Culture and heritage: Transmitting place identity through museums

photo credit: 2007-03-11 03-17 Istanbul 249 Hagia Sophia via photopin (license)
photo credit: 2007-03-11 03-17 Istanbul 249 Hagia Sophia via photopin (license)

Much of place identity is communicated through its heritage, of which museums form a significant part. A local or national museum can convey a great deal about a place: about its values, its priorities and how it sees itself, both in an historical and a contemporary sense.

Today’s post is based around a recent interview with French museum-branding expert Corinne Estrada, head of Paris-based agency Agenda. Corinne came to Istanbul to lead the organisation of the Communicating the Museum Conference 2015, which focuses on bringing together museum professionals from around the world to talk about the latest emerging trends and various social influences that affect the situations of various museums and how they interact with and influence the societies in which they are situated.

In our conversation, Corinne reflected on the museum situation in Turkey, noting that there is a distinct ‘gap’ between how the public and private museums present themselves and how they interact with the outside world. She pointed out that the private museums she had worked with in Istanbul had generally been open-minded and had a deep understanding of their assets. On the other hand, government-run museums were more likely to rely on protocol, which gives the feeling of the museum being more ‘staged’. Corinne said: “The private ones were keen to learn and improve, but the public ones stuck more closely to protocol.”

Fortunately, in terms of promoting national identity, the museums of Istanbul are staying close to their Turkish roots. They maintain a distinct sense of national character even in the more experimental, Western-style museums, such as SALT Galata. Corinne said: “The clash of Eastern and Western here [in Istanbul] is very, very rich. It can be seen clearly in the food and the architecture. The museums should focus on this as an asset and take the best of it.”

However, despite the numerous strengths of both Istanbul and wider Turkey in terms of cultural heritage, recent political and social problems have caused a decline in visitors and a rise in perceptions of Turkey as an undesirable place to visit. Corinne told me that some delegates cancelled their conference places because they were afraid to come to Turkey in the current climate. “In the museum business, people are looking negatively on Turkey because of the government. Many are turning to Qatar and UAE instead. But both those countries are very Western. Istanbul on the other hand is all about the Turkish people.”

In terms of using museums as tools in wider place branding efforts, Corinne cited Sydney as a good example of a city that is using its cultural heritage to powerful effect by drawing its museums into an overall branding strategy. “Everyone is involved – it’s a joint exercise,” she said. Philadelphia is another good example of engaging closely with the target audiences, sharing the brand identity with them by encouraging them to produce user-generated content.

Certain cities are defined by their iconic museums, for example Paris, which boasts the world-famous Louvre. Amsterdam and its Rijksmuseum is another, along with Madrid, New York and London. Corinne says that many museums don’t know how to connect with wider audiences, managing only to reach the elites in society.

For example, even when the Louvre holds ‘Public Day’ and opens its doors free of charge, it has trouble attracting people. So the museum has come up with a plan to bring selected exhibits to the Paris suburbs in an attempt to encourage people to become more interested in what the museum has to offer. “A good museum should be sustainable. It shouldn’t rely on public money. For success, it should speak to the emotions as well as to the intellect,” she said.

“Many people feel scared to go to museums because the museums don’t talk to them. They don’t feel they belong to that world. For example, many museum information labels use language that is too high-level for the average person.”

All these issues and more were dissected in detail during the recent ‘Communicating the Museum 2015’ conference in Istanbul. Attendees came from a wide range of backgrounds, including those of design, sociology, and the digital world, along with museum experts from 25 countries. The conference featured a range of digital master classes, brainstorming sessions and focus groups where delegates discussed new ideas to help museums integrate better and give back to their societies. The goal was to figure out ways for museums to make history more relevant in a contemporary context.

