Museums, Society, Inequality

By Richard Sandell | Go to book overview

12

The National Museums of Kenya and social responsibility: working with street children

Fredrick Karanja Mirara

Museums as cultural institutions have a social responsibility to the communities within which they are located. This requires us to understand community needs and be responsive to social issues; indeed, the survival of the National Museums of Kenya rests on its ability to demonstrate its social utility.

Alongside admission charges, the National Museums of Kenya relies heavily on the support of government whose priorities range from the eradication of poverty to the provision of food, clothing, education, shelter and clothing for its citizens. Alongside the organisation’s belief in its social role and value, it is also imperative, for pragmatic reasons, that museum functions and activities are seen to address these priorities.


The National Museums of Kenya

The first museum initially started as a private venture in 1910, established by amateur naturalists and anthropologists who formed the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society, later known as the East African Wildlife Society. Today, the National Museums of Kenya is a government institution and one of the leading research and education organisations in eastern Africa. Its mission is ‘to collect, document and preserve, to study and present our past and present cultural and natural heritage and to enhance knowledge, appreciation, respect, management and use of these resources for the benefit of Kenya and the world’ (Bennun 1997:4).

An acknowledgement of the organisation’s social responsibility affects all aspects of its work: collection, research, exhibition and education. For example, the museums aim to represent the widest possible social and ethnic groupings within the diverse collections of children’s toys, clothing, ornaments, musical instruments, charms, and agricultural and pastoral items.

Similarly, research priorities must also take account of community and wider social needs. Research into the collections as well as field research is therefore

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