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BlogBack: AAM on Its State Department Collaboration

Erik Ledbetter, senior manager of international programs for the American Association of Museums, responds to my posts (here and here) on the new Museums and Community Collaborations Abroad intiative:
AAM is pleased to see so much attention being paid to our new Museums and Community Collaborations Abroad program. However, when Lee characterizes MCCA as “co-opting museums to promote U.S. government foreign policy objectives,” we must cheerfully but firmly disagree
Cultural diplomacy–the exchange of ideas, information, art, and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding–is nothing new at AAM and US museums. For 25 years, AAM and the US Department of State have partnered to enable US museum professionals to collaborate with colleagues abroad. Through our previous International Partnerships Among Museums (IPAM) program, we’ve enabled more than 220 museum-based exchanges involving museums in 84 different countries. All these exchanges were conducted in the straightforward conviction that museum professionals operating with complete academic freedom are among the most effective ambassadors between cultures.
For 2007, we have updated and relaunched this longstanding international exchange program as Museum and Community Collaborations Abroad. With MCCA, we are challenging museums to raise their partnerships to another level by ensuring that the benefits of the collaborations extend beyond museum staff to the communities they serve.
Lee has expressed her worry–bordering on conviction–that the State Department will exert undue influence on the content of the projects or the selection of the final awards. A complete reading of the program criteria and selection procedures will put such concerns swiftly to rest.
In specific:
• Only US museums, not AAM or the State Department, can make proposals.
• US museums can propose on any subject and with any partner they choose.
• US museums are in total control of the participating staff as well as the format, structure, and content of their projects.
• Department of State does not vet the proposals at any point in the competition cycle.
• Final selection will be made by a peer review panel composed of a past IPAM participant from a US museum; a representative of ICOM-US (the US National Committee of the International Council of Museums); and a distinguished non-US museum professional.

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