Discussion topics included the need to treat museum visitors as citizens instead of consumers, making visitors into brand ambassadors, valuing artists and storytellers, and the importance and necessity of taking risks. Many of these themes feed back into the concepts surrounding effective place branding, and a well-run museum can act as yet another piece in the puzzle that makes up a place identity. Undoubtedly, museums will continue to play a major role in constructing place identity.

From murder capital to cultural capital

photo credit: Dubdem Sound System :: Jamaican Tour 2006 via photopin (license)
photo credit: Dubdem Sound System :: Jamaican Tour 2006 via photopin (license)

A couple of weeks ago I returned from a fortnight in Jamaica. It was a successful trip all around, with equal parts of work and play. I would say I had a good experience overall. But Jamaica still has problems with its reputation. In particular, the capital city, Kingston, has suffered from severe negative labelling, that it’s only just beginning to shake off. Kingston’s regular appearances in lists such as ‘the world’s top ten murder capitals’ has helped cement its image as a mad, bad and dangerous capital city.

Although a multitude of problems remain, Kingston has woken up to its image problem and has been taking tentative steps to try and fix matters. Obviously, cosmetic changes won’t help shift a bad reputation. That has to come by means of deep-rooted policy changes that cause the city to gradually get cleaned up. Think New York two decades ago, with Mayor Giuliani’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policing approach.

After my trip, I wrote an article for CityMetric examining Kingston’s current situation and its efforts to implement changes. I interviewed the mayor, Angela Brown-Burke, along with prominent local business people and nation branding experts. The article can be found here. I’d be interested to hear what you think of it.

Jamaica reflections

photo credit: Dubdem Sound System :: Jamaican Tour 2009 via photopin (license)
photo credit: Dubdem Sound System :: Jamaican Tour 2009 via photopin (license)

I never know what to expect about countries anymore.

When visiting a new place I have my set of preconceptions and associations in mind, just as everyone does. This time, in Jamaica, I’m hoping to discover more than just the stereotypical land of sun, sea, sand and reggae.

As a nation brand specialist, I’m constantly aware of how my perceptions shift and develop during my time in-country. On my third day here in Jamaica, I’ve already started to build new layers upon my pre-existing ideas. Here are some of the things I’ve picked up so far.

Jamaicans tend not to view people in terms of colour. Jamaica is 98% black, with another 2% or so of the population made up from Jamaicans of white, Chinese and Indian heritage. The latter two groups are descendants of the indentured servants that came over to Jamaica after the end of slavery. Today, all are considered equally Jamaican. The Jamaican motto, ‘Out of many, one people’, rings true.

Jamaica is often perceived as a place severely affected by crime. That part of the image – particularly in Kingston – is true enough. In the past, people were forced into crime through problems such as poverty and hunger. But today, crime has become a common response to an environment where many feel unable to get anywhere in life.

I also learned about the Jamaican attitude to modesty and interaction with the opposite sex. I found out about a notable dichotomy that exists between the way people behave in the dancehall setting (i.e. sexual, less inhibited), and on the street (where married couples may be reluctant even to hold hands). This is an interesting cultural quirk and one that I wouldn’t have expected to find in a hyper-masculine society like Jamaica’s.

In terms of entrepreneurship, I learned about the approach to education in Jamaica, which tends to encourage young people to go straight into a career that relates strongly to their choice of degree programme. This often funnels them towards jobs in ‘traditional’ fields such as medicine, law, and the civil service. But the trouble is, Jamaica’s economy is not doing well. Unemployment is rising.

One solution to this problem could be fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Jamaica has a lot of desirable products, such as its Blue Mountain coffee, rum, and a range of foods, yet limited efforts are made to market these to the outside world. Sellers tend to focus solely on the domestic market.

Conversations with other professionals brought up contrasting views. Others told me that Jamaica’s informal economy is strong, and is in fact producing many examples of innovation in small business.

During this trip, I’m mixing with a certain kind of educated and privileged people. So my picture of Jamaica will reflect their world, not the world experienced by less advantaged sectors of society. That’s a side of Jamaica that I’m unlikely to see much of. But then I suppose the same could be said for many foreigners who visit here.

