Commonwealth Association of Museums

Catherine C. Cole

Museums with a common perspective work together across the Commonwealth through workshops and projects to explore shared aims and goals 

For 40 years, the Commonwealth Association of Museums (CAM) has worked with museums and their staff throughout the Commonwealth. Established in 1974, the professional association is made up of members who share a common history and perspective on the role of museums as agents of development and spaces for civic engagement, rather than simply places of passive learning. 

As well as being a recognised Commonwealth organisation, CAM is an affiliated organisation of the International Council of Museums and works with regional museums associations – including AFRICOM, the Museums Association of the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands Museums Association – for the advancement of museums and the betterment of their societies in the Commonwealth family of nations and globally. CAM is honoured to have Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal and Dr Davidson Hepburn as patrons. Nelson Mandela was a previous patron. 

The association runs several initiatives including a triennial symposium, regional workshops, demonstration projects, a distance learning programme in Basic Museum Studies, an internship programme for young Canadian museum workers stationed in museums throughout the Commonwealth, a bimonthly newsletter and an online journal. CAM symposia frequently lead to declarations that address the role of museums in various aspects of development and chart a course for CAM priorities. A truly international organisation, CAM’s Secretariat is in Canada and its president in South Africa. It has Executive Council members throughout the Commonwealth. 

CAM’s upcoming triennial symposium, Taking it to the Streets, is being hosted by Glasgow Museums at the Scotland Street School Museum from 14-17 May 2014. The symposium is one of the cultural activities leading up to the Commonwealth Games – the theme addresses community engagement in all aspects of museum governance, operations and programmes. 

As a follow-up, CAM has started planning a series of four regional workshops. These include one in Apia, Samoa, on climate change and sustainability prior to the third UN Small Island Developing States Conference in September 2014 and another in Kingston, Jamaica, on museum education and professional development prior to the next Commonwealth Ministers of Education meeting in The Bahamas in June 2015. 

Each of these workshops will have a participatory governance focus and will spawn a number of demonstration projects in each region. CAM provides professional development and training for its members, particularly those in countries with little or no access to training locally. 

CAM recently organised a workshop on Disaster Risk Management for Caribbean Museums in collaboration with the Pompey Museum of Slavery & Emancipation; the Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Corporation in Nassau. Members of the regional heritage community and representatives of emergency response organisations shared concerns about their greatest threats and information about disaster preparation and learned about recovery efforts in the region. 

CAM works throughout the Commonwealth but has had a particular focus on engaging children in museums within Africa in collaboration with the Group for Children in African Museums, a regional network of CAM members interested in children’s programming. 


About the author:

Catherine C. Cole is Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Association of Museums and a cultural consultant based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


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