The Collaborative Museum – Forging New Paths in Transcultural Museum Work

The Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin places an explicit emphasis on transcultural collaboration when curating its programme. In a large-scale project running until the end of 2025 called The Collaborative Museum, it will work together with the Museum für Asiatische Kunst to produce multiperspectival approaches to exploring the collections, and will test out new formats for collaborating with an international community of museums and academics, as well as with representatives of communities of origin. In the cultural belongings held by the museum, materialised relationships between the institution and the communities of origin of these belongings are reactivated in a sensitive and just fashion for all involved. For our part, the museum strives to decolonise and diversify our work.

With the project The Collaborative Museum, the Ethnologisches Museum is expanding its already varied forms of collaboration to incorporate previously neglected regions and new partnerships. In terms of the way museums interact with the cultural belongings in their collections, colonial legacies and other violent histories of appropriation together with Western conceptions of museum work have led to an imbalance. Renegotiating hierarchies of interpretation and ownership of the objects forms part of a broader paradigm shift, and the Ethnologisches Museum seeks to proactively engage in these processes.

Online Offers of the Transcultural Collaboration


Logo Podcast: „Gegen die Gewohnheit“
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ethnologisches Museum / Museum für Asiatische Kunst

“Gegen die Gewohnheit” (Going Against the Grain) – New Forms of Collaboration

Cooperation and Collaboration

Many collaborations related to the ethnological collections are guided by the mutual interest of all parties in exchanging information and knowledge in order to reconstruct former meanings and functions of the cultural belongings and to incorporate contemporary interpretations and perspectives into the activities of the museum. A central element of horizontal collaborations consists in fostering educational and other activities in the regions of origin of the objects in the collection and ensuring that these activities are defined by the partners. What’s more, collaborations enhance our understanding of the intricacies and nuances of global interconnections. This does not begin and end with restitution; it includes extensive processes of negotiation that take into account a range of different interests, diverse practices of knowledge acquisition, and global disparities.

The consensus that is reached with regard to each respective collaborative endeavour is shaped and supported in a spirit of commitment and mutual respect by everyone at the Ethnologisches Museum. Together, the museum staff strives to make the collections and their history as transparent and accessible as possible and to share them with the general public.

International Fellowship Programme

One of the central components of the project The Collaborative Museum is a fellowship programme aimed at international artists, researchers, community representatives, and cultural workers. The programme offers grants for academic or artistic research projects and provides fellows with the opportunity to critically interrogate the collections and their contexts of meaning through their work, to experiment with new research approaches, to develop interventions in the field of contemporary art, or to work together with curators to generate new impulses in transcultural museum work. Transparency and opening up new forms of access are key focuses of this work, as is ensuring the participation of a diversity of disciplines, individuals, cultural perspectives, and voices. The fellowship programme is particularly interested in supporting early-career academics and emerging artists in their professional development.

The Ethnologisches Museum recognises the value of its holdings for the global community, especially the communities of origin. The so-called “objects” or “exhibits” cannot be reduced to mere things or artefacts but must be acknowledged as “cultural belongings”. They mediate relationships between people, places, and cultural and artistic practices related to the past, future, and present.