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Transformative Experience Through Storytelling

Culture plays a pivotal role in shaping a city’s identity, as UNESCO defines it as a crucial element in social progress. Developing culture is not a way to solve challenges but rather a means to create a “space where individuals can express, explore and re-imagine complex and difficult issues.”

Increasingly, the interdependent relationship between culture and urban space is recognised. Within a city’s landscape, cultural infrastructure like museums, theatres, and galleries form integral elements that cater to the creative and cultural sectors.

Museums, in particular, offer a distinctive opportunity for individuals and communities to delve into both tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Serving as historical portals and storage of knowledge, they instil a sense of pride and contribute to heritage preservation. Moreover, modern museums serve as inspirational hubs, stimulating local economies by showcasing the diverse works of artists, craftsmen, and innovators.

Consequently, the question arises of how to sustain these cultural portals for future generations. How can we entice the youth to engage with and explore these portals? And how can we leverage technology to ensure the enduring legacy of our traditions and crafts?

The Enchanting Power of Storytelling in Museums

Storytelling serves as the lifeblood of museums, breathing life into artefacts and exhibits that might otherwise appear static or detached. It transcends the mere presentation of facts and figures, weaving narratives that spark curiosity, ignite imagination, and cultivate a deeper connection with cultural heritage.

Imagine, for instance, standing before a weathered object from a bygone era. A simple label might tell you its name and origin, but a captivating story woven around its use, the lives it touched, and the historical context in which it existed transforms the experience entirely. This narrative tapestry allows visitors to step back in time, fostering a sense of empathy and understanding towards past cultures and individuals.

Furthermore, stories possess an inherent emotional pull. By placing artefacts within a human context, museums use storytelling to create an emotional connection with visitors. This emotional engagement fosters a sense of shared humanity, bridging the gap between cultures and generations. Visitors are no longer passive observers but active participants in the unfolding narrative, allowing them to connect with the stories personally.

In response to these inquiries, we embarked on a mission to curate creative experiences that provide individuals and communities with opportunities to immerse themselves in their tangible and intangible cultural heritage. These immersive experiences, infused with the magic of storytelling, act as powerful tools for participants to discover these cultural portals and forge deeper connections with them. Our journey led us to Tunis, where we delved into the significance of museums and their role in fostering meaningful connections to historical narratives. To facilitate this exploration, we arranged a private tour of the Ennejma Ezzahra palace, guided by Mr. Mounir Hentati, former curator of the palace, and Ms. Winkie Williamson, a distinguished researcher on the history of the D’Erlanger family, who were the palace’s proprietors.

With Mr Hentati’s collaboration, a curated and crafted narrative was developed that transformed Ennejma Ezzahra Palace into a dynamic experience that resonated with the participants. Mr Hentati, serving as the curator, skillfully intertwined historical context with captivating stories, infusing them with personal anecdotes and humour, which breathed life into objects, making them relevant and relatable. This immersive journey allowed participants to discover the palace’s art collections and “objets d’art” in a truly engaging manner.

Photo Credit Silverline© 

Through Mr. Hentati’s captivating storytelling, we were fully immersed in the place, transforming from passive observers to active participants. This interaction enhanced our overall experience and facilitated our comprehension of intricate narratives and sentiments, transcending time, culture, and language barriers. Whether delving into the personal journey of the D’Erlanger family, palace inhabitants, or navigating their struggles during WWII, the storytelling sparked curiosity. It prompted reflection, ultimately enriching our understanding of the world and ourselves. 

Photo Credit Silverline© 

Additionally, participants were treated to a unique auditory experience as they listened to recordings of musicians rehearsing at Ennejma Ezzahra Palace. This immersive experience was made possible through a live audio presentation of musical archives curated by Mr. Hentati. The selection referenced the musical compositions performed at the inaugural Congress of Arabic Music in Cairo in 1932.

During the tour, Ms. Williamson transformed the palace into a captivating historical backdrop by reenacting a scene from a book detailing the life of the Baron, prominently showcased within the palace. Guiding us through a mesmerising voyage across time, she invited us to envision ourselves as participants in one of the Baron’s legendary soirées alongside his wife and esteemed guests.

The visit concluded with a captivating solo performance by a talented young oud player, Dhia Maknine, at the palace’s central patio. By collaborating with this skilled artist, Ezzahra Palace added authenticity and provided participants with a richer understanding of cultural and historical contexts. These collaborations brought dynamic interpretations and modern perspectives to the space, fostering dialogue, evoking emotional responses, and creating memorable experiences.

