Navigating Difference Through Dialogue: Intercultural Learning Programs in Museum Spaces

 Madeline Smolarz, Emily Meikle, Michelle Johnson, Lindsay Parsons, Leah Moncada, & Bethea Penny

This hands-on, interactive workshop simulating the MMSt team’s experiential outing to the ROM will demonstrate the need for museum programs that aim to increase intercultural competence. Attendees will be introduced to the development of the ROM outing (15 min), and they will be invited to participate in selected activities from the outing (45 min), and they will learn effective cross-cultural communication techniques (10 min). The workshop will then be followed by a Q & A session with the students responsible for the development, execution, and evaluation of the program (20 min).

Museums offer visitors a unique environment where contact between diverse cultures can be harnessed to explore cultural similarities and differences. Through mindful interventions, the museum can also function as a platform to encourage conversations about how and why people respond to cultural difference in various ways. In the fall semester of 2015, six second-year Master of Museum Studies (MMSt) students partnered with the University of Toronto’s Centre for International Experience (CIE) and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) to develop a tour-based educational outing as part of the CIE’s Intercultural Learning Program (ILP) for international students. The outing was designed to improve participants’ intercultural competency by providing opportunities to develop the skills needed to mindfully engage in cross-cultural communication and exploration. The museum tour was successfully executed twice at the ROM.

Due to increasing globalization, the ability to effectively navigate cultural differences has become a global critical issue that deserves attention across all disciplines. However, it is still relatively new to the museum education sector. Toronto is one of the world’s most diverse cities, and is set to become the first major metropolis without an ethnic majority within the next two years. This workshop will address ways we can teach intercultural competence, providing participants with concrete examples of how to facilitate dialogues that embrace Canada’s increasing diversity into the future.

Learning outcomes:

  •  Understanding the value of intercultural learning programs at museums through critical engagement
  • Self-motivated critical engagement with people, objects and spaces.