Institutional Heritage

  • Institutional Heritage
    Talk at the Mschatta façade, discussing cultural exchange and societal diversity. © Staatliche Museen Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst, photo: Hilal Sezgin-Just
  • Institutional Heritage
    Industrie- und Filmmuseum Wolfen, Bitterfeld-Wolfen (Germany) © Industrie- und Filmmuseum Wolfen
  • Institutional Heritage
    “Bilderschau” at Industrie- und Filmmuseum Wolfen © Friederike Berlekamp, photo Friederike Berlekamp
  • Institutional Heritage
    Haus der Geschichte, Wittenberg (Germany) © Christel Panzig, photo: Christel Panzig
  • Institutional Heritage
    Volunteers at the Haus der Geschichte © Christel Panzig, photo: Christel Panzig
  • Institutional Heritage
    Pergamonmuseum, SMB-PK, Berlin (Germany) © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons), CC BY-SA 4.0,, photo: Raimond Spekking
  • Institutional Heritage
    Participants in a Multaka tour at the Vorderasiatische Museum © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst, photo: Milena Schlösser
  • Institutional Heritage
    Outreach Tape Art Wedding © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst, photo: Jana Martina Kopp
  • Institutional Heritage
    TAMAM workshop © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Islamische Kunst, photo: Alexander Papadopoulos


Task Leader: SPK (DE)

This pilot aimed to gain a broad understanding of the participatory activities carried out in cultural heritage institutions. To this end, the implementation of initiatives and their framework conditions were analysed, as well as the importance of collaborative and participatory interaction for and its impact on institutions, participants and the environments. Special attention was paid to the complex relationships between institution - audience - society and the (constantly) changing expectations of museums. Two key issues of REACH were here particularly considered: social cohesion and the relevance of cultural heritage. On this basis, a need for action was derived in order to improve the scope of action of museums and to strengthen their societal role and benefits.


Three museums were included in this survey: the Industrie- und Filmmuseum Wolfen (Industry and Film Museum Wolfen) in Bitterfeld-Wolfen, the Haus der Geschichte (House of History) in Wittenberg and the Museum für Islamische Kunst (Museum of Islamic Art) of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (SMB-PK). These selected museums are two smaller institutions, which mainly receive local visitors, and a large one, which primarily addresses an international audience.
With the help of these three central case studies, it was possible to discuss different framework conditions and structures, and to reflect on possible changes, improvements and expansions.


Even if this number seems small, these three examples could demonstrate a wide range of participatory initiatives that take place in different museum areas, e.g. exploration of the contents of collections, contributions from contemporary witnesses, co-creation of learning materials and exhibitions, organisation of (dialogical) guided tours and other forms of exchange, as well as involvement through government volunteer programmes.

The case studies revealed the great value of historico-cultural collections for communities and societies, as they can be used as bridges between past, present and future, as well as to local environments and distant regions, and especially to people, their ideas, experiences, memories, narratives. They offer starting points for reflecting on and dealing with own and (supposedly) foreign phenomena as well as for discussions and negotiations on issues of general concern. Cultural heritage can therefore help to find answers to current burning, sometimes difficult issues and to develop new questions.

Interactions between / with people and tangible / intangible cultural heritage provide intellectual, emotional and social impulses. Shared activities bring experiences that go beyond one’s own everyday horizons. They give the opportunities to encounter differences, ambiguities and heterogeneities, and to develop the ability to tolerate / deal with them. In this way the acceptance of even problematic topics and the willingness to treat and debate them together can be increased.
In addition, joint interactions can give the participants self-esteem and consciousness as active partners within an exchange and bring (new) social support and stability to the community.

Thanks to this potential for highly multidimensional interaction and exchange with / around cultural assets, the museum can present itself as an aware and committed partner in cultural work and as a place of encounter, reflection, discussion, entertainment, discovery, creation and presentation, where people -regardless of their social, cultural and economic background- can make meaningful experiences and contributions, and can feel respected and appreciated.
Here the personnel are of particular importance. Museums are not monoliths. It is the staff and their diversity that make up the institution. They are also representatives of the institution and the direct link to the participants in activities, the public and the environments. Therefore, participation is also an internal matter and needs the support or at least the acceptance within the institutions of the staff directly and indirectly involved.
Furthermore, this pilot highlighted the fact that institutions are a particularly important societal and cultural facility, as they are often linked to very different milieus. They can succeed in connecting different domains and in encouraging and / or initiating cross-sector exchange and interaction.
Even if museums have traditionally had an authoritarian image, the desire to overcome barriers and to be a reliable and responsive partner and interlocutor as well as a reference point for communities and societies is widespread.

This survey showed that participatory initiatives go far beyond the core work of museums and traditional museum practices. The current framework conditions very often do not support long-term, open and intensive engagement. It has to be noted rather that many of these initiatives are implemented within a fixed project framework programme, which strongly determines / limits the scope for action and hinders sustainable development.

Three key elements could be identified, which are very important for the development of museums into meeting points of multiple relevance on the one hand, and for a stronger common appreciation of cultural heritage on the other:
1. Involvement of the museum’s constituent community in (decision-making) processes – including the communities of origin, the audiences, the neighbourhood, the staff and politicians
2. Diversification, extension, transparency and network at different levels – concerning partners and addressees; topics, approaches, methods and media as well as working fields and procedures
3. Long-term and flexible structures – including funding, administrative and working periodisations and procedures

The pilot demonstrated that participatory engagement is a cross-sector undertaking that requires a high degree of collaboration within the institutions and with external partners. Museums want to be active for the public and with the people. Citizen involvement in the museum needs broad understanding, interest and support - from museum staff, politicians and, above all, the general public. It is a major societal task that museums cannot and should not fulfil alone.

More detailed information you can find in the Deliverable D5.3-Institutional-heritage-pilot-results.pdf


  • 21 June 2018, Berlin (Germany). Conference: "Visions for Cultural Heritage and Digital Platforms"
    In the framework of the European Summit for Cultural Heritage (Berlin, 18-24 June, 2018), REACH Project was presented at the conference dedicated to digital- cooperation platforms and factual data. The event is co-organized and co-hosted by the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, SPK). Read more