Why is Houston Museum of Culture Unique and Important for Houston?

In 1846, could you have imagined the value of the Smithsonian? Would you have known in 1872, when Yellowstone became the first national park in the United States, that it would start a world-wide movement to preserve natural and cultural resources?

Would you have supported the visions for the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863, the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933, or the Peace Corps in 1961? These efforts have made significant and lasting improvements in our world.

Is there anything left to give to humankind? There are tremendous unmet challenges and needs in the world, and the overwhelming evidence mounts daily. Can people continue to make a significant difference in the world, or is it too complex and difficult?

In 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King noted, "Through our scientific genius, we made of the world a neighborhood." Half a century later, that statement is even truer today than it was then. He went on to say, "...through our moral and ethical commitment, we must make of it a brotherhood."

While our understanding of the world and the things that affect our ways of life has grown with our exposure to the planet and its many diverse peoples, we haven't succeeded to make a better world. King said, "I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be... This is the inter-related structure of reality."

While many have observed that the world is smaller and growing closer every day, they have embraced its diversity and worked to improve their cultural literacy. But serious problems continue to grow - poverty, racism, inequality, segregation, marginalization, mass migration, global health issues, deep-seated fears and religious conflicts - even in the United States and in our own city.

Imagine a world where humans developed the simplest lifeways over 100,000 years and how radically those ways of life changed just in the past 100 years. Over 50,000 years, people diversified their languages, belief systems, and economic and political processes, as they spread out over the globe. But those diverse lifeways have succumbed to broadening media and mass, pop cultural influences that have homogenized human interests more than at any time in history. Vast human needs and desires have developed over a tiny sliver of time.

Industries, especially right here in Houston, have been instrumental in transforming our interests and ways of life, and they continue to do so. They are taking us to space, working to go beyond our fossil fuel-based industrial revolution, making our communication systems faster, and bringing us greater convenience and increased access to markets.

But industries address only a small portion of human needs. Education systems and institutions that are concerned with the multitudes of quality of life issues, take on the role of addressing human needs through their program efforts, policy shaping, or as health and human services providers.

At the root of this vast and rapidly expanding sector of non-commercial enterprises is the need to improve community health in all regions of the planet. It requires concern for human conditions, interest in the historic and future paths of civilizations, awareness of environmental impacts, resolve to address social issues throughout the world, dedication to improve education, belief in good quality of life for all people, greater respect for cultural diversity, and appreciation for cultural arts. It requires awareness and understanding of the influences in our ways of life.

Media, communication, transportation, technological developments and global economics have changed the planet so rapidly, accelerating noticeably in the past half century, that our individual cultural identities are no longer the centers of our worlds. As Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1961, "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

All of our ways of life and the concerns for our quality of life fit in one important topic area - culture (definitions). Our ways of life and our human condition is the subject of numerous important fields of study, including anthropology, sociology, political science, media literacy, psychology, philosophy, theology, geography, environmental education, multiculturalism programs, future studies, and many more.

Though there is an urgent and sometimes desperate rush to preserve specific cultural interests and identities, much of the world lacks the significant organizations it needs to promote human understanding and ways of life interests in the new international sphere of knowledge and influence. Houston is among the nation's and the world's most diverse cities. By addressing the cultural education needs in the fourth largest U.S. city, Houston can lead the way in cultural education and community improvement for the U.S. and the world.

The Houston Museum of Culture stands to be the most advanced museum in the world that explores cultural development and human condition through all the processes that impact our ways of life, enable enjoyment and social interaction in our communities, and create conflict among neighbors and nations.

The progress of human development (including agriculture, geography, religion, government, technology, communication, and more) may be the most interesting topic in our world, and it is certainly the most important.

The museum will be the base for presenting informative, educational and entertaining topical resources and program presentations on the broad influences in our ways of life, including education, occupations, languages, religions, food traditions, arts, technologies, media, economy, environment, and much more. And it includes highly complex subjects, including thought process, formal and informal education, ideology, symbolism, and social interaction.

The Houston Museum of Culture will serve more than a million adult and student visitors annually, spread valuable information to millions more, encourage productive action on local and international issues, and launch major touring initiatives. It will provide an education resource, serve as a diplomatic center, promote the highest quality of life and cultural understanding for Houstonians, and set a positive example for the world.

Culture: The integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon humankind's capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.

Culture: (in anthropology) the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

From Eastern Oregon University [http://www.eou.edu/~kdahl/]:

Culture: is a shared, learned, symbolic system of values, beliefs and attitudes that shapes and influences perception and behavior - an abstract "mental blueprint" or "mental code."

Must be studied "indirectly" by studying behavior, customs, material culture (artifacts, tools, technology), language, etc.

1) Learned. Process of learning one's culture is called enculturation.
2) Shared by the members of a society. No "culture of one."
3) Patterned. People in a society live and think in ways that form definite patterns.
4) Mutually constructed through a constant process of social interaction.
5) Symbolic. Culture, language and thought are based on symbols and symbolic meanings.
6) Arbitrary. Not based on "natural laws" external to humans, but created by humans according to the "whims" of the society. Example: standards of beauty.
7) Internalized. Habitual. Taken-for-granted. Perceived as "natural."

Here are some helpful answers to questions you may have.

Why is it called the Houston Museum of Culture?

Like the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) and the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS), which are about the world of art and science respectively, the Houston Museum of Culture (HMOC) is about the cultures and lifeways of the world. It is based in Houston and strives to bring prominence to the city for leading the world in the field of cultural interpretation and knowledge. In addition to international cultures, it will focus on local, regional, and national cultural interests.

Are there other museums of culture?

There are many cultural centers in Houston and throughout the United States, and of course the world. Most are aimed at preserving an identity, unique culture or cultural art. Houston has a heritage center in downtown and another on its way, as well as a future national heritage or commemorative area coming to the stretch of Buffalo Bayou from Houston to approximately Deer Park. There is the Institute for Texan Cultures in San Antonio and many Texas heritage museums in the state.

There are some very good examples of museums based on multiple cultures, including the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe and the Museum of Asian Civilizations in Singapore. Louisiana benefits from a particularly good set of national park units under the name Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, which address several unique cultural and natural aspects of southern Louisiana. The Smithsonian can be considered the national museum of culture. But there really is not a sizeable and effective effort to present a museum on international cultures, with a focus on academic, historical, political and social aspects of our ways of life. Houston Museum of Culture will be the first and will surely come to rank among the most impactful museums in the world.

Are there additional benefits to the city?

Houston, due to its diversity and international populations, is currently the most obvious place for a truly great museum of culture, though the window of time to pioneer this area will close soon, as the nation and the world are changing rapidly. There is an opportunity for the most visionary Houstonians to give the city a truly provident museum and a major institution that will enhance our knowledge and improve communities throughout the world.

While the museum and education center will provide important services and resources for local academic and civic communities, there will be tremendous economic and education benefits for Houston. The increased numbers of reputable museums in Houston will translate to exponential growth in support for cultural resources and visitors to the city. There will be positive social advancements, as well as great recognition and improvement in national reputation for the city. Even without all of those excellent benefits, the dedication to expanding interests and quality of life for every individual who attends the museum exhibits and programs will be its most worthwhile service to the community.

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