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Furthering Community Participation through Museums


Following the definitions of the terminologies, ‘museums’ and ‘community’, this section explores the link between museums, policy and development. Public policy has drawn relevance of ‘community’ from the above insubstantial viewpoints on community. The relevance of cultural policy and community development issues and implications in the UK context is discussed below.


The key issue discussed under museums and community is the ‘participatory approach’ to development within local and national government museum services through the creation of community collections, exhibitions, museums, outreach officers and education officers (Crooke, 2008a, p.28). Hence, it is important to understand the incorporation of communities in the museum-sector to evaluate the case-studies.

Museums have broadened their scope by involving with communities. They have tried to demonstrate their need for existence, through such involvements, by reflecting their endorsement of the government policies. Crooke (2008a) identifies these approaches as an indication of the museums trying to defend their purpose, by linking to communities. Gramsci’s discussion on hegemony (1971) and Freire’s discussion on pedagogy (1972) have relevance for understanding museums (Mayo, 1999). Both of them supported the notion of self-awareness through critical consciousness (Crooke, 2008a). Gramsci (1971) emphasized that ‘dominant social groups’ shape the power relations in an organization’s institutional structure. He describes that these institutions establish ‘specific cultural norms, values, and beliefs’ which society accepts as ‘standard cultural norms’, due to their inability to contradict the hegemony. Freire (1972)advocated for a new learning and education approach, which would enable the society, through dialogue (1972) and debate, to voice their assumptions (Mayo, 2000) to bring about change. By this approach, Freire (1972) recognizes how the community, by critiquing their own situations, can become ‘active transformers’ in bringing about change. Previously existing museum works were criticized using the notions of Freire and Gramsci. Tony Bennett (1995) put forward the possibility of museum practices in reversing their roles by organizing a counter-hegemony through a sense of empowerment. He discussed the implications of the radical agendas proposed by Antonio Gramsci and Paulo Freire, on traditional museology, in his book on The Birth of the Museum.

Since 1990s, museums are presented as means to achieve goals of community development through encouraging participation of marginalized and excluded promotion of opportunities for self-help, and helping to bring about changes that can lead to greater social equity. Recently, museums, culture and heritage have been central to social improvement and change. These notions of change were associated with the betterment of society (Crooke, 2008a, pp.40-41)According to NEMLAC, in the UK, museums, libraries and archives were ‘contributing to community cohesion’, ‘reaffirming community identity’ and ‘responding to local circumstances and needs’  (NEMLAC, p.43)by placing community as its core. In an ‘issue paper’ titled Strengthening Communities through Culture (2001), Elizabeth Strom, of Rutgers University, argues that art and culture are intrinsic to communities on all levels and suggests the main areas are community identity; community and economic development; education and cultural literacy; and social needs. Inclusion is one key aspect of policy that has concerned the UK museum sector (Crooke, 2007). UK’s National development agency, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA 2005) illustrates in its statement, the New Directions in Social Policy (Linley, 2004), the priority given to community development. This policy-mapping document defines ‘regeneration and sustainable communities, social inclusion, neighbourhood renewal and community agendas’ as its key themes (MLA 2005). It argued for museums and national galleries to address national policy issues. It also brought this to national attention by placing it in a bulletin produced for the Sustainable Communities Summit in 2005.  The table below describes how museums could contribute to sustainable communities.

Table 1 MLA Bulletin, Sustainable Communities Summit (MLA 2005)

MLA (2005) argued that museums are ‘core’ institutions for delivering sustainable communities, emphasizing that ‘communities need museums, libraries and archives’andthatmuseums ‘lie at the very heart of communities’. It also highlighted the ‘notion of social capital’ as ‘the glue that binds communities together’It presented culture as playing ‘a major role in determining how much social capital exists within a community’
(Crooke, 2007, MLA, 2005). The MLA (2005) thus established the centrality of museums for community and vice versa. Crooke (2008a) further asserts that this document was a good example of how cultural policies are integrated with museum planning (Linley, 2004). The MLA (2005) document also reports on recent UK Government policies, which shapes the future of museums. “Sustainable Communities: People, Place and Prosperity”, issued by Home Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (2005), is considered to be extremely relevant to the MLA sector (Linley, 2004, p.8). Its main objective is an inclusive community and participation across all levels. It also hoped for ‘a strong local culture’, ‘shared community activities’ and ‘better conditions for education and learning’(2005b, p.4). Here, culture is presented as ‘having a central role in bringing people together and building a sense of community, and in breaking down barriers’ (2005b, p.21, as cited in Crooke,E., p.50). In addition, the Home Office’s work in relation to communities, active communities, race, cohesion, equality and faith, as well as crime and offender management is noted as significant for museum planning (Linley, 2004, p.10).

