The following is an edited transcription of the proceedings of "Museums for the New Millennium." Do not copy or quote any of this text without the written permission of the speaker.
MS. LOAR: Good morning. I am Peggy Loar, and in my capacity as Vice Chairman of AAM-ICOM, which is the U.S. National Committee of ICOM, I have been asked to moderate this panel this morning on Museum Evolution and International Perspectives. So, as if the issues we have been discussing for the last day and a half aren't complicated enough, we are now going global. At least we are focusing only on the next 30 years, roughly. We have been talking about three decades hence.
At first when I learned about the title of this symposium, Museums for a New Millennium, it occurred to me we might be discussing the next 1,000 years. I thought, "how exciting." Obviously, future studies don't work that way, nor do trend analyses, because one little error gets extrapolated and the data is not very accurate. I don't think the mighty wise Smithsonian nor Omni Magazine nor Hollywood nor even Disney Imagineering could do that. Yet when we engage in our fantasies about the future, the long-term future, a kind of remote "future think," if you will, we do realize the critical need to anticipate inevitable and rapid change in the short-term and to adapt.
To put it more graphically, if we consider the year 1000 historically, those medieval times, then we consider the year 2000, where we almost are, and we finally imagine the year 3000, especially in relation to the rapid changes in the last century, particularly the last decade, it is almost too awesome a thought. If museums survive the next millennium to the year 3000, clearly neither will look much like what they look today.
Andre Malraux said, "the 21st Century will either be mystical or it will not be." To me, he suggests the grave consequences of a society on a "death wish" course where commerce, intolerance and self-indulgence are more important than preserving and improving culture, more important than embracing spirituality, or perhaps he is suggesting we would be right to evolve our museums as secular sanctuaries, where we can momentarily escape the rapid pace of technological, political, economic and social change.
Change in the international sense varies as much as our nationalistic tendencies, our cultural differences, and our humidity levels. Economics affecting museums in one country, such as America, may be the result of a change in party, in another country, such as Russia, a change in principle, in ideology. Whatever, change is inevitable, but progress is not. We must work hard to progress, to evolve successfully, and, globally, we must help each other address impending change.
This morning our distinguished international colleagues will be addressing many of the issues we face in the future, we have faced them in the past but they will be very difficult in the future: issues of funding, governance, leadership, ethics, audience and other issues, both from their national perspective and their global perspectives. One of our presenters was not mentioned in your program book, so I am going to give you a very brief sketch of our panel this morning, and then we will begin.
| At the other end of the table, Nikolay Nickishin points out to me he is on the left, but no longer on the left. He is head of the Center of Museum Planning and Design at the Russian Institute for Cultural Research in Moscow, was educated at Moscow State University and the International Summer School of Museology at Brno, Czechoslovakia. He has served as a Senior Museographer in the Russian Institute for Cultural Research and headed the Environmental Protection Department of the Solovetsky History, Architecture and Nature Museum-reserve, Solovetsky Island, White Sea.
He is the scientific editor of six issues of collective papers on museology, museum planning and design, published by the Russian Institute for Cultural Research, and the author of over 50 articles in different scientific journals and collective papers, and has participated in more than 10 regional and local projects of museum development and over 20 museum projects in 15 regions of Russia.
Clearly he is qualified to address the subject today from the Russian point of view, and I might also say that he represents the next generation of museum leadership in the new Russia.
| Hector Rivero Borrell Miranda is director of the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico. His training is in industrial design and he is a specialist in exhibition design. He has a masters degree in museology from the National School for Conservation, Restoration, and Museography, National Institute of Anthropology and History, Ministry of Education. He has taught drawing, geometry, design, design history, exhibition design and museography at the Universidad Iberoamericana and in the National School of Conservation, Restoration and Museography.
He joined the Franz Mayer Museum as assistant to the director, became assistant director for museum promotion and publicity in 1993, and was then named director. He has played a key role in the development of that museum, which is Mexico's most prestigious private arts center.
| Bernice Murphy, to his left, is Chief Curator and Deputy Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia. She is in charge of collections, curatorial and exhibition program development, and lectures, and writes on various aspects of contemporary art for the museum in the community.
