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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums

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Culture Minister responds to independent experts’ recommendations.

The recommendations of an independent group set up to advise on how Scotland’s museums and galleries can better reflect the country’s role in empire, colonialism, and historic slavery have been fully accepted by the Scottish Government.

Established following a motion in the Scottish Parliament and commitment in the 2020 Programme for Government, the Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums (ESSM) Steering Group published six recommendations in 2022, for the recognition of Scotland’s colonial and slavery history.

The recommendations include the creation of a dedicated space to address Scotland’s role in empire, colonialism and historic slavery, that museums involve the people of Scotland in shaping their work, and that the Scottish Government demonstrates support for restitution and repatriation of looted or unethically acquired items in Scottish collections.

Culture Minister Christina McKelvie said:

“I warmly welcome the steering group’s report and recommendations, which we have considered very carefully.

“Following in-depth discussion with the steering group, I am pleased to confirm the Scottish Government fully accepts all six recommendations, including the creation of a dedicated space to address Scotland’s role in empire, colonialism and historic slavery.

“While budgetary pressures mean we are not currently able to commit to the group’s suggestion of £5 million for this work, the Scottish Government has provided funding of £200,000 in 2023/24 to enable the steering group and Museums Galleries Scotland to begin work addressing the recommendations, including scoping out the format of a new organisation to progress the creation of a dedicated space and national guidance around the repatriation of objects from Scottish institutions.

“The Scottish Government wants everyone to feel safe, welcome, and represented in our cultural spaces.

“Though we cannot change the past, it is within our power to learn from it and use that to improve the experience of all people who live, work in and visit Scotland, whilst celebrating the wide ranging and positive contributions that ethnic minority communities have made and continue to make to our society.”

Jatin Haria, elected Chair of the Steering Group and Executive Director at the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights said:

“The ESSM recommendations came from widespread stakeholder involvement, including the largest national study of attitudes to museums and racism undertaken in Scotland.

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s acceptance of all six of our recommendations, as well as the acknowledgement of all the previous work that has got us to where we are today. 

“The Steering Group is determined to work with the wider museum sector to bring the recommendations to fruition.

“We understand that finances are tight, and although more will be needed, the money that the Scottish Government has committed will be useful to kick start a long term process that will finally allow Scotland to properly tell it’s story of involvement in empire, slavery and colonialism in a coherent way.

“We can’t expect to resolve the racial inequalities that persist today without a better understanding of the history which brought us to this point.”

Lucy Casot, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland said:

“MGS welcomes this significant announcement by the Scottish Government and the recognition of the importance of undertaking the work recommended by the Empire, Slavery & Scotland’s Museums Steering Group.

“Since their publication in 2022, the recommendations have not just shaped MGS’s work, but how we work as an organisation to collectively support the sector to engage with, and tell the stories of, all of Scotland’s people.

“We are already seeing brilliant work by museums and galleries across the country collaborating with local communities impacted by the legacies of slavery and empire to create more inclusive heritage spaces.

“I am excited about the future of a museum sector that is truly inclusive, trusted and engaged with by all of Scotland’s people, and the role that MGS can play in supporting this work.” 

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