Under the charm of the unique cultural heritage values of Gjirokastër, a world heritage ensemble protected by UNESCO, craftspeople and museum professionals from Albania and Greece have joined in the cross border training called “Crafting Access: Creative Techniques for Increasing Museum Access”. The training, which began on October 17 and ended on October 23, addressed important topics regarding access to museums and other cultural institutions for all members of the community.
Thanks to the dedication of Panagiotis Giotis, an expert on visual impairment and learning, Aida Vežić, Secretary General of the Balkan Museum Network, Etleva Demollari, from the National History Museum, Dr. Diana Walters, international expert of museology, and Dr. Esther Solomon, professor at Ioannina University, participants were trained about different approaches for improving access to museums. They put this knowledge to practice by coming up with creative solutions for removing barriers to museums and heritage in general.
For Jonathan Eaton, program officer at CHwB Albania, this training has really exceeded expectations, due to the dedication of the staff and trainers and the energy and commitment of the participants. They have approached the challenge of creating accessible museum exhibitions with enthusiasm and creativity.
“Access to cultural life, including museums, is a major issue across the world, and it is, at its core, an issue of human rights. So, in this training, we feel that addressing this topic is hugely important. In addition, Crafting Access holds so many unique opportunities because museum professionals and craftspeople often have very few opportunities to come together like this. But there is so much that they can share with each other. When you are in the room, you can feel the energy and creativity. The participants are really drawing on the skills and abilities of everyone (craftspeople and museum professionals),” he highlighted.
“We look forward to continuing our work in close collaboration with the Balkan Museum Network’s Access Group and to open up new connections with both disabled people and advocacy organizations in other areas of the Balkans,” concluded Eaton.
Aida Vežić, Secretary General of the Balkan Museum Network, emphasized the role of this one-week training “to help participants from Gjirokastra and Ioannina to better understand museum accessibility and hold tactile, accessible and exciting museum exhibitions.”
“We discussed topics such as: understanding how museums are developing their educational and social role around access, developing some methodologies and tools enabling larger accessibility to museums and strengthening practical skills around access – focusing on sensory and tactile, accessible exhibitions and handcrafted artifacts,” she emphasized.
The training included practical design work and development of interpretative materials, including the educational tool “museum in a suitcase”. The work of this tool is based on engaging multiple senses with the aim of making museums more welcoming for all people. The working materials included stone, wood, felt and plaster, and the usage of these materials was skillfully directed by the craftspeople present.
For Arjeta Kokalari, representing the newly-founded Musine Kokalari Foundation, “these experiences help in cultivating the ideas to do the best for museum and heritage accessibility. We must work especially with the younger generation. At the same time, we should focus on increasing awareness for certain target groups, such as former-political prisoners, to be more represented in museology.”
Eneida Guçe from the Ethnographic Museum of Gjirokastra and Liri Shametaj, a specialist at Butrint National Park, praised the coordinators for organizing the training. “It was effective and absolutely necessary. We have learned a lot of things we want to apply in our work”, Ms. Guçe stressed.
“Crafting Access: Creative Techniques for Increasing Museum Access” was organized by Cultural Heritage without Borders offices in Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Balkan Museum Network. The training is part of a three-year project on inclusion and capacity building in heritage in the Western Balkans, and it is funded by Stavros Niarchos Foundation.