Bernice has worked internationally on exhibitions from 1977 in many countries, in Europe, Asia, North and South America, the former Soviet Union and the Pacific region. One of her most long-standing commitments and specialties has been curatorial work involved in nurturing the aboriginal art and other indigenous culture forms within the domain of contemporary art, particularly in Australia. She is currently a member of the ten person Executive Council of ICOM, and a member of CIMAM, ICOM's Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern and Contemporary Art.
| Maria Horta is Director of the Museu Imperial in Petropolis, Brazil, and chairperson of the International Council of Museums in Brazil. She is a museologist with a Ph.D In Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, UK, where she presented a thesis on "Museum Semiotics, a new approach to Museum Communication." She has been a consultant to the National Heritage Institute, the Ministry of Culture, and has been working most particularly with museum and heritage education in Brazil, acting as a consultant in community projects in different parts of the country, and with teacher training courses in museology, education and community development, and has authored several essays and articles published in national and international magazines on the subject of museum cultural heritage and education.
She is a member of the Board of ICOFOM, ICOM's Committee for Museology, and a member of CECA, ICOM's committee for Educational and Cultural Action.
| Our first speaker will be Dr. Saroj Ghose, Director General, National Council of Science Museums in Calcutta, India. He is also our distinguished President of the International Council of Museums, ICOM, Paris. He is a graduate of Jadavpur University, studied control engineering at Harvard University, and completed his doctoral studies in the history of engineering.
He has 38 years of experience in the popularization of science, science communication, and interaction of science and society in India. Dr. Ghose has been instrumental in the development of a large chain of science centers in India, along with interactive exhibits and extensive outreach activities, including mobile science exhibitions, rural development programs and creative activities for school children.
He has organized science exhibitions in the USA, Russia, France, Bulgaria and China, and is presently engaged in the development of a very large science city in Calcutta. He assumed the presidency of ICOM in 1992.
Dr. Ghose, if you would start our panel this morning.
DR. GHOSE: Thank you very much. It gives me a distinct pleasure to be here today on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Smithsonian Institution, particularly because some things were missed in my biography, such as that I am an old "Smithsonianite." I worked at the Smithsonian for five years in the 1970's, and I feel, outside my country, that is the longest time I ever lived anywhere else in the world, here in Washington, D.C.
Today I will emphasize two aspects, within this short time, relating to the countries which we call developing countries, not specifically India, but generally for all developing countries. More than 100 countries achieved independence after the Second World War, most of them coming from the Asia Pacific region and Africa. (To some of the countries in Latin America the question of independence did not come up, but there have been changes in the social and cultural structure of these countries.) All of the developing countries have gone through enormous changes immediately after 1946, and are still going through some changes.
We know that many, if not most of these countries have GDP per capita of less than $2,000. Some of them are less than $300. For these countries, obviously, the national priority is not culture, not museums, apparently. I use the word "apparently," and I will explain this.
In the political agenda of these countries, socioeconomic and techno-economic development occupies the topmost priority, and museums are low on the list. In this particular situation, there is an important point coming up for the museums.
The museum communities are facing an interesting change, I will say shift, in museum techniques, and that is high cost presentations. The days are over when we used to collect some materials from the field and put them in some glass boxes, looking like coffins. That is over. Now, the presentation is costly, from what we have seen in the technological window for interaction presentations. We have to use computers, CD, interactive video, or a lot of videotape presentation where the technological level [is still low.] All of this needs a substantial amount of financial and organizational input and an infrastructure necessary for this which many of the countries do not have. Developing this kind of infrastructure requires a lot of the resources which their government [cannot provide. They] will simply say, "No, sorry, we don't have so much money for the museums. We need to build new roads, railroads, airplanes," or, in some cases, arms and ammunition.
So now in this particular case, as I say, museums enjoy low priority, apparently, but not actually. Why do I say so? When I discuss this matter with many of my friends in different developing countries, many of them in Asia Pacific and Africa, I understand that museums, in spite of all these things, do enjoy a very, very important position, and they have a very important role to play. Why?
The specific reason is that after achieving independence, or after this radical change in their societal structure, there is a very strong feeling that comes out. The people are really searching for their identity; their social, cultural, political, national identity. For these things they prefer to go back to the museum to find out their roots and their national identity.
So in spite of this very hard-placed financial situation, museums still are considered to be the right place for finding out the nation's identity. That is why the museums are still a living organism in those countries, though some of them are half-starved, half-educated.
Museums are very respected in those countries, but how do the museums flouirish? How do the museums completely change their old stereotyped presentation and come up to the modern stream of presentation and modern stream of visualization?
We know from our experience in India and some other countries, specifically I will mention Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, that we have met with some kind of success, not unlimited success, but where we have been able to connect museum programs with national priorities in the development plan of the country.
All countries have specific development plans, what they want to achieve in the next 5,10, or 15 years. There are various ways by which museums and their programs can be connected to national priorities. In that case funds come not from the Department or Ministry of Culture alone, they come from all sorts of departments relating to the material development of the country.
