed than a visitor survey, and simply involving more identities is not enough, because in this way no sustainable heritage will be created in the long term. ‘To do this, we need to develop coherent strategies that involve various stakeholders, who are crucial for the Dutch heritage sector,' says Steinbock.

Working together for solutions

Steinbock will collaborate with Hester Dibbits (Amsterdam School of the Arts and Erasmus University) and Dirk van den Heuvel (TU Delft), among others. A total of fifteen partners are involved in the project, including the Amsterdam Museum, IHLIA LGBT+ Heritage, the Nieuwe Instituut, the Research Centre for Material Culture and izi.travel. Steinbock will also supervise two PhD students, together with Leiden professors Monika Baár and Kitty Zijlmans, and during the project, will ensure that communication between all partners is well organised.

‘The aim of the project is to reduce structural exclusion within cultural institutions. We can achieve this by implementing daily activities - such as selection, collection management and conservation, exhibition design and interaction with the public - in an inclusive way that contributes to reducing structural exclusion,' says Steinbock. ‘We will renew the field of research on critical heritage studies and propose inclusive practices that meet the current ethical standards of government agencies and critical voices. Knowledge will be made accessible to the entire heritage sector and cooperation between researchers and entrepreneurs will be promoted.’

Research and society

For the research project, Steinbock will approach inclusiveness and accessibility through "intersectionality". This means that different forms of discrimination and oppression will be studied together in their mutual context, in order to explain all their causes and consequences. ‘For me, this project is important because it enlarges my field of research: it enables me to relate transgender studies to disability studies, black feminist theories and decolonial knowledge', says Steinbock. ‘With this research, we are adding something to the knowledge of how to change a system of dominant monocultures. In this way we can provide an answer to inequality in cultural participation. By using intersectionality as a method, we can build a bridge between institutions and individuals, the visitors. By investigating inclusiveness at the level between the two, we can examine how the critical visitor forms at the crossroads of heritage and society. These methods enable us to develop an inclusiveness and accessibility strategy that works for different stakeholders.’

Steinbock would like to thank their fellow applicants, the Smart Culture programme and colleagues from the Leiden University Centre for Arts and Society for their support.

NWO Smart Culture

The NWO Smart Culture research projects receive funding to create connections between innovative artistic and cultural practices and scientific and social issues. The awarded research proposals are in line with the aim of the Roadmap Smart Culture and have a duration varying from two to four years. Steinbock's project, however, has received a grant for a period of five years.

 

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