Footnote – Video | Ennejma Ezzahra patio | Dhia is one of the young Tunisians who started learning ma’luf music at 14. He played a unique piece of Tunisian Ma’luf music extracted from the “نوبة رصد الذيل “, a Tunisian musical choir that participated in the Arab Music Conference in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, in 1932. He is supported by his father and a community of musicians at Ennejma Ezzahra, including Mr. Hentati, who are encouraging youth to learn this traditional music. Dhia says, “I love playing the oud, and my father encouraged me to pursue my learning in music.”

Reflecting on our recent experience, we’re prompted to consider how to extend such enriching experiences to other museums. Many lack the physical resources or curator availability necessary for immersive storytelling. How can we integrate technology through storytelling? How can we measure the success of such experiences?

Amplifying the Magic: Technology as a Bridge

While the power of storytelling thrives within the physical space of a museum, advancements in technology offer exciting possibilities to amplify its reach and impact:

Augmented Reality (AR) may help to retell and relive the past, offering a state-of-the-art experience to all visitors. These technologies can transport remote audiences directly into the heart of museum exhibits, allowing them to virtually explore historical sites, interact with artefacts, and experience different cultures firsthand. In this context, technology is a potent tool for amplifying the magic of cultural experiences. By incorporating interactive elements, multimedia installations, and virtual reality experiences, museums can transcend geographical limitations and bring cultural heritage to life for global audiences. 

Digital archiving is also a technique that can be used to preserve stories or music from the past, similar to that of the Tunisian National Sound Archive (TNSA), a significant component of the Centre for Arab and Mediterranean Music with its mission to collect, catalogue, conserve, restore, enhance and disseminate the Tunisian phonographic heritage as a whole. Institutions can offer and host interactive exhibits, multimedia presentations, and narrated tours through online platforms, making cultural heritage accessible to individuals regardless of geographic proximity.

Through digital storytelling techniques, museums can empower local communities to share their stories and cultural heritage. This empowers these communities and enriches the global cultural landscape, ensuring a broader range of voices and perspectives are heard and appreciated. By engaging various local stakeholders like storytellers, writers, designers, craftsmen, artists and creatives, we ensure the creation of content that is immersive and culturally relevant, providing visitors with a unique perspective on historical events or artefacts, creating inclusive and authentic experiences that captivate and educate visitors from all backgrounds this collaborative engagement not only broadens accessibility but also sheds light on often underrepresented communities and their unique cultural narratives. Nonetheless, funding and support are crucial for museums, particularly rural ones, to achieve new initiatives through technology. These local museums are paramount as they safeguard forgotten tales and narratives from the past that are essential to preserving.

We are confident that collaborating with local initiatives and stakeholders can encourage people to explore, connect, and find inspiration in these museums. We aim to ignite a deeper appreciation for museums as places for cultural exploration, language understanding, and connection beyond mere artefact display. We are committed to advancing this mission in various cities and locales, implementing this approach to engaging with cultural heritage, showcasing unique narratives, and highlighting forgotten tales.

By harnessing the power of storytelling and embracing technological advancements, we can ensure that cultural portals continue to thrive, serving as vibrant spaces for exploration, inspiration, and connection for generations to come. This commitment to cultural preservation safeguards our heritage and fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation for the diverse tapestry of human experience that enriches our world.

About us

Silverline was founded in 2020 by four passionate partners to drive cultural growth through research, engagement with the community, and technology. We believe that research and proper community engagement can have a positive and long-term impact on culture and creative industries.

About the author – Juliette Zeidan & Azza ElHassan

Juliette Zeidan is a distinguished professional in cultural research and creative economy development, significantly impacting the MENA region’s creative industries. She played key roles in projects like Nuqat’s cultural events, organizing 33 focus groups across 11 cities, and researching the Cultural Vibrancy of 12 Arab Cities for Abu Dhabi’s urban planning department. Juliette’s work with the World Bank and ServiceHero on creative economy surveys and her leadership in a Creative Education Program for children highlight her dedication to innovation and societal impact. Currently, she leads cultural experiences to promote heritage and connect communities, with successful projects like her pilot in Tunis.

Azza ElHassan co-founded Silverline, a cultural consultancy enhancing communities’ cultural and creative economy in the Middle East. She’s pursuing an MBA in International Cultural Management, with a background in non-profits and private institutions, collaborating with government and corporations across the GCC and Levant. Azza worked with the British Council and Nuqat, supporting notable art exhibitions and making her curatorial debut with Toofoola’s Don’t Look Away NFT auction, addressing period poverty. Her work, rooted in challenging fragmented identities, focuses on highlighting marginalized stories through research and creative expression.

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