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What does the activist museum stand for? How does it express itself? Whose vision does it represent: the director’s, the whole staff’s, the Board’s? Do we acknowledge diverse opinions among team members and how do we manage them? These are some of the concerns we would like to address in this debate, looking for possible ways forward, challenging the persistent idea of a “neutral” or “apolitical” museum.

Our guest speakers:

Cristina Lleras is a Colombian independent curator. Currently, the curator for the Museo de Bogotá, a government-run city museum in Colombia´s capital. She headed the curatorial and educational team of the Museum of Memory of Colombia and collaborated with the Truth Commission, as well as the National Commission for Reparation and Reconciliation in curatorial work. She also worked as the art and history curator at the National Museum of Colombia and was Visual Arts Manager for the District Institute of the Arts. She obtained her PhD in Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. Her research interests encompass the representation of the past in national museums, representation and pedagogy of trauma and human rights, symbolic reparation and the relationship between history and contemporary art.

Richard Sandell is Professor of Museum Studies and Director of the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) at the University of Leicester.  Through RCMG, he works collaboratively with cultural institutions on projects that generate new insights and advance thinking and practice around their social roles, responsibilities and agency.  Recent collaborations have shaped major new gallery developments – such as “Being Human” at the Wellcome Collection in London – and large national public programmes – such as “Prejudice and Pride” with the National Trust. In 2017, he published “Museums, Moralities and Human Rights”, which explores how museums, galleries and heritage sites of all kinds – through the narratives they construct and publicly present – contribute to shaping the moral and political climate within which human rights are experienced, continually sought and fought for, realised and refused. In 2019, he published a major new international edited collection, “Museum Activism”, with Robert Janes, which explores the ‘activist turn’ in museum thinking and practice and makes the case for the socially purposeful museum.

Maria Vlachou is a founding member and the executive director of Acesso Cultura | Access Culture. Author of the bilingual (pt/en) blog Musing on Culture. She is the manager of the Facebook group Museum texts / Textos em museus and co-manager of the blog Museums and Migration. She participated in the European project RESHAPE – Reflect, Share, Practice, Experiment, having joined the trajectory on “Arts and Citizenship”. In the past, she was Communications Director of São Luiz Municipal Theatre and Head of Communication of Pavilion of Knowledge – Ciência Viva (Lisbon). Board member of ICOM Portugal (2005-2014) and editor of its bulletin. She has a M.A. in Museum Studies (University College London, 1994). She is the author of the article “Dividing issues and mission-driven activism: museum responses to migration policies and the refugee crisis”, included in the book “Museum Activism”, edited by Richard Sandell and Robert Janes.