The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC) is an independent, non-profit museum dedicated to promoting the appreciation and preservation of cultural diversity in Lao PDR. Like most museums, TAEC maintains a collection of artefacts, curates exhibitions, and promotes scholarship and learning through research and outreach activities. However, TAEC is also a museum representing living cultures in a developing country context, and as such faces a unique set of challenges for which it has developed specific approaches.
In a country with low education levels and a lack of museum and non-traditional learning opportunities, simply drawing in Lao visitors and creating a meaningful experience for them requires creativity and active visitor management. TAEC has developed a range of activities for children visiting the museum and also conducts sessions in schools to broaden its reach. Attracting adults has remained more elusive. To facilitate the building of further cultural heritage resources in Laos, TAEC conducts capacity-building activities for government staff of museums, NGO workers, and tourism professionals.
TAEC’s most challenging but meaningful objective is to promote cultural pride and revitalisation within ethnic minority communities themselves. TAEC has explored approaches including an ethnic minority intern programme, collaborative exhibition development with villages, and an ethnic cultural festival. Recognising that rural ethnic communities are amongst Laos’ poorest populations, TAEC also runs a handicrafts development programme, generating income for over 600 artisans in 11 provinces of the country.
TAEC views all these approaches (and others) as part of its education and advocacy programmes, and crucial to the sustainability of the organisation, its mission, and cultural heritage management itself. The challenge is how to progress from simply educating local populations to understand and value the idea of cultural diversity, to adopting the task of fostering cultural diversity, and finally, to taking leadership in their own communities to tackle their specific cultural heritage issues through home-grown approaches.