Friday, 5 May 2017




Hello! You may recognize my name from the Conservation Tips & Tricks column. However, I am taking the summer to explore another passion of mine: museums around the world!

So come along for the ride over the next few months as I delve into different issues, trends, successes, opportunities, and more across the globe!

This article concerns a big interest of mine, one that I've talked about in classes, in my free time, bored friends/family with, etc. That interest is the economuseum. An economuseum is a specific network of traditional craft museums throughout Europe and North America (For Canada, 2 in BC, 1 in Saskatchewan, and 33 in Quebec!). They utilize traditional crafts for tourism and local economic benefit; by sharing traditions with visitors, communities can boost their economy and feel ownership over their local heritage. It usually involves visitors walking through a space and watching traditional crafts, asking questions, buying wares, etc.

One country where I have seen the success of the economuseum (of sorts) is Peru. 


Now, before I delve into the current economuseum situation in Peru, I have to give a brief overview as to why they started to appear in the first place. There are two main reasons:
1) The Ministry of Culture
2) Looting problems

Ministry of Culture

The Ministry of Culture was created in 2010. It has had several different iterations in the past hundred years with different managerial and policy styles, many based on strict European values as opposed to Peruvian. The government has always used a top-down enforcement method when it comes to heritage protection. This is how it has always dealt with its cultural heritage issues, particularly the antiquities black market. There is a high level of mistrust between rural communities and the government because of this ownership issue. 


Looting of archaeological sites is a rampant problem. The exact numbers are not certain but it has been reported that over half of the country's known sites have been looted. The government rarely gets to the root of the problem, which is often poverty and job crises in rural areas leading to looting for survival. Looting is a solution to the problem of feeding and supporting your family. There needs to be different solutions from within the communities themselves to limit looting. One way to do that is to bring economic sustainability through the heritage, rather than selling the heritage.

 Bird's eye view of looter holes at the Pakatnamu site.
Movable Culture and the Economy

The Peruvian government has always had a strong focus on protecting archaeological and monumental history: Machu Picchu, Huaca del Sol, etc.: big eye-catching sites that tourists visit. However, there is also such a thing as movable culture, which is often traditional craftwork such as ceramics and textiles, and intangibles like dance and song. 

Photo courtesy of Kristen McLaughlin.

Why I bring this up is because movable culture is not a focus of the government, when in reality this could be an answer to the looting and economic crises that are occurring in Peru. Some groups have already thought of this idea: using traditional crafts to promote and protect regional heritage. This is done through:

Citizen Collaboration

Or the idea of working with a community to bring benefit to them. Oftentimes this is done by NGOs, heritage groups, archaeologists, researchers, and others. Some examples are local museums, community history projects, educational planning with schools, craft workshops, and more.

HOWEVER: there are some problems with this concept, such as that you cannot simply pop in and do what you want. Collaboration is a long process and even though outside groups may have ideas they think can benefit the community, they must work with community values, ideas, and goals. It is their vision that must be brought to the forefront. Otherwise, passion disappears, funding runs out, the project is not economically sustainable, and looting and economic depressions continue.

Finally... The Economuseum Concept in Peru

In the last 10 years or so, this has become a method of working with communities in Peru. The goal is to create something that is economically sustainable, practical, and positive for a community. It is becoming more and more common, at least among heritage workers in Peru, that work cannot be done without involving the community in a beneficial way. This has taken a myriad of forms such as archaeological field schools, local museums, tours, local festivals and fairs, craft workshops, youth education, and more.

Example: San Jose de Moro

To prove my point I will talk about the community of San Jose de Moro in Northern Peru. 


Aside from being a small town of about 5000 people, it is also an ancient Moche burial site from around 400-1000 AD, with some of the best preserved Priestess burials in the country and some of the most beautiful fine line Moche ceramic pottery.
Examples of Moche fine line pottery (remakes). Source.

The ceramics workshop and visitor centre on site. Source. 

I attended an archaeological field school here in 2012, and my aim today is to focus on an NGO that has made a huge difference in the community through the Economuseum concept: Sustainable Preservation Initiative. 

Sustainable Preservation Initiative

SPI's website states that “many of humanity's most important heritage sites co-exist with some of the world's poorest people.  Their combined futures are in danger. SPI creates economic stability by giving communities the tools to be self-reliant, leveraging their historic sites responsibly and freeing them to thrive.”

How it started was a goal to create an economically sustainable future for residents of San Jose de Moro without having to resort to looting such an important site. SPI knew it would have to include the promotion and connection to their heritage. They created a ceramics shop and visitor centre on the site; Julio creates fine line replicas and sells them as such to tourists, field school students, etc. (Having seen them in person, they are truly beautiful!) He has local students who learn the craft from him. This has led to the women in San Jose de Moro taking initiative and creating their own textile business and tourism industry, where they provide home cooked lunches for visitors, and a local blacksmith now makes archaeological tools. Looting at the site has been dramatically reduced.  

 Local students from the ceramics workshop show off their wares. Source. 

Visitors often come to see the site, which now conveniently allows them to stop and see the ceramics and textiles being made. They will often buy them. To date, direct revenues to the local community have reached and most likely surpassed $50,000 (USD), with the project representing a return on investment within four years! This is significant because the people of SJM make $10/on average; this return means 5000 work days. 

Because of the success of SPI projects in Peru, the Ministry of Culture recently signed an agreement with SPI in 2015 that they would use this bottom-up economic method of cultural protection in rural communities. This is a HUGE step for what has so frequently been a dominating government with central control from Lima. In this way, cultural heritage will stand a better chance of being protected in the long-term.  

If you have any questions, thoughts, or examples of other successful growing economuseums, let me know in the comments!