Heritage Matters: Culture and Development in the Pacific

Arts and Humanities Research Council funded 2017-2018

This pilot project will focus on two museums within the Pacific: the Solomon Islands National Museum in Honiara, and the Kiribati Cultural Centre in Tarawa. Both museums are named project partners and will contribute in-kind support to the project. The project has two parts: firstly it will use a collaborative working framework as an experimental methodology to identify local perspectives on sustainable development goals, and on the role of culture in strengthening education, creating more sustainable communities, and fostering gender equality. An effective example of this way of working is provided by the fieldworker program run by the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VKS) (Huffman 1996; Bolton 2006), which empowers local people to undertake research in their own communities, presented and discussed through periodic workshops, in support of rural ni-Vanuatu society’s cohesion and awareness of customary knowledge. This project wants to build upon the insights provided by the VKS’s experience by applying their methodologies to other Pacific Island contexts. Secondly it will produce a report that consolidates the social roles that these museums can play, and what they need to fulfill these objectives. The project will aim to exemplify partnership, as opposed to donor-led, approaches to cultural heritage development projects, and will produce a report and journal articles, outlining the specific needs and goals of each museum, that could be addressed through larger, future projects. The project’s comparative orientation aims to draw attention to the heterogeneity of Pacific Island settings, and hence suggest ways of assessing the extent to which successful approaches may or may not be transferable.

This project will ask:

  1. What are the current contexts of the two museums, what are they expected to contribute socially by their staff and by stakeholders, and what challenges are they facing?
  2. What roles do the museums already play, or have the potential to play, in terms of sustainable development? What goals can museum-based activities support?
  3. What is the best practice for conducting consultation-based research? How can this research project provide an evaluative framework, aligned with local perspectives of needs and priorities that can be used in other Pacific Island communities wanting to identify cultural heritage developmental needs? How can researchers and NGOs most effectively help to build the capacity of local museum and heritage staff?

By asking these questions this project contributes to the fourth thematic area, ‘Cultural heritages, interpretation and representation’. It will support the agency of local people in the use of their museums to serve their cultural and heritage needs (Stanley 2007), by helping them to develop the museum as an educational resource for primary and secondary education, and as a custodian of local cultural knowledge and history. The project will foster the further development of professional cultures within the two institutions to enable socially purposeful, effective and sustainable programmes and displays. The project will also make a concrete contribution to the development of professional capacity in Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, through the Indigenous internships offered, and through cross-cultural knowledge exchange between project staff, museum staff, consulted experts, and local people.

For more information contact Lucie Hazelgrove-Planel



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