This is one particular aspect that I wanted to mention. Some countries have become successful, and other countries are trying very hard. What I strongly feel is that unless the museums in those countries can tie up their programs with the national priorities in the developmental plan of their country, it will be very difficult for them to come up to modern expectations [of museums.]
My second point that I would like to emphasize, regarding the problems of developing countries, is the elicit traffic of cultural treasures. This is something that has taken a very serious shift in some countries.
In particular places where there is political instability, physical possession can changes hands . We know what is going on now in Yugoslavia and what happened in Kampuchea some time back. We know that archeological sites, museums and museum objects, are being looted. They are plundered not only for destruction, they are plundered for the profit motive. Sites and objects are looted, and, in a clandestine manner, they are sold to affluent countries, where the people act along with them. The countries where the materials are looted from suffer enormously regarding [the loss to] their cultural heritage.
The organization that I represent, ICOM, the International Council of Museums, has been doing some interesting work for the last three or four years in the Asia Pacific, Latin American and African countries in this area. ICOM has been organizing a series of workshops involving three different parties: museum leaders, the local police and Interpol, and the local customs and/or customs corporation councils. These three parties can really join hands together in fighting this elicit traffic of cultural objects.
These workshops bring together all these people from developing countries and make them aware of the situation, make them aware of the laws and the ways and means of fighting this kind of elicit traffic. [For more information see Workshop on the illicit traffic of cultural property, Bamako, 12-14 October, 1994.]
ICOM developed a program for publishing books on the 100 most important stolen materials from selected areas. The first one was on Cambodia, the second issue concerned Africa, the third issue ,Latin America. Further issues are coming out for different parts of the world. We are seriously contemplating one issue for the countries of the former Yugoslav republic.
These books, with photographic evidence and full of documentation, are circulated very widely to renowned museums of the world and to dealers in various places with an appeal that if you come across such materials, immediately bring it to the notice of local police, or the rightful owner. Restitution of such properties to the rightful owner is very, very important. This is an area in which the real sufferers are the developing countries from where the materials are being looted and going to affluent countries.
One very important aspect of this is the convention initiated by UNESCO; many countries have signed on. ICOM has also compiled a code of ethics for its individual institution members, and this code of ethics is respected very much by the member museums of ICOM.
I will not mention them by name, but I know some museums have come forward voluntarily whenever they came across stolen materials offered to them for sale. Instead of buying them in a clandestine manner, they immediately brought it to the notice of the respective authorities and helped in restitution of this property [to the rightful owners.]
This is the second aspect which I wanted to emphasize.
I think my time is over. Thank you very much. [For more information see ICOM and the battle against illicit traffic of cultural property.]
MS. LOAR: We will hold questions until the end. Ms. Horta.
MS. HORTA: Before I start, let me tell you how happy and honored I am to be here and to be able to participate in this symposium. I would like to express my best thanks to Nancy Fuller, to Rex Ellis, and the whole staff of the Smithsonian Center for Museum Studies who made it possible for me to enjoy this rare opportunity, giving me the chance to know you and to share my ideas with you about this fascinating world of our museums, to which we are all deeply committed and to which we dedicate the best of our hopes and efforts.
I have prepared only a short speech, about seven pages, but due to the exciting day we had yesterday, so many reflections and thoughts, I had to add two little pages of introduction. That is what I am going to do now.
Actually, museums are nothing else than a wonderful way for us to know other people, to get closer to other people, to other cultures, and a wonderful bridge to make us understand each other better, in our differences and similarities.
Well before the Internet, the "museum net" worldwide has been a powerful tool for promoting mutual knowledge, tolerance, respect and solidarity among people all around this planet. Museums are in fact a powerful and subtle communication media, and I think we all agree with that. We also know that communication is a two-way process in which both sides are responsible for an interaction that is capable to promote mutual change.
Communication is a process helped by technology, through which we are at the same time receivers and senders. If interaction does not take place, there is no communication, but only a monologue, a foolish talk to which no one listens besides ourselves.
Feedback is essential to assure that communication is taking place and to clear up the noises that may affect the channel and, consequently, the message exchanged.
Yesterday, talking to my Russian colleague, Nikolay, whom I had the chance to meet here, he was telling me how exotic was the imagine of Brazil to the Russian people. One of the compliments of this image was that Brazilian men used to wear white trousers.
I wondered from where did they get this idea? Nikolay explained to me this was because of a popular book written by an author who had been in Brazil in the beginning of this century. Maybe at that time this was true. I just realized that one of the important roles museums should play is in dismantling stereotypes built about other people's cultures.
