STATEMENT BY DR. THE HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, CULTURE, YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
AT THE NINTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE
FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
THURSDAY, MAY 13, 2020
UPDATE ON CULTURE
Mister Speaker, for some years now, the Department of Culture has celebrated International Museum Day whilst placing a focus on our Territory’s museums. Mr. Speaker, if you recall, last year, the celebrations for International Museum Day were completely virtual and were highlighted through the release of a virtual exhibition in a two-part series entitled, “From Perreen Georges to Noel Lloyd: Heroes and Freedom Fighters.”
This year, the theme for International Museum Day is “The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine.” Museums around the world are being asked to imagine and create new practices. Mister Speaker, allow me to quote from the International Council of Museums, otherwise known as ICOM: “The year 2020 has been like no other. The COVID-19 crisis has swept the whole world abruptly, affecting every aspect of our lives. This crisis also served as a catalyst for crucial innovations that were already underway, notably an increased focus on digitisation and the creation of new forms of cultural experience and dissemination.” ICOM further stated, “Some already pressing issues have been exacerbated, questioning the very structure of our societies: the call for equality is stronger than ever.”
I am very excited to announce that the Department of Culture will be celebrating International Museum Day, on 18th May, through a series of immersive, educational, virtual initiatives throughout the entire upcoming week. In addition, the programme of International Museum Day activities is very reflective in different ways of the theme for International Museum Day 2021.
Before I go any further Mister Speaker, I am wondering how many of us are aware that we have eight museums in the Territory. These museums are all very distinctive and cover various aspects of our beloved Virgin Islands heritage. We have two privately owned museums in the Territory: Jenesis Studios and the North Shore Shell Museum. Not only is Jenesis Studios a heritage museum, it is also an arts museum, and it is also a natural history museum with its very engaging and informative heritage garden. We shouldn’t be so surprised at the versatility of Jenesis Studios as our very own former Speaker of this Honourable House, Mr. Reuben Vanterpool and family, own this museum. The other privately owned museum is the North Shore Shell Museum – a natural history museum with an astounding collection of shells. This one is owned by the very cultural icon, Egbert “Shellman” Donovan.
The other museums, Mister Speaker, are government related and include the Lower Estate Sugar Works Museum, the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum, Her Majesty’s Prison Museum, Old Government House Museum, and the Theodolph Faulkner House Museum. The stories told at each of these museums are fascinating ones and are tantamount to OUR VIRGIN ISLANDS STORY.
Mister Speaker, we also have a “pop-up” museum in Long Look that is managed by the Long Look Heritage Society.
The Department is presenting a series of workshops for our museums professionals in the Territory as we seek to transform and standardize our museums and our practices. These workshops will be held at the Atrium at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College on Monday and Tuesday morning (17th and 18th of May) between 10 a.m. and 12 noon. The first two workshops that will be conducted are: “Writing Mission Statements and Developing a Collection Policy.” On the Tuesday morning, the workshops conducted will be “Care of the Artefacts” and “Introducing a Decolonising Paradigm into our Museums.”
Let me make a few points about these very critical workshops. First of all, the public is also invited. Anyone who has an heirloom or a family collection might be interested in attending these workshops. Secondly, these activities will help to prepare the way for a Museums’ Policy which is being prepared by the Department of Culture along with the stakeholders – our Territory’s museums with which the Department of Culture has been meeting regularly for some time now. I also have a keen interest in the workshop entitled, “Introducing a Decolonising paradigm into our Museums.” The decolonization of museums has become a worldwide movement as museums are seen implementing certain inclusive methodologies and praxis in order to tell a more balanced, just and inclusive story. Examples of initiating museums include the British Museum as well as the Hunterian in Glasgow. I have had an initial meeting with His Excellency the Governor and the Director Culture, Dr. Katherine Smith, where we began a conversation about the Old Government House Museum and how it might benefit from telling a story from multiple perspectives. Old Government House Museum, however, will not be the only museums in the Territory upon which we will undertake this exercise.
These technical workshops are being held and will lead up to the opening ceremony, which will be held on International Museum Day itself – the 18th of May - at the Atrium at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College beginning at 5:30 p.m. I invite the general public, our museum professionals, in particular, as well as you, and my colleagues in this Honourable House to attend.
As we are aware, the museums have not had many tourist visits. Because of this, the International Museum Day activities include fun as well as fundraising initiatives. On Wednesday, 19th of May, there is an all day trip to Anegada. This includes a visit to our wonderful Theodolph Faulkner House Museum. There are a number of heritage stops along the way, which include the S. Vanessa Faulkner Botanical Garden, the Fisherman’s Wharf, the Conch Shell Mounds lookout, the Anegada Springs, and the Flamingo lookout at Salt Heap Point. Can I just say that Anegada is a wonderful place to visit and that, in my opinion, the historical archaeology of Anegada as well as its history of shipwrecks rival any other such places in the world! The Department of Culture will be taking along the 6th and 12th graders at the Claudia Creque Educational Centre along on this heritage trip. However, the general public is invited for a fee – as a fundraising initiative.
Our museums are not just cultural institutions; they are also educational institutions. For this reason, on Thursday the 20th of May, the Department of Culture has scheduled virtual sessions with the 6th graders across the Territory in order to introduce them to our museum world. The Department has been busy developing virtual museums in the spirit of innovative practices for all the museums and will be leading the 6th graders through immersive virtual sessions.
On Friday, the 21st of May, a Museums Expo will be held on the grounds of the Elmore Stoutt High School – the senior campus. There will be photographic and artefact displays of all our museums in the Territory. Educational activities have also been organized including a “scavenger hunt” in order to excite our twelfth graders across the Territory. Sessions have also been organized for these activities. I have already met with both the Department of Culture and the Education Unit in my Ministry to begin to address the defeciencies in the teaching of Virgin Islands’ history and culture in the curriculum. In the meantime, this is an excellent opportunity for our tweflth graders across the Territory to be immersed our Virgin Islands heritage through an introduction and active participation in our museum world.
The week of activities culminates in a grand way on Saturday the 22nd of May with a Museums Hop which will take place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The tour bus will be “hopping” to all the museums on Tortola. Everyone is asked to meet up at Her Majesty’s Prison Museum at 10 a.m. to begin that tour. Along the way, we will be learning interesting facts about our Virgin Islands’ history. This is also a fundraising activity for our museums.
Mister Speaker, all events are being carried out with adherence to social distancing procedures. In closing on this topic, I wish to say that I am hoping to see an integration of our Territory’s museums in our community. As we seek to develop our museums in dynamic, vibrant ways. We will need you—all of you—to become active and support our museums. Through the lens of our museum world, we come to understand the path and narrative that has brought us along to where we are right now, right here!