Then, Now and Always is a research project proposal developed by the Czech Technical University. It explores the dynamic processes and changing roles of small museums for societies, communities and local interest groups. Recently, museums and places of memory have increasingly become centers of interaction and communication. Through documenting them, this project seeks to map current models of holistic placemaking and better understand local processes of preserving, telling, and sharing local history and cultural stories.
In this project, museums are understood as places where a common identity is created and local customs are given value, purpose, inspiration, and historical dimensions (Schnitzer, 2018). It uses the notion of communities of practice and defines them as groups of people who “share an interest, fear or a passion for something. They learn from each other, communicate regularly, share experiences, exchange information, skills and create common goals” (Lave and Wenger, 1991). These community activities are a key to creating long-term heritage revitalization processes (Pappalardo, 2020).
By looking at local museums this project explores the role of material heritage or architecture in preserving cultural identity via the holistic formation of lived places. The general mission of small museums is to primarily serve visitors from their own communities. We ask, how the messages left by each particular era, architectural project or preserved artifact shape current and future community stories? In asking this we draw on Joseph Beuys and his notion of “social sculpture” – a dialogical practices that he described as “thinking, speaking and listening with others” (Harlan, 2004, p. 2; Kuspit et al., 1993 Sacks, 2004, pp. ix; Thistlewood, 1995).
Social sculpture can thus be seen as one of the processes that restore, preserve and develop museums as centers of social change through a dialogue with the community or interest group whose identity is associated with them. Beuys sought to change the ways curators communicate with the general public and, in doing so, set a trend for socially engaged artists, various institutions and active publics, that this project continues in its own particular way. (Harlan, 2004).
Dr. Jitka Cirklová and Doc. Václav Liška | Czech Technical University, Prague
The project is interested in the broad themes of museums and communities, functioning through architecture, artifacts, and engagement practices. In particular it focuses on volunteer fire stations and their status as cultural artefacts and sites for the celebration and cultivation of communities identity and traditions across the Czech Republic. These museums are home to a variety of artifacts, from firefighting equipment to photographs and contain multiple artworks, books and local documents.
The mission of the fire museum is to introduce visitors to firefighting as a technical history, a specific local culture and a service to its community. The local associations and communities that run them are much more than just careful collection managers, they are integral to preserving cultural pasts and fostering healthy, socially sustainable, community futures. In examining them, this research project asks what a small local museum can mean for a particular group today and whether small museums or places of memory can survive and even grow in a context of social change and cultural globalisation.
While the conference asks a larger set of related questions, The Czech Technical University is specifically interested in exploring overlaps in the work of international colleagues with their particular project, Then, Now and Always, from various perspectives, including: communities, material collections, objects, artifacts, and buildings.
Harlan, V. (2004). A Note on the Text. In: V. Harlan (Ed.), What is art? Conversation with Joseph Beuys. Clairview Books.
Kuspit, D. B., Beuys, J., Warhol, A., Malevič, K., Mondrian, P., Duchamp, M., & Picasso, P. (1993). The cult of the avant-garde artist(pp. 98-99). Cambridge University Press.
Maida, Carl A. and Beck, Sam. 2018. Global sustainability and communities of practice. New York: Berghahn Books. 236 pp. ISBN: 9781785338458.
Pappalardo G. Community-Based Processes for Revitalizing Heritage: Questioning Justice in the Experimental Practice of Ecomuseums. Sustainability. 2020; 12(21):9270. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12219270
Sacks, S. (2004). Forward. In: In: V. Harlan (Ed.), What is art? Conversation with Joseph Beuys. Clairview Books.
Schnitzer M, Seidl M, Schlemmer P, Peters M. Analyzing the Coopetition between Tourism and Leisure Suppliers—A Case Study of the Leisure Card Tirol. Sustainability. 2018; 10(5):1447. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10051447
Thistlewood, D. (Ed.). (1995). Joseph Beuys: diverging critiques. Liverpool University Press.