Building Cultural Bridges: Community Engagement at the Mosul Cultural Museum in Iraq
In 2020, World Monuments Fund (WMF) joined the Mosul Cultural Museum (MCM) Rehabilitation Project, which is led by an international coalition including the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH), the Musée du Louvre, the Smithsonian Institution, and the International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas (ALIPH), to return the museum to the citizens of Mosul and to all Iraqis. In addition to documentation and restoration, the MCM project includes a focus on cross-cutting community outreach by engaging local residents throughout the museum’s rehabilitation design process to reestablish it as a living center for culture and education.
As Director of the Mosul Cultural Museum, Zaid Ghazi Saadallah plays an important role in these activities, serving as a representative for the site during educational and social events organized around its rehabilitation. These events include a concert at the site, organized by the SBAH and WMF, by the local musical ensemble Mshakht in October 2021, and a recent tour of the museum for local schoolchildren.
In this written interview, Mr. Zaid shares his thoughts on the role of community outreach in the MCM Rehabilitation Project and on the ways that local engagement in the museum’s activities can help it showcase Iraq’s rich culture once more.
What is the significance of the MCM project, in your opinion?
The Mosul Cultural Museum is a specialized scientific research institution that preserves the products of the people and their civilizations. It is a mirror that reflects the importance of those civilizations and their development over time. The importance of the MCM Rehabilitation Project lies in restoring life to this scientific and cultural monument.
How has the local community perceived the project since its beginning?
The local community initially did not care about the importance of the museum, especially when ISIS took control of Mosul, given the persecution and cruelty it went through during that period. But after the city’s liberation, and especially in the period that followed the announcement of the MCM project launch, the attention of the local community began to turn to the importance of the museum and its revival as a symbol of the city and its identity, and of the city’s legacy and its ancient history.
What kind of role can community outreach have in heritage conservation projects such as this one?
We need to build cultural bridges between the museum and the local community in order to increase cultural awareness and preserve cultural heritage, and prevent our legacy from being lost.
What kind of activities does the Mosul Cultural Museum Rehabilitation Project have planned to engage students, residents, conservation professionals, etc.?
There are many activities that must be taken into consideration and set up on the museum’s site, especially after the completion of the project and the museum’s reopening, the most important of which are creating new exhibitions, festivals, and cultural seminars; attracting writers and thinkers by reviving the museum’s library; and linking the museum with other scientific, educational, and media institutions.
The establishment of a museum research center to spread cultural knowledge and the organization of visits for students of all ages to view the museum exhibits, emphasizing the importance of cultural heritage for them, can also help new generations develop an awareness of the significance of preserving that history and heritage.
What was your favorite outreach activity in the project so far, or the one you found to be most impactful? Why?
I liked the idea of the concert that was held a while ago, which resonated with the local community.
WMF’s work at the Mosul Cultural Museum is supported by the International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas (ALIPH).