Promoting Community Museums: The Ecuadorian Museo del Cantón Oña – Casa Vallejo

Author: Jimena Perry, lecturer in the Department of History, Iona University.

The following museum definition was approved in August 22 during the ICOM Extraordinary General Assembly held in Prague: “A museum is a not-for-profit, permanent institution in the service of society that researches, collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage. Open to the public, accessible and inclusive, museums foster diversity and sustainability. They operate and communicate ethically, professionally and with the participation of communities, offering varied experiences for education, enjoyment, reflection and knowledge sharing.”

With a focus on inclusivity and participation, this approach addresses the diversity of formats, objectives, and roles museums take on. In this context, Bridging and IFPH Explorers want to highlight grassroots venues in a new series called “Community Museums Worldwide .” Acknowledging communities and local initiatives to recreate and represent diverse cultural manifestations, we aim to draw attention to these local sites. Starting with Ecuador and a small-scale museum in the rural Oña Canton, we encourage you to send your contributions.

Following the IFPH mission “to create an international network of public history programs, scholars, and practitioners facilitate the international exchange of information on teaching and research in and the practice of public history” and going beyond official institutional narratives, Bridging and Explorers want to promote the voices of communities working to make their culture part of a global scene.

In October 2022, the IFPH Explorers was invited to participate in the III Encuentro Nacional de Historia de la Provincia del Azuay (III National History Meeting of the Azuay Province) in Cuenca, Ecuador. As part of the event activities, the organizers arranged a visit to the southern Ecuadorian Oña Canton. A two-hour ride from Cuenca, it is historically known for its colonial architecture, stonework, and landscape for which the government declared it as national cultural patrimony in 2013.

Part of Oña’s attractions is the Museo del Cantón Oña – Casa Vallejo (Museum of Oña Canton – Vallejo House). Created during Covid-19 times, in 2021, it is the result of a long process and attempt to preserve the Oña’s history and culture. The house where the museum is today belonged to the Vallejo family, native of the area. Alfonso, one of its members, born in 1932, was a true believer in the power of people coming together. Therefore, he devoted his life to work for his Canton. He promoted the construction of roads and mingas (community labor generally paid through food and drink). But it was his brother, Edmundo Vallejo, who donated the house to the municipality. The first floor is a recreational space for the elderly population. The museum begins on the second.

The exhibition space has 3 rooms displaying family heirlooms and ways of living in early 20th century rural Ecuador. In the first space visitors see the family’s dining and bedroom. The objects are original, and the guide and curator praise the venue for being faithful to history. Picture no. 1 gives a perspective of this space.

In the first space visitors see the family’s dining and bedroom.

Picture 1. Photograph by Jimena Perry, October 2022.

The second room showcases artifacts used by the family members in their daily activities (Picture 2).

The second room showcases artifacts used by the family members in their daily activities (Picture 2).

Picture 2. Photograph by Jimena Perry, October 2022.

Finally, the third room houses a chapel (Picture 3), which was part of the home, highlighting Catholicism’s significance for the family and in the region.

the third room houses a chapel (Picture 3), which was part of the home, highlighting Catholicism’s significance for the family and in the region.

Picture 3. Photograph by Jimena Perry, October 2022.

The guide, curator, and administrator of the museum, David Ochoa, has devoted years of research and public service to promote the venue, which has become a landmark for Oña’s inhabitants as well as a tourist site. His aim is to make the Vallejo House a mandatory reference point for understanding the history of the Canton and the country. An effort that echoes the Latin American trend of highlighting local and lesser-known community stories that have played definitive roles in the construction of national identities. 

In this context, the Museo del Cantón Oña is part of the community museums in Ecuador network, a subsect of the overarching Latin American project to highlight grassroots initiatives, which have helped to preserve their culture over the last 15 years. There are community museums in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and all other countries of the region. The IFPH Explorers, aware of this trend, held an event with another Ecuadorian community museum. Called Diálogos sobre museos y comunidad: la experiencia del Museo Viviente Otavalango (Dialogues about Museums and Community: The Otavalango Living Museum Experience), this Explorers edition focused on the ways in which an indigenous community promotes and preserves their culture through a museum with solid educational programming and interactive activities.

Acknowledging the significance of these community venues for the people they serve; the Explorers want to invite you to participate in the endeavor of highlighting grassroots experiences. We invite you to hold an event with us and to promote your ideas, projects, and activities.

Join the Explorers and do an event with us!
¡Haga parte de Explorers y planee un evento con nosotros!

Project Manager: Jimena Perry
Youtube: IFPH Explorers
Instagram: @ifphexplorers
Twitter: @pubhistint / @jimenaperry /


Jimena Perry, PhD

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