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How to address the problems of community collections

What are the problems of community collectionss?

As a final section of this week, we will propose a new approach to the challenges of the university community collections. Let’s sort out what are the characteristics of those challenges.

Throughout our activities so far, we have honed in on Japanese university museums, referencing the circumstances and challenges surrounding community collections. We’ve learned about the significant impacts on collections generated by communities affiliated with universities due to changing conditions in the academic environment and the proactive initiatives taken in response.

The dynamism of community collections

While the challenges of university collections are undeniably unique in many respects, they also encompass issues common to community collections. Needless to say, communities are not static entities. As time progresses, they continuously evolve. As the individuals forming the communities change, and as the environment around them transforms, the relationship between the collections and their communities can fluctuate, becoming distant or, conversely, becoming more intimate. The meaning and value of community collections are inherently dynamic, not fixed.

Hence, even if community collections seem peripheral within a community, they can’t be simply discarded. As seen in Step1.4, community collections are composed of items that embody various facets of the community’s historical and cultural experiences, expert knowledge, aesthetic sensibilities, etc. Community collections hold shared memories of those involved or once involved, serving as indispensable spaces where people rooted in the community can revisit and reaffirm their identities and values. Such places, once destroyed, are hard to recreate.

The “Invisible” collections

At Keio University, a significant event in the 2000s was the dismantling of the “Noguchi Room”, a space designed by Isamu Noguchi (For more details, please see this course.). Though more an artistic space than a collection, its creation and its nature as a “Banrai-sha (Common Room)” could potentially be viewed as a form of community collection. A considerable challenge for Keio University in considering community collections is that the formation and utilization of collections are so autonomous that no one has a comprehensive understanding of the whole. The very existence of certain collections remains unknown, making it incredibly hard to grasp any crises they might face.

While Keio University’s case may be extreme, there are teachable challenges. Specifically, a collection might remain encapsulated within the community that created it, invisible to the outside world. People involved in a community often belong to more than one community, and as they move, they constantly intersect with other communities. These intersections lead to interactions, updating communities by subtly incorporating external changes, almost unconsciously. However, collections, as they are valued, often end up under the care of specific individuals within the community. The collections that communities accumulate are often outside the framework of such interactions.

Connecting through collections

In light of the community’s own evolution, how should we re-establish the connection between the community and its collections? One effective approach, we believe, is to place collections within the current relationships among people. By doing so, the collection remains connected to its original purpose, while also being open to continual growth and new experiences for past, present, and potential community members.

We envision akichi (open and creative spaces) as a conceptual model, aiming to cultivate an environment that brings this vision to life. We’ll introduce and discuss akichi in the following steps.

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Akichi in Collections Management: Perspectives from a Japanese University Museum

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