The MLA statement (2005) has a threefold significance to the museum sector. First, the museum sector is concerned with contemporary issues. Second, it introduces new thinking’s as an attempt to address these issues. Finally, it presents museum as a place to tackle social problems (Crooke, 2007, p.43).

In the UK, the DCMS (2000) is responsible for bringing the priorities and policies of the Government to the cultural sector. The report, “Culture at the Heart of Regeneration”, published by DCMS

DCMS (2004a) demonstrates the link between Government strategy and Planning for the Cultural sector. The methods described include, ‘community consultation and participation, and solutions that have emerged from communities. By using this approach, it aims to build partnerships between the government, private and voluntary sectors…’ (DCMS, 2004a, p.5)A report published by DCMS (2004b), “Bringing Communities Together through Sport & Culture”, has firmly established‘culture as a means to foster social cohesion’ in the UK (DCMS, 2004). In the report, Tess Jowell, then Minister for Culture, Media and Sport described sport and ‘culture’ as ‘powerful tools for building community cohesion’, as ‘natural opportunities’ for people to come together, and as a means to create ‘local pride and belonging’ (DCMS, 2004b). Five themes identified for effective community projects by participants include ‘Needs analysis, partnership working, growing and adapting, evidence and evaluation, and celebration’.

The background to museums embracing the ideas of community development and social policy was first reflected in the Comedia report, “Use or Ornament? The Social Impact of Participation in Arts” (Matarasso, 1997)Comedia, a UK-based research group, drew on case-study research to understand the benefits of participation. From this report, one can understand that although the impact of participation could be quantified through economic returns, the more important benefits had an intangible quality (Crooke, 2008a).

The examples analysed in the report summarized the positive impacts of participation such as enhancement of local identity, developing pride, creating community links and a greater sense of belonging along with capacity building. The examples provided evidence of reduced feelings of isolation, promoted development of contacts, and brought greater understanding between and within communities. The evidence based of the benefits of participation has continued to grow with support from local and central governments. The museum sector, apart from advocating just the idea of linking museums and community development agendas, has also celebrated its successful contributions to social policy (NMDC, 2004) through its publication “Museums and Galleries: Creative Engagement”. “Creative Engagement” provided 27 examples of museums within UK, which benefitted both the museums and the society, by engaging with local communities. Burdett (2004, p.43) describes how it went through ‘a sea-change, by adopting a pro-active approach to its role in society’.


ICOM (1997) has promoted cultural diversity as one of its key issues for promoting community relations. This policy approach has been used to manage cultural differences to reduce racial tension, thereby increase the understanding between communities. Cultural diversity is described as “the common heritage of humanity” (UNESCO, 2001, 2002). This is based-on a legacy of cultural and human rights policy as its foundation (UNESCO, 2005).

Initially, in the UK, ‘cultural diversity agenda’ in the museum sector, was started as a means to increase work-force diversity. Museums Association (2000) works with universities, museums, offers bursaries, training and skills. UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001, 2002) integrated into museum policy has shaped museum practice with relation to its role in society. It outlined the necessity to ensure harmonious interactions among people belonging to diverse societies having dynamic cultural identities. It promotes policies for ‘inclusion’ and ‘participation of all’ as necessary for social cohesion and for the creation of a peaceful civil society (UNESCO, 2002, 2005). ICOM’s (1997) policy statement on ‘museums and cultural diversity’ has promoted the role of museum as a ‘forum for the promotion of good community relations through associations with thinking’s on cultural diversity and policy’.

‘As individuals we are all different; in a multi-cultural society that difference is considered as shared communities’. This ideology is used as a means to foster ‘public recognition’ and ‘respect differences of values, beliefs and lifestyles’. As a political tool, ‘multiculturalism’ has been adopted as a policy approach to increase the understanding between communities (Crooke, 2007, p.83). UNESCO’s Declaration (2001, 2002) signifies the appreciation and understanding of cultural diversity. This has shaped museum policy internationally (ICOM, 1997) by advocating ‘inclusive museology’, in which, inclusion, participation-of-all, cultural pluralism and social cohesion are key components of museum practice.