Social class is another contentious issue in Jamaica. The society is heavily stratified in terms of class, reflecting the long-ago attitudes of colonial times. People move in their own little ‘bubbles’, consisting of their personal networks of family, friends and acquaintances. Within that bubble is where things get done. Those who move within privileged bubbles have access to the top levels of society.

Perhaps they went to a good school with a classmate who later became part of the Jamaican government. That’s an important member of the bubble right there. Those from less privileged backgrounds still have bubbles, but they don’t have access to the influential classes. Getting a decent education is their best chance of making it.

Jamaica has a population of just 2.7 million. That’s a mere drop in the ocean. Thanks to the country’s small size, many people know each other. There’s a strong sense of community here.

That’s my initial picture of certain aspects of life in Jamaica, based on what I’ve learned and experienced so far. As the famous Jamaican saying goes: ‘Wi lickle but wi tallawah.’ To me, Jamaica already feels like a small place with a huge character. In nation branding, having bags of personality means you’ve already gotten off to a good start.

More to follow based on my observations over the coming days in Jamaica.

Jamaica to host Symposium on its Global Image

ReImagineJamaicaSymposium - POSTER

Jamaica to host Symposium on its Global Image 

You already know Jamaica for its beaches, music and sportspeople. Jamaican icons Bob Marley and Usain Bolt are household names across the world. But Jamaica has even more to offer. Join us in the Jamaica capital Kingston to discuss what makes Jamaica unique, what challenges remain, and how to strengthen the Jamaican national brand for future success! 

The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project, a nation brand think tank founded by Jamaican journalist and scholar, Dr. Hume Johnson, joins forces with the University of the West Indies’ Centre for Leadership and Governance (CLG) to stage the inaugural Brand Jamaica symposium on July 16 & 17, 2015 at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Kingston, Jamaica (Multi-Purpose Room, Main Library).

The conference, entitled ‘Re-Imagine Jamaica: Unlimited Possibilities’, will bring together key professionals and practitioners in business, tourism, creative industries, sports, science and technology, media communication, marketing, politics, and academia to discuss some of the key issues, trends, challenges and practices that are shaping Jamaica’s public international image, as well as share experiences, perspectives, and the latest developments in the national drive to promote and protect Brand Jamaica.

On the heels of the recent 6th Biennel Conference of the Jamaica Diaspora held in Montego Bay, a symposium on Brand Jamaica is crucial and timely. It will address several key issues of importance to Jamaica’s national identity and global competitiveness such as tourism, business and industry, the creative industries, sports, as well as how to protect Brand Jamaica from dilution, contamination and exploitation. The summit will also tackle some of the reputational challenges that undermine and threaten Brand Jamaica such as crime, corruption and human rights, as well as how to handle communication challenges during times of crisis such as natural disasters, public health issues etc.

“Nations, regions and cities are today competing with each other for their share of the world’s tourists, investment, aid, students, for buyers of their products and services, for talent as well as for the attention and respect of the media and the global community. In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, Jamaica is obliged to develop, manage and leverage its national image to not just stand out, but also gain economic and social advantage”, says Dr. Hume Johnson, who is a professor of Public Relations at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, USA, and will co-chair the conference alongside colleague Professor of Global Communication at RWU, Dr. Kamille Gentles-Peart.

“It’s important to begin a process of taking stock of the quality of the nation’s global brand and image, both the areas which are positive and can be leveraged for our economic benefit and political and social advantage as well as the aspects that threaten our good name,” says Dr. Johnson.

“Our aim is to advocate for a re-imagining and repositioning of the Jamaican brand, the creation of a more complex narrative beyond sun, sand and sea, one that projects a more positive and complete image of the country centred on its people, culture and heritage. We also aim to engage over the two days various stakeholders and domestic sectors in grasping a fuller understanding of Brand Jamaica and the role they play in it. In addition, we wish to lobby for the establishment of a policy framework, and a overall Brand Jamaica strategy.

