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Museums respond to crisis 2014


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This is a powerpoint I used in Ukraine at a museum workshop in May 2014. The museum community In Ukraine is bravely expanding their role in a country that is repositioning itself in the face of conflict and new aspirations. It was a privilege to be invited to give this presentation.

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Museums respond to crisis 2014

  1. 1. Museums Respond to Crisis Elaine Heumann Gurian May 2014 1
  2. 2. Who Am I and What I believe -- Elaine Heumann Gurian Who I am:  An American, married, a parent and grandparent, old, an artists and photographer, and a Jew with German, Dutch and Ukrainian ancestors.  An experienced museum administrator, educator, writer, teachers and a consultant to governments about museum change.  A facilitator about process not a content advisor. What I believe:  Museums are public spaces for strangers to meet and learn that house evidence of human and natural activity and history.  Believe that museums have a fluid definition and can do anything the director and staff want.  Determined that museums are part of the civic landscape and as such have a moral responsibility to be helpful to citizens in building peaceability if they choose.  Happy to experiment in creating methods that make museums helpful. and 2
  4. 4. OBVIOUSLY UKRAINE KNOWS ABOUT MUSEUMS ACTING IN CRISIS  Ihor Poshyvailo, the deputy director of the Ivan Honchar Museum, and other co-curators have collected artifacts from the protest movement, including hand-painted banners; stretchers; helmets; and even a large catapult. Joseph Sywenkyj for The New York Times Unfinished Revolution: The Artists Soldier On, Ukrainians Turn to the Arts in a Time of Upheaval, By RACHEL DONADIO APRIL 29, 2014 4
  5. 5. AND ABOUT ART AS IMMEDIATE EXPRESSION  As Katya Soldak in Forbes wrote on May 19, 2014 “Despite Russia-fueled separatist violence in the East and the country’s uncertain future, Ukraine finds room for art.” Fear and Hope – a group exhibition by Ukrainian artists Mykyta Kadan, Zhanna Kadyrova and Artem Volokytin – opened this past weekend in Kyiv during the European Night of Museums in the Pinchuk Art Center. 5
  6. 6. SO PERHAPS MY USEFULNESS IS:  Organizing possible responses,  Putting them in context,  Giving illustrations, 6
  7. 7. AND PUTTING THE ISSUE IN A PHILOSOPHICAL FRAME  And suggesting that all civic institutions (museums included) can, if they wish, play a part in current events, that is helpful, builds cohesion, peaceability and unity.  They also can do the opposite and cause more upheaval if they wish  And even non-action is also a kind of tacit action. 7
  8. 8. “As trusted public institutions and privileged spaces for reflection, intellectual stimulation, debate, and community gathering, museums have a tremendous power to shape history, national memory, and public opinion.” Van Orden, Vanessa, EXHIBITING TRAGEDY: MUSEUMS AND THE REPRESENTATION OF SEPTEMBER 11, August 30, 2004,Master’s thesis, JFK University, p17 This Master Thesis formed the backbone of this presentation with thanks to the author. 8
  9. 9. LONNIE G. BUNCH, “IN THE SHADOW OF UNCERTAINTY: MUSEUMS IN THE AFTERMATH,” MUSEUM NEWS 81, NO. 1 (JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2002): 41. “Museums are developing programs and exhibitions that demonstrate that cultural institutions are of value to their community in good times and invaluable during times of pain and crisis. Museums all over the country are working to create opportunities that allow visitors to see our institutions as places of healing, education, affirmation, and reflection; cultural entities that are ripe with contemporary resonance; and sources for historical knowledge— helpful tools for people wrestling with despair and uncertainty.” 9
  10. 10. MUSEUMS AS TRUSTED INSTITUTIONS  In 1998, American historians Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen published a report based on interviews with 1,500 Americans on the popular uses of history in American culture. Of all sources of historical information, respondents named museums as the ones they trusted most—above relatives, universities, books, and television.  Roy Rozensweig and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 21-22. 10