Museums reflect how they embrace cultural diversity through their collections that they hold and display, their stories, the audiences they attract and people they employ’(Crooke, 2008a,p.80).For instance, ‘cultural diversity’ in museum policy, represented in “Reassessing What We Collect Project” at the Museum of London (2006), included African, Asian, Caribbean and North American as well as disabled, and LGBT communities. By embracing the cultural diversity agenda, the museum acquired new audiences (Crooke, 2007). In the same context, ‘cultural diversity agenda’ resulted in a museum, which demonstrated its relevance to its community and wider society (Khan, 2000). This support for ‘multiculturalism’ has increased the relevance of museum for a wider audience and has led to the exploration of social issues (MLA, 2005). From the above example, the central role of museums in the formation of the community, suggests the need for museums to recognize themselves, as they are essential to the formation and survival of the community. From this, we can understand that museums are not isolated institutions, but reflections of the social and political contexts in which they exist (Crooke, 2007, p.43).

Naseem Khan (2000), a proponent of the ‘cultural-diversity agenda’, praised it as ‘a medium for fostering partnerships between institutions and communities’ and outlined the need for museums to find ways to communicate with a wider public and expand their range of audiences (Khan, 2000, MLA, 2005). Several criticisms exist on ‘museum-based cultural diversity policies’. Conversely, Barry (2001) and West (2005) criticized ‘multi-culturalism’, as ‘it poses as many problems as it solves’ (Barry, 2001, p.328) and ‘divide the population into groups of competing ethnicities’ (West, 2005) respectively.


The above discussions present the idea of museum as a place to address social issues. Literature discussions have also confirmed the realization of the threefold significance outlined in the MLA statement (2005) concerning museums and social issues. Examples cited in Creative Engagement (NMDC, 2004), describe how the profile of the museum has shifted from ‘inward-looking institutions to significant agents of change at both the individual and community level’ (Burdett, 2004, p.43)Key policy makers have welcomed the shift (Khan, 2000, MLA, 2005), whereas critics have argued that it shifts the notion from its original purpose (Appleton, 2001). Social inclusion was a key area of debate for the museum sector as it dominated museum conferences (2001), research projects (DCMS, 2000, GLLAM, 2000)and strategic planning in museums (SEMLAC, 2005-2007). Academics identified concepts of ‘inclusion’ as a core policy approach to tackle ‘exclusion’ (DCMS, 2000, 2001) and attract wider audiences (Crooke, 2007).It formed the basis for the widening of the scope of museum policy, since 1990’s, to include other concerns such as empowerment, cohesion and participation (Bauman, 2013) as community development concepts (DCMS, 2004b). The widespread adoption of inclusion strategies into strategic planning, and enhanced investment in research was an evidence base for the inclusion works undertaken by museums audiences (Crooke, 2007). GLLAM’s report (2000), “Museums and Social Exclusion” described that involvement in museum projects led to increased self-esteem, community empowerment and enhanced community identity. It hoped to see a change in museum culture that would look upon museums as a resource for social inclusion and as a facilitator that can enhance opportunities (GLLAM, 2000,p.54). NMDC (2004) also describes museums as places that ‘create social capital, educating and empowering individuals and groups alike, creating networks and stimulating dialogue’ (Burdett, 2004, p.2). Hence, culture is considered as a tool of community development and change.


In the UK, ‘community’ has been central to public policy since the 50s and 60s. It has encouraged development through the state-level involvement at the community-level, focused on ‘democracy from below’(Martin, 2004,p.29). The 20th Century saw the rise of ‘community’ with relation to ‘people-centred’ development. This was the ‘participatory approach’ to development. It aimed to develop ‘self-awareness’ and ‘confidence’, using which people could take decisions suitable to their situations. Repeated references of terms such ‘community cohesion, sustainable communities and community regeneration’ focused on ‘the value of community as a building block of society and as a means to achieve the aims of the government’ (Crooke, 2007,p.45). Despite the differences in outcomes, the concept of community was always a part of the agenda.

