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Mayor's Commission on African & Asian Heritage report published

19 July 2005

London Mayor Ken Livingstone has published 'Delivering shared heritage', the first report from the Mayor's Commission on African and Asian Heritage (MCAAH). The report was launched on Monday night at an event in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Chaired by Dame Jocelyn Barrow, the MCAAH was established in August 2003 to take forward recommendations in the Mayor's culture strategy. The commission investigated the needs of Black and Asian community-based heritage organisations and assessed the priorities and working practices of key heritage institutions, such as museums and archives, to determine how they are serving the needs of African-Caribbean and Asian Londoners.

The Mayor said: 'Londoners of all races, creeds and walks of life were attacked on 7 July and Londoners in their great diversity have responded by uniting and defending their multi-cultural city. Celebrating and defending our diversity means highlighting the contribution of London's many communities to our city, which is why initiatives such as the Commission on African and Asian Heritage are so important at this time.

'This means ensuring that we tell the full story about London’s history. It also means ensuring that London's African, Caribbean and Asian communities are able to see their achievements, contributions and historical presence reflected in our museums, archives, galleries and school textbooks.'

David Lammy MP, Minister for Culture, who spoke at the launch of the report, said: 'London has the best museums, galleries and historic sites and buildings of any city in the world. My focus in government is to make sure that this world-class quality of life is available to everyone and includes everyone, whatever their background. This report shows all of us where we can do more and I look forward to working with our partners in the sector to make that a reality.'

The commission's inquiry explored formal and informal aspects of the heritage sector, looking at how heritage is influenced and managed, how heritage workers are trained, and to what extent the educational curriculum is inclusive of the historical contributions of African, Asian and Caribbean citizens.

It also looked into how community-based heritage organisations can be supported and resourced more effectively and how major institutions can establish better partnerships and utilise the experience and expertise within African, Asian and Caribbean communities.

Dame Jocelyn Barrow said: 'This has been an exciting piece of work to be involved in and it has been gratifying to see how committed the larger, established institutions are to address diversity in their activities. We now have a chance to create a mechanism that might be able to bring coherence to the patchwork quilt of discrete diversity heritage activity that is going on across our capital and to create future collaboration between communities and the mainstream. If we can achieve inter-sector collaborative facilitation, our capital's heritage delivery will be deeply enriched.'

The commission's report has been welcomed by the cultural sector.

Carole Souter, Director of the Heritage Lottery Fund, commented: 'As an organisation, we believe passionately that heritage belongs to everyone, and that everyone’s heritage has value. We wholeheartedly welcome the report and its message that exploring and understanding everybody’s heritage can only be a good and healthy thing for our society. Understanding each other - where we come from, who we are, and how we can live together - is more important than ever in the light of recent events.'

Jack Lohman, Director, Museum of London Group, said: The past and how we see it is continually shaped by the present. We claim we live in a post colonial era but we don't. Issues of cultural diversity appear often remote and unrecognised, and often of little interest to museum professionals. We now have a practical set of steps to move us significantly forward. The recommendations will help us deal with the deep seated insecurities and uncertainties about how we position and address the totality of our cultural heritage. The report sets up the framework to help us question and re-value our assumptions. As I see it we are now moving forward and beginning to 'do diversity'.

Geoffrey Bond, Chair, Archives, Libraries and Museums London, the strategic development agency for archives, libraries and museums in London, said: 'We warmly welcome this ground breaking report for London’s culture and heritage sector. Working closely with the sector and our strategic partners we will act on the report recommendations to drive forward the change required to make archives, libraries and museums embedded in the communities they serve.'


Notes to Editors

  1. The Mayor's Commission on African and Asian Heritage is chaired by Dame Jocelyn Barrow. The Vice Chairs are Colin Prescod and Irna Mumtaz Qureshi. The Commissioners are: Dr Hakim Adi; Dr Caroline Bressey; Hilary Carty; Dr Augustus Casely-Hayford; Stella Dadzie; Dr Morgan Dalphinis; Melissa D’Mello; Lee Hong Fulton; Shreela Ghosh; Dr Raminder Kaur; Chandan Mahal; Ken Martindale; Maxine Miller; Sajid Rizvi; Patrick Vernon.
  2. The MCAAH held 15 inquiry sessions between August 2003 and June 2004, taking evidence from the major stakeholders representing London’s mainstream and the community-based heritage sectors.
  3. The sector was assessed by its workers, managers and users and representatives from African, Asian and Caribbean communities. 
  4. MCAAH's work has received support from Heritage Lottery Fund. The report launch has received support from ALM London and the Victorian & Albert Museum.
  5. The Commission's recommendations focus on nine key areas:
  • Leadership and Advocacy: A strong commitment from leadership within the sector is essential to champion cultural diversity policy, programming and practice. A Heritage Diversity Task Force composed of key heritage stakeholders and funders will be established to develop and implement specific initiatives identified in the recommendations. The Greater London Authority will set up an independent monitoring group to work with the task force.
  • Diversifying governing-body appointments: Museums and archives should conduct a change review programme to ensure more governing-body appointments (e.g. boards, council cabinets, etc) that fully reflect London’s cultural diversity.
  • Equitable partnerships: Mainstream heritage institutions should develop standards and guidelines for community heritage partnerships, fostering equitable collaborations across the sector and encouraging sustainable joint working.
  • Diversifying audiences: Heritage sector organisations should develop and share audience research that provides African and Asian perspectives on collections, exhibitions, interpretive material and programmes with a view to diversifying audiences.
  • Sharing best practice: Cohesive thinking is needed across the sector to encourage collaborative working and embed sustainable, inclusive programming into organisational strategic planning.
  • Collections development: Heritage sector organisations should make collections and learning materials more accessible, inspiring and relevant for London's diverse communities. They should also utilise experts from African and Asian communities in the research, interpretation, cataloguing and display of mainstream heritage collections.
  • African and Asian infrastructure and commemoration: A programme of investment should be initiated to support the infrastructure development of African and Asian community-based organisations engaged in heritage work. This should include a national evaluation of existing funding, an investment programme, a virtual resource and a feasibility study for a dedicated heritage centre.
  • Access to heritage careers: A programme should be developed to redress the current workforce imbalance, increasing the career access of African and Asian descent communities into the heritage sector.
  • Heritage and education: A programme of action has been proposed to develop a more inclusive education system and curriculum that embraces and supports the histories, cultures and identities of African and Asian communities.

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