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A passion for social justice

27 May 2016 by Emma Duffy

four people seated, holidng up campaign signs

Campaigners at the launch of the Federation of Human Rights Museums, including David Fleming, Director of NML, second from right

As we mark 30 years since we became a national museums service in 1986, it’s given us a moment to reflect on the positive work we have done over the past three decades. We believe in the power of museums to help promote good and active citizenship, and to act as agents of social change. From this belief we founded the Social Justice Alliance for Museums (SJAM) in 2013, in response to a growing recognition of the importance of the social value in museums and its impact on the public.

The aim of SJAM is to find a collective voice and promote the social impact of museums, exchange knowledge and work together with other museums on joint initiatives. SJAM encourages museums and related bodies, and individuals, to sign up to the Charter for Social Justice, and to campaign for and promote best practice. David Fleming, Director of National Museums Liverpool said “It is time for those of us who believe in the concept of social justice to find our voice, collectively. This is what SJAM is all about.”

World map with pinpoints on showing locations of SJAM members

Map showing locations of SJAM members

We have many supporters locally, nationally and internationally including Liverpool Hope Univeristy, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Museum of Copenhagen, National Taiwan University of Art, Te Papa Tongarewa, Living Traditions Museum, Nepal and the International Democracy Museum in Argentina. You can find out more about SJAM and signing up to the Charter on the website www.sjam.org or contact us via email sjam@liverpoolmuseums.org.uk
As part of our continuing commitment to promoting social justice we established the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) in 2010.  The Federation enables museums who deal with sensitive and controversial subjects such as transatlantic slavery, the Holocaust and human rights to work together and share new thinking in a supportive environment.
The Federation looks at the ways institutions challenge discrimination, human rights abuses and contemporary forms of racism. Represented by the FIHRM Council, we now more than 90 members in 35 countries and are proud of what the initiative has achieved.  In 2013, FIHRM became an Affiliated Organisation of ICOM, the International Council for Museums. The 2016 FIHRM Conference, focusing on the Ethical Museum, is taking place in Italy in July, during the ICOM 2016 General Conference on Museums and Cultural Landscapes.
To find out more about this year’s Conference and the work FIRHM does, visit the FIHRM website.

  1. Adele Chynoweth says:

    Congratulations on 30 years NML!

    Thank you NML for the inspiration that you have provided across oceans. SJAM and FIHRM have encouraged and influenced me to speak and write about social justice and museology.

    When I worked in a mainstream museum, on an exhibition commissioned by government based on memories of trauma, I felt alone and felt that I had to constantly push against the ‘yes-buts’ from museum colleagues who obviously felt very uncomfortable with this work.

    The quest for human rights and social justice cannot be achieved alone.Through the networks that you have created, I have met like-minded colleagues from other countries. This is so important because I have learned that I am not alone in my thinking. Further, my thinking has evolved and my ideas developed from direct engagement with SJAM and FIHRM.

    NML’s influence has been so profound that I cannot imagine what my work now (published research and curatorial projects) would have been like without it.
    Moreover, I have persisted with honorary research on this issue because I think it is so important.

    But of course, this is not about me. It is about standing, not ahead of, but shoulder-to-shoulder with those who are disenfranchised.
    To see the limitations of Neo-liberal careerism.
    To dispense with dominant deprivation theories and a singular, blinkered addiction to ‘beautiful’ aesthetics.
    To listen and apply our expertise, in consultation.
    To grant a voice, and more than that – agency – to those who do not have access to those rights and resources that some take for granted every day.

    There is no greater quest.

    This is what NML has taught me. Thank you and again, congratulations.

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