The context for the development of community policy in UK was outlined in Tony Blair’s foreword, in the Home Office (2004) Report. This report outlined the approach by the government to develop ‘a sense of citizenship, identity and cohesion’(Blunkett, 2004,p.8). All of these suggested a return to an ‘active and participatory community’ by enhancing the ‘sense of ownership’ and ‘accountability’ of the community. It also outlines how policies can become more successful by improving vertical bonds between people and the state (Home Office, 2004, Crooke, 2007). The ‘Community-Development’ section of the Home Office Civic Renewal Unit, has defined ‘increasing people’s involvement in the governance of their communities’ as its main tasks. ‘Capacity-building’ and ‘formation of partnerships’ are also part of the Government’s objectives. At the local level, the Local Government Association (LGA, 2004) placed ‘community cohesion’ at the core of a secure society. This guide illustrated several examples of ‘consultation between local government and community groups’. These initiatives described above outline the connections between national policy and its impacts on a local level.

Community development areas outlined by the MLA issues (2005)are numerous and overlapping. Four policy areas outlined in the “New Directions in Social Policy” (MLA, 2005)namely: ‘sustainable communities, social inclusion, neighbourhood renewal and community agendas’, are interdependent. The experience of social cohesion is thought to link these four areas. ‘Cohesion’ is also given a high priority in the Government agenda, as it promotes’ a peaceful and cooperative society’. It promotes a sense of belonging, social support, group solidarity, rootedness and social ties (Lev‐Wiesel, 2003)Key buzzwords such as ‘belonging’ and ‘valuing diversity’ are reflected in the definitions provided by the UK Home Office (2005). Various reports (2005)published, explain the link between the cultural sector and government agenda on ‘community cohesion’. The government proposed a multi-layered approach to re-engage with communities, to promote grassroots leadership centred on a common sense of belonging.   “Building Cohesive Communities Report” (2001) refers to the ‘learning potential of museums as places where cross-cultural themes could be explored’ (Britain and Denham, 2001). Crooke (2007,p.46)ascertains that heritage is associated with campaigns for change that have advocated not only for education, home and housing, but also, on the issues of human rights, social justice and equality which is obtained through ‘empowerment’. Robert Adams (2003) represents ‘empowerment’ as a transformational activity that is linked to various aspects of self-help, participation and user-led practice. As well as, to more radical notions of democratization, consciousness-raising and reflexivity. He states that through empowerment, people become more ‘self-aware’. This would help them draw informed conclusions suited to their contexts (2003). This would shape the nature of negotiation, participation and control between groups.

In 2001, a non-profit UK organisation, the CDX (1991), outlined within its Strategic Framework for Community development (CD), the core values for contemporary community development as ‘providing opportunities to tackle social, political, and economical problems’. It noted that CD was based-on building active and sustainable communities. They defined that CD was about changing power structures, to remove barriers that prevent people from participating in issues that affect their lives.

Fraser (2005) summarised community participation (CP), based on the attitudes of different stakeholders. They included,  first, where decision-making was top-down and participation, brief and narrowly focussed, second, in which stakeholders and expert consultations manage community, third, the CP approach involves the development of empowerment policies considering social need, environmental issues and social justice. The final approach, a transformative one, considers discrimination, oppression and environmental degradationThis summary demonstrates the diversity of attitudes to CP.

An example of government’s partnership with communities to transform the community provides the idea of using community as a tool to build partnerships across the vertical tiers of the Government, thereby helping in rethinking power relations between people and government. The Migration Heritage Centre, established in 2000, in Sydney was a result of partnerships across different tiers. This was a case where a heritage initiative evolved out of a government strategy. The government of New South Wales collaborated with several organizations, to establish the Migration Heritage Centre to preserve and celebrate the cultural diversity of New South Wales (NSW)(Wales). The Government of NSW was involved in ‘community building’. It encouraged the heritage sector to undertake community-based heritage consultation with migrant communities (Crooke, 2008a, p.36). Its objective was ‘to enable migrant communities to manage their migration heritage according to their cultural perspectives, to raise awareness of the cultural diversity of the state’s heritage; and to create sustainable relationships between migrant communities and heritage organizations’ ( This reflects state-policy priorities in relation to Community Development. The significance of this example is that, it shows how government strategy filters down to form what might otherwise be a separate enterprise. This was an example of government engaging in heritage to realise policy-objectives. The power structures between the institution and community were revisited to obtain effective solutions.   Here, Community Development was a key government agenda. By building partnerships with the community, it has advocated for inclusiveness, encouraged empowerment, reconciliation, safe and healthy environment, crime prevention and economic development. Community was regarded as ‘the solution to social problems’ (Premier, 2005). This was an approach where the government involved in tackling ‘social issues’ of the community.