“It will also provide an occasion to engage the Jamaican Diaspora, and reflect on how the Diaspora may broaden the scope of its involvement in the development process for its own benefit and for Jamaica”, says conference co-chair and scholar on the West Indian Diaspora, Dr. Kamille Gentles-Peart. She adds that Jamaicans in the diaspora can help to solidify the positive image of Jamaica, mobilise support for the development initiatives at home, and participate in promoting brand Jamaica.

Speakers at the Brand Jamaica symposium 2015 include investment consultant and former Executive Director of JAMPRO with responsibility for investment, Michael McMorris, who will deliver a special lunch time address on July 16; Executive Director of the Broadcasting Commission, Cordel Green; Film Commissioner, Carole Beckford; President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Nicola-Madden-Grieg, Roselyn Fisher of the Scientific Research Council (SRC) Member of the Ganja Taskforce, Delano Seiveright, and Lillyclaire Bellamy of the Jamaica Copyright Agency.

The keynote speaker is Samantha North, a place branding specialist and journalist with the UK Telegraph and Al Jazeera who is based in Istanbul, Turkey. This special session will be held on July 16 from 7pm-9pm at the Undercroft Building at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. The public is invited.

Other partners involved in the staging of the Brand Jamaica Symposium include Jamaica National, Institute of Caribbean Studies (ICS) and Department of Government (UWI), Spanish Court Hotel, Power 106FM/Music 99, Peart Design Group (Rhode Island) and KOOL FM.
The Re:Imagine Jamaica Project is a think tank that aims to contribute to global knowledge and understanding of Jamaica through scholarly research. It also aims to promote Jamaican credentials in business, the arts, science and technology, culture, academia and sport. The overall goal is to ‘imagine’ Jamaica through a new lens, while producing new narratives to tell a more complete story about this remarkable country.

Please direct any questions to Dr. Hume Johnson –


Announcing City Nation Place Awards!


New Awards to Benchmark Place Branding

Presenting an exciting new set of place branding awards from City Nation Place. Get your entries in now!

The City Nation Place Awards have been launched to identify and recognise excellence in place branding strategy development and implementation. With more national, regional and city governments investing in reputation management and communication, these are the first Awards to benchmark the performance of these areas.

A Jury of place branding strategists and representatives of governments who are themselves tasked with building the strength of a place brand to attract investment, tourism, talent and trade will decide winners in four categories:

• The City Nation Place Award for Best Use of Social Media
• The City Nation Place Award for Best Citizen Engagement
• The City Nation Place Award for Best Communication Strategy
• The City Nation Place Brand of the Year

The Jury includes representatives from Africa, Europe, India and the United States. The Jury Chair, Robert Govers, is a leading researcher in the field of Place Branding, co-editor of the quarterly journal of Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, and government advisor to numerous city and country governments.

Speaking of the opportunities that the City Nation Place Awards provides, Robert said, “It’s important for the teams who are responsible for delivering place brand strategies to achieve recognition for their work – it provides an added argument when negotiating budgets with successive elected governments”.

Founder of the City Nation Place project, Clare Dewhirst, said, “We carried out research that revealed that advertising investment to promote tourism, trade and investment will increase over the next three years (by 49%, 34% and 30% respectively*) and that engaging citizens and integrating social media in to place brand strategy were seen as great challenges for governments. As budgets expand, it is increasingly important to measure and benchmark effectiveness and we believe that these new Awards will add to that objective.”

The Awards are open for entries from city, regional or national government teams, from those working in government funded organisations such as City or Country Marketing Boards, Tourism or Investment Promotion Boards and also from the agencies and consultancies working with clients in this sector.

The deadline for entries is 24 July 2015, so don’t hang around!