Cultural heritage is at the heart of national and community identity and serves as a point of pride for people all around the world. That is why cultural heritage objects, sites, and traditions require not only a great deal of care and vigilance but also opportunities for collaboration between those caretakers who are most passionate about their conservation. 

On July 28, 2023, a closing ceremony for the second phase of the Department of State’s African Museology International Exchange Program took place at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art (NMAfA). Rafik Mansour, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, gave remarks where he highlighted the importance of Africa’s Cultural Heritage to the United States. He emphasized its “deep meaning to communities around the world [and] here in the United States, where a large and vibrant African diaspora, as well as our fellow African Americans, have had such an important impact on our country’s arts and culture.”  

In coordination with the Smithsonian Institution (SI) and leadership from the NMAfA, the Department’s Cultural Heritage Center (CHC) developed the African Museology International Exchange Program to foster collaboration with and among cultural heritage professionals, experts, and scholars from eight African nations.  In this two-year program, participants and Smithsonian curators are collaborating to develop Afrocentric museology practices and principles focused on research and collections management.  Museology, the study of how museums do their work, is an important part of preserving and conserving cultural heritage. 

Participants were recruited based on demonstrated innovative approaches to their practice and a commitment to creative and regenerative museum practices that positively contribute to ongoing individual, community, and social well-being. Deputy Assistant Secretary Mansour said that each participant inspires him through both their creativity and innovation by crediting them with “reimagining and reshaping an Afro-centric museology that connects new generations to African culture, history, and heritage.” 

After a first phase of virtual sessions, participants traveled to Washington, D.C., for a two-week exchange where they met with members of CHC and the Department’s Bureau of African Affairs and worked with colleagues from the Smithsonian on pilot projects of mutual interest. These pilot projects could include provenance research; research into modes and practices of African knowledge systems and new knowledge production; research into indigenous knowledge-informed conservation and documentation; digital tools for research and engagement; community outreach, and more. In phase three, the participants will continue work on these pilot projects with support from Smithsonian and Cultural Heritage Center staff to develop new approaches to Afro-Museology that are domestically and internationally applicable to both the Smithsonian and other U.S. partner organizations and to African and diaspora museums and art centers. 

Learn more about the State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center by visiting Follow us for updates on the program as well as other CHC programs on Twitter at @HeritageatSate.    

About the Author: Alima Khanu is a Public Affairs Associate for the Office of Public Affairs and Strategic Communications in the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.

U.S. Department of State

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