Adam Dinham (2005) described the approaches to participation as‘the transformation from passivity to responsibility’, by fostering new partnerships and making individuals, stakeholders. He criticized this approach as being led by the question of the relationship between the state and society rather than by people in their communities (Dinham, 2005,pp. 304-5).  Under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Blair, the statements (2004) on how new policies would lead to increased levels of community empowerment and participation were welcomed by Hoban and Beresford (2001). However, they argued that this approach to CD based on ‘leadership’ could be a ‘barrier’ to empowerment and participation. Mowbray (2005) also criticized the ‘loose and cynical use of community in social policy’. He believed that the term community was used because of its ‘aptitude for creating a positive regard for organizations, policies or programs to which it is applied’ (Mowbray, 2005,p.257). Isabelle Fremeaux (2005) criticized the conception of community. She believed, that the idea of ‘community development’ was strongly encouraged in policy because, it was “characterised by harmony, affection, consensus and stability”, whichoverlooked the reality of‘Coercion and power relations’(Fremeaux, 2005,p.268)Newman and McLean (2002) undertook a study based on interviews with policy makers and practitioners. Although, there were numerous policy documents linking ‘museums and social inclusion’, they identified a disconnect in practice (Newman and McLean, 2004a).


Contemporary UK policy recognizes the rise of communitarianism (Crooke, 2008a). Literature sources   identifies that a single form of community approach to policy cannot be adopted (Crooke, 2008a, P.34). However, the approaches to it may vary with institutional operations or power structures. This is important when analyzing museums and their involvement with communities. As it would be useful to identify top-down links or in other cases where community consultation occurs. In the UK context, ‘community’ was promoted as a key component of ‘national policy’ to reverse social problems through increased community involvement in local and national schemes. They aimed to attain this through improving social responsibilities through an enhanced notion of civic duty.


This should then be followed with a concluding paragraph that draws together the strands on ICH, museums, community to show where the current gap in knowledge is, and how you will address this: outline you research question and objectives at the end of this concluding section and then say that the next chapter (methodology) will describe how these questions are approached.

In the face of increasing globalization, the Convention (UNESCO, 2003) emphasized the need for the survival and vitality of the world’s living local, national and regional cultural heritage. Museums are being used as tools to promote an idea of heritage relevant to their community. Heritage is seen as a construct that reflects the social and cultural needs of the people using and defining it (Crooke, 2008b). Museums are adept at dealing with objects (Kurin, 2004). They have emphasized material or tangible heritage since the beginning of their existence. Recently, they have been involved in safeguarding the non-material aspects of heritage since the adoption of the 2003 Convention (UNESCO, 2003). By tracing the shift of the museum from an object-centred one to a people-centred one, there is a possibility for museums to ensure achieving the aims of UNESCO’s 2003 Convention. By implementing such a shift, there will also arise a possibility to transform relationships between the diverse stakeholders, a shift of authority from top-down to bottom-up, and in understanding the relevance of the museum’s collections to the present. The idea of integrating ICH within the policies of the museum is the research gap identified. Hence, I would like to examine this aspect of safeguarding the IH in museums.

My dissertation is focused on the intersection of how (tangible) exhibits are curated/exhibited and how their intangible aspects are (or not) conveyed in outreach activities. The main purpose of this study is to identify the promoters and barriers for safeguarding intangible heritage through community participation.

This aim will be pursued through the following objectives:

  • The implications of the aims of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the ICH for the museum sector. How does the museum sector respond to achieving the aims of the Convention with relation to its five key areas: oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and traditional craftsmanship?
  • What are the ‘forms of participation’ that enable the community to participate in museum outreach programmes?
  • How do museums engage with the communities in the dynamic upkeep of both tangible and intangible heritage?
  • The scope of community participation in safeguarding intangible heritage.

This section will be followed by the methodology chapter, which describes the research methods used to approach the objectives in the cases examined.

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