Culture, heritage and the arts: Interpretation, practice and policy in an international context

Posted on April 13, 2017

‘Culture, heritage and the arts: interpretation, practice and policy in an international context’ is a Global Academy of Liberal Arts (GALA) postgraduate student exchange project between GALA partner institutions Bath Spa University (BSU) and Claremont Graduate University (CGU).

Created in 2014, the exchange offers students and staff the opportunity to gain an international perspective of current practice in curating the past, cultural heritage interpretation, and arts and cultural management.

BSU students on the MA in Arts Management and the MA in Heritage Management spend a week based at CGU, where, together with CGU postgraduate students, they visit cultural heritage sites and arts organisations in the Los Angeles area, engaging with leading arts and cultural heritage experts.

CGU postgraduate students taking the transdisciplinary course ‘Heritage, Culture and Managing the Past between the Old World and the New’ then come to Bath for a week, and use the city as a base to similarly explore the range of issues facing cultural heritage and arts organisations in the UK through visits to key sites in Bath, Bristol and the local region, and in Oxford and London.

For the 2016 BSU/CGU GALA postgraduate exchange, BSU took 11 students (9 MA students, 2 PhD students) and one member of staff out to LA between the 11th to 18th of June; and CGU brought 10 students (5 MA students, 5 PhD students) and one member of staff to Bath from the 2nd to 9th of July.

During the week in Claremont, site visits and sessions included:

  • Arts and cultural management in the US – opening session with Laura Zucker (Executive Director, Los Angeles County Arts Commission)
  • La Plaza de Cultura y Artes with John Echeveste (CEO) and Erendina Delgadillo (Curator)
  • Japanese American National Museum with Lily Tomai (Curator)
  • Gamble House with Ted Bosley (Director)
  • Getty Villa with Claire Lyons (Senior Curator of Antiquities)
  • Bergamot Station, Shoshana Wayne Gallery with Wayne Blank (Developer, Bergamont Station; Co-owner, Shoshana Wayne Gallery)
  • Watts Towers and Arts Center with Rosie Lee Hooks (Director)
  • San Gabriel Mission with John Macias (Head Curator)
  • Claremont public art and cultural heritage with David Shearer (Executive Director, Claremont Heritage)

During the week in Bath, site visits and sessions included:

  • Bath history and cultural heritage – opening session and walking tour of Bath with Amy Frost (Curator, Museum of Bath Architecture and Beckford’s Tower)
  • No 1 Royal Crescent with Caroline Kay (CEO, Bath Preservation Trust)
  • Avebury Manor and Avebury World Heritage Site with Ros Cleal (Curator)
  • Wiltshire Museum with David Dawson (Director, Wiltshire Museum) and Sarah Simmonds (Co-ordinator, Avebury World Heritage Site)
  • Imperial War Museum
  • Museum of London
  • American Museum with Richard Wendorf (Director)
  • Roman Baths with Susan Fox (Collections Manager) and Tony Crouch (Manager, City of Bath World Heritage Site)
  • Holburne Museum with Adrian Tinniswood (OBE, Historian, BSU Visiting Fellow in Heritage)

Learning on site in these organisations, and engaging with leading professionals in a range of roles, students and staff on the exchange could consider crucial questions challenging the sector today in a more immediate and practical way, testing theories and academic scholarship from their individual courses:

  • How do we protect and manage historical sites and cultural collections?
  • Why do we?
  • How do we convey and maintain the cultural significance of these sites and collections to contemporary and future audiences?
  • Where do we find funding for the arts and cultural patrimony in the complex environment of public and increasingly private fund-raising?
  • What are the political, economic and structural circumstances in different places that influence how cultural heritage and the arts are funded, and how broader, more globalized forces will define civic and national commemoration, and historical and cultural education in the future?

The differences between the two locations pose in very clear relief the kinds of issues that face heritage, arts and cultural management in both contexts.

Student Quotes:

What you hear directly from people that work in museums and arts organisations is different from what we read in books, in articles – I feel I now have a much better understanding of the challenges they face, in both countries. (BSU MA student)

We can talk about buildings and objects in a classroom but to actually see them, and to see the ways they are displayed, and the different ways that people read them gives you a new insight that you don’t get in other classes. (CGU MA student)

It’s such a great way to make connections, not just with the students at Claremont, but also by developing deeper relationships with students here at BSU. It’s helped me start to build my own professional networks, in two countries! (BSU MA student)

It has been so wonderful to learn from arts and heritage experts in all the different places we have been to in both countries, but one of the best things has been learning along side students in so many other subjects like history, cultural studies, heritage and arts management. (CGU Phd student).

I found the exchange really valuable because when studying and working in a sector like heritage, it’s easy to forget that not everyone in the world interprets things in the same way. (BSU MA student)

As we have thought about this exchange, as it has developed over time, it has gone from being what might have seemed a study in opposites – Los Angeles and Bath – to a surprising study in similarities. (Joshua Goode, Associate Professor of History and Cultural Studies, CGU)

For our students, the great value of this class is getting out there, seeing how actual practitioners, on the ground are confronting everyday challenges. (Joshua Goode, Associate Professor of History and Cultural Studies, CGU)