  12. 12. WHAT ARE THE WAYS MUSEUMS CAN RESPOND  Obviously museum can respond to timely events both in the moment, in the short term and over the long term.  Every museum, given the likelihood of some crisis, should discuss its position and prepare its plans and infrastructure.  But crisis can often overtake us and some of us act in the moment,  And then we need to gather, reflect, decide on a course of new action if any and act.  It is preparation and infrastructure that makes immediate action often easier. 12
  13. 13. MUSEUM STAFF AS PROTECTOR OF COLLECTIONS, PEOPLE AND PROPERTY  Emergency protection of collections, building and people safety is obviously the first call. Unfortunately I am not an expert on these.  Blue Shield has resources and people willing to help. involved/inform-us/heritage- alert/heritage-at-risk-reports-2  There are stories in Ukraine of people saving their collections heroically and of damage as well. 13
  14. 14. MUSEUM AS SPACE PROVIDER:  Offering other institutions to set up service delivery over long term if their building is damaged,  Allowing storage of material moved from other buildings for safe keeping,  Offering space to be used for mourning, services, celebrations and information provided by others.  Making assets available (kitchen’s, toilets, seating, etc.) available for non- museum users. 14
  15. 15. AS CUSTOMER SERVICE  Change hours  Change admission charges and process  Invite different use (sleepover, coffee, respite, etc.)  Access to toilets, food, etc. 15
  16. 16. Museums as providers of: COMMUNITY & SOCIAL SERVICE 16 Offering aid to patrons with direct and immediate help, Offering staff and other’s refuge short or long term, Bringing in health care and social service workers to offer service to staff and others in the aftermath, Offering space to other services to set up and deliver services,
  17. 17. AS ACCESS TO EXPERTISE  Making experts available to media.  Making broadcast and Wi-Fi available to citizens.  Putting curators on floor available to citizens.  Inviting experts in and making them available in public spaces. 17
  18. 18. AS ACCESS TO CONTENT  Changing current installed exhibitions to reflect immediate issue where appropriate.  Create infrastructure for rapidly changing exhibitions or parts of exhibitions.  Moving relevant collections, photos, etc. to front space that highlight their relationship to current events.  Use photojournalism to created immediate though unfinished exhibits. 18
  19. 19. AS CONTEXT  Allow and encourage place for inspiration and reflection.  Create spaces for meditation.  Place performance, programs, debates within exhibition spaces originated for another purpose. 19
  20. 20. AS COLLECTIONS ACQUISITIONS  Acquire material recently produced  Document recent events  Adjust a collection policy in the light of contemporary concerns  Collect eyewitness material (visual and vocal) 20
  21. 21. AS METAPHOR  Use content already in museum but of another time or place as metaphor for this event.  Use fiction, irony, theatre as window on current event one remove. 21
  22. 22. AS LONG TERM REFLECTOR  Many museums review the material and discuss it historically. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened fifty years after liberation. 22
  23. 23. In advance and preparation, Museums can:  Establish an internal ethos that supports response in terms of human resources.  Have pre-arranged exhibition systems in place that allow for responsiveness.  Think that exhibitions in real time and those done later with more reflection can exist side by side in the same institution.  Have ongoing relationship with other systems (i.e. journalists, media, etc.) who can provide access to in time information or systems. 23
  24. 24. IN ORDER TO CREATE RAPIDLY CHANGING CONTENT, Museums need:  Systems that turn exhibitions around in short period of time  Have ongoing scan of current events as part of some job descriptions  Have a review process for topics that is based on timely response  Be considered a resource by community 24
  25. 25. Museums must debate internally and consider :  How willing they are to put up raw data without much reflection, in favor of speed and flexibility.  Their relationship to social service,  Their willingness to make their physical assets available to others,  The consequences of taking political sides or seemingly political sides,  Their willingness to have their more trusted and neutral space used by politicians.  Changing their collections policy,  Willingness to take a stand on moral issues as part of their responsibility. 25
  26. 26. AUTHORITY CONSIDERATIONS  Who speaks for the museum?  Whose voice is in the exhibition?  What is the museum stand on debate and controversy?  Is the museum organized for shared and multiple perspectives?  Is this a “viewpoint” museum? 26