INCLUSIVE MEMORY: How to promote social inclusion, well-being and critical thinking skills within a museum context
The Inclusive Memory project, financed by the UCL Global Engagement Rome Fund, was built on the awareness that social inclusion, especially in democratic terms, should be developed and fostered through those institutions, such as museums, that are dedicated to cultural development. Thanks to strong cooperation between the university, research institutes and the museum educational offices, the project aimed to create educational paths to promote social inclusion for socially disadvantaged categories of visitors. The latter include migrants, individuals with mental or physical disabilities, individuals with specific learning disabilities and special educational needs (SEN).
The Inclusive Memory project was designed and developed around an awareness that cultural sites, especially museums, should begin to transform their identity as institutions dedicated to the conservation of cultural memory, into institutions which aim at integration for all members of society who might want to visit them. Museums are often intrinsically connected to the history of the place where they are situated; this is especially the case for social, local or national collections. The knowledge that can be acquired through museums, including from an artistic and cultural perspective, is strongly connected with the visitors’ knowledge of the area in which they live and its history. Thanks to the study and understanding of the phenomena characterising the environment surrounding them, visitors come into contact with the culture of the area, thus increasing their understanding and acquiring the skills useful for actively taking part in society. In fact, only by being aware of the social, cultural and physical relationships existing in one’s own environment, can people aim to become aware of their own choices and ideas in the future (De Vecchis, 2011). The lack of valid educational contributions on this matter is the reason for the scarcity of culture and understanding about the local context among populations in and around Koine. This has led to false perceptions about the value of the environment, society and culture as a whole. Furthermore, when we look in detail at this topic, certain members of society rarely take part at all in the social, cultural and artistic life of the territory in which they live. Refugees, first and second-generation migrant children and people with disabilities are too often excluded from the cultural life of the area in which they live (Stolke, 1995; Marks, 2001). As a result, certain communities cannot contribute to the organisation and or share in the collective memory of the region and thus of the country in which they reside. Limited knowledge of the area in which such groups live, depending on the extent to which they participate in the social life of their area and their exclusion from the places, such as museums, in which culture is promoted, can lead to their exclusion from active citizenship more generally (Stevenson, 1997; Sandell, 1998; Kinsley, 2016). This can lead to marginalisation and can sometimes cause social tensions. For this reason, reflection on and instigating actions towards inclusive teaching can play a significant role, especially in informal learning contexts. Working towards the concrétisation of individual rights encourages participation in the community and avoids the pitfall of merely makingstatements about equal opportunities without putting the intention into practice (Chiappetta Cajola, 2014), all of which should constitute the ultimate goals of any kind of educational action. As Booth and Ainscow (2011, p. 31) write, if ‘social inclusion is automatically generated as a consequence of participation in society,’ it seems that inclusion needs to be presented as a moral obligation: educators, mediators and cultural places should move in this direction and start considering people as active contributors to their cultural development and to the community of a country (Chiappetta Cajola, 2013). Taking this as a starting point, the involvement of schools at all levels is necessary. The inclusion process, beginning in schools, should trickle through all educational actions to enhance individual and group competences, in order to ensure the personal development of each student.