Malmö's first national museum to focus on 'democracy and migration'

Change starts with one small step, whether it be a large or small scale project, it all requires movement. It’s a logic that can be applied to starting a new national museum from scratch, especially one with an innovative theme that is going to take several years to come to fruition.

Published: Mon 12 Aug 2019 18:59 CEST
Malmö's first national museum to focus on 'democracy and migration'
Illustration by Anthony Iswandi

The Museum of Movements (MoM) intends to put Sweden’s third largest city on the map. By focusing on democracy and migration, the team behind the venture want the 190 (and counting) different nationalities in Malmö to recognise themselves in the museum. 

“This is an ideas museum; it is not a museum of photography or an art museum. We are not married to any particular way of storytelling because it is a concept,” Armando Perla, project leader of museum development and strategic partnerships at MoM, tells The Local. 

The concept in question being democracy and migration. Operating from a clean sheet of paper, the team at MoM have the backing of the city of Malmö, as well as state support, to create a museum that truly reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the southern city. 

What began as an idea, via a letter from local politicians to the Swedish minister for culture, quickly yielded ambitious plans for a full-scale national museum. A feasibility study was done and money was allocated by Sweden’s cultural department to create a new museum for democracy and migration

MoM’s co-directors describe the planning stage of the museum as a very open process. For example, more than 600 people and over a hundred organisations have been involved in the genesis phase. MoM will have a strong emphasis on research and be linked to the local universities in Malmö and Lund. 

Click here to find out more about the latest developments in Malmö

“What’s unique about this museum is that it is going to take on the gaze of the civil society movements on democracy and migration,” says Fredrik Elg, co-director of MoM. 

Elg adds, “Malmö is an example of a multicultural city that has constant movement. There is a very strong civil society movement here; we have a tradition for that.”

MoM was born out of the belief that every person has a right to their own history. Garnering those stories is pivotal to the museum’s organisers explains Armando Perla. 

“We found from the feasibility study that there was a need from people to hear those untold stories, which haven’t been a part of the official narratives of migration and democracy, to be told in a museum like this. People feel like they haven’t had the chance to tell their own stories,” he says. 

MoM project leader Armando Perla with MoM co-director Roxana Ortiz. Photo: Fredrik Elg 

And telling those stories in a non-traditional way is what is exciting the team tasked with shaping the museum. MoM has a workshop in central Malmö where ideas are being generated. 

“People want to see stories such as oral histories and artefacts. Then we need to find the best way of telling the story, which can be anything from art through to technology. Those ideas will take shape in different ways,” says Perla. 

MoM’s manager of development and strategy knows all about movement and starting museums. Born in El Salvador, Perla moved to Canada when he was 21 as an asylum seeker and has a background in human rights law. He helped establish the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg and worked there for nine years before accepting the challenge to head up MoM. 

His colleague Fredrik Elg, who has previously worked for the Swedish Arts Council with issues concerning free speech and democracy, describes Perla as MoM’s ‘dream appointment’, which, aligned to Elg’s cultural background and local knowledge, ensures that the museum’s vision is in good hands. 

“This is the first national museum to be located here, which is a big deal for Malmö. It will have a ‘glocal’ narrative so we can use the closeness to the movements in Malmö to tell a bigger story,” says Elg.

He continues, “One strength is that we are starting with a concept whereas most museums start with a collection of some sort or a specific place where something happened, etc. We can start from scratch with everything with what we want to collect. Who are we? We are very much influenced by civil society so it needs to be a lively space.” 

Click here to find out more about the latest developments in Malmö

Photo: Bergsgatan 20 where the MoM workshops will take place

Where that lively space is going to be has yet to be determined. A recent location study has identified three potential places in central Malmö to be the permanent home of MoM. With most of the funding being provided by the state, the museum is expected to open in 2024 at the earliest. 

“It is a national museum but has its roots in Malmö so we are connected to the neighbourhoods and the people here. We want to represent those stories and want whoever is here to recognise themselves in the museum. Malmö is a city of innovation and we are taking that approach here,” says Perla.

This autumn, the Museum of Movements team will meet with academics, civil society organisations and the museum sector to progress with the development of content and structure for the full-scale museum. The first conference on ethical guidelines in relation to oral history, in order to put in place ethical principles before curating the collections, will be held in August. Two workshops will be organised for November to further develop these ethics. 

“We have quite an amazing list of participants from around the world, highlighting, for example, the experiences and gaze of indigenous groups and national minorities. The autumn program will also include a number of other collaborative measures, using our temporary workshop space at Bergsgatan 20 as a vehicle to bring us to a full-scale museum around 2024. We will soon launch our website with further information,” concludes Museum of Movements co-director Roxana Ortiz.

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This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Malmö stad.


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