Another good thing about being here today and as a result of our rich encounter of yesterday is that I have enriched my knowledge about hurricanes. Until then, this knowledge was mainly based on the movie "The Wizard of Oz," which has been responsible for my worst childhood nightmares. Worse than the scene of Dorothy's house flying into the air, was the image of the red shoes of the witch when she was melting down.
It was for me an ambiguous and exciting moment when I saw Dorothy's shoes in a showcase in one of your museums in Washington as a girl. I must go looking for them tomorrow to check again my feelings.
One of the powers of the museum experience is that of dealing with our emotional memory (our emotional intelligence, according to a recent book) of touching our deepest feelings and fears, our dearest dreams and hopes.
Museums are, first of all, sites of sensibility and effective responses, and we do not often realize the motivating effect they are able to trigger in people's hearts and minds. This is one of the hidden added-values promoted by our work on people's lives, one that can hardly be measured or quantified.
Just to finish this introduction about the effects of hurricanes on my personal experience, I would like to say that words can be sometimes more destructive than strong winds when they are blown over people with the force of established and simplistic truths, particularly when they hit people's faith and hope and their own capacity to solve their own problems.
Words, like winds, have no substantial matter. They are no more than movement in the air when they don't carry in their wings the seeds of reality, when they are not firmly and truly attached to the ground. They may come and go, sometimes leaving the marks of destruction, sometimes hurting people, even if inadvertently.
That is one added-value of museum words, their materiality and concrete power. That is the power of museum speech, with all the ethical responsibility it entails for us, the professionals.
The last thing I could learn up until now in this symposium is that museums are a good shelter against hurricanes, natural or verbal.
My last remarks before I present my case is that whenever you think of traveling to Brazil, do look for the local weather forecasting.
Every time I am invited to talk about museums in Brazil and having to trace a brief sketch of the situation of these institutions in our present panorama, I cannot resist using the metaphor of a caterpillar on its way toward the future. Some of the legs go at the front of the body, some of them wearing nice tennis shoes, others go in the middle, and some others walk behind, sometimes with bare feet, sometimes being pulled by the animal's body movement, slowly and wavy, sometimes pushing those in the first ranks to move forward. In this way, the whole body keeps going on and on, and I could say at this exact moment, facing the puzzling crossroads, at the frontier of the new millennium.
There is no point or time here to tell you the whole story of this fascinating being, which is probably very similar to others of its same species, all around the globe. And here we are now together, the masters of the caterpillars, some would prefer to call them dinosaurs, trying to make them dance according to the music playing faster and faster, and trying to make up their minds in order to decide which direction they should go.
It is possible that in this situation, the animal's body will be split in two, or perhaps three parts. The first part, with tennis shoes, will go straight forward into this promised future, and crossing the curtain of Time, will be changed into a hologram: the essence of virtual reality.
The middle part, the conservative part, will ask for some more time to think about their dilemma, some of the legs paralyzed with perplexity, others pushing backwards, with a banner, "back to the roots."
The back part of the caterpillar, free from the straitjacket of the whole body, will forget that future, never realized or foreseen, and will go on walking along the concrete roads of present reality, in search of a proper place or of a proper name to call themselves, looking for a new identity, apart from the old body that was once called "museums."
That is the legend we could perhaps tell the children about our fascinating world, that is the real story as it seems to happen in my country today. A situation that started to take shape some 10 years ago, and that in the last five years or so presents itself rather clearly to our critical eyes, as far as we can really be critical, from the inside of the problem.
May I ask you now, just wondering, which of the three parts do you think will be able to claim for itself the name of "museum?" Would the splitting of this caterpillar be perhaps that "rupture" in the museum world announced by Hugues de Varine in his summarizing report to ICOM's General Conference in Quebec City in 1972?
Never have we had in Brazil so many debates, seminars and symposiums on the case of museums and their role in society, on their new forms and developments. This healthy unrest of museum people demonstrates clearly that things are changing faster than we would think, and perhaps getting out of our control.
The old dated logo "that museums are mirrors of society" could never apply better to what is happening in Brazil today. There is only one subtle difference, yet, in perspective, we should now take this phrase: In the former good old days, we used to take for granted that our institutions were, or could be, the mirrors where society and individuals would look, in their search for their cultural identity, for their individual and collective sense of belonging.
Museums were supposed to be the sources of reference of the nation's history and art, the solid pillars that supported the construction of the idea of a Nation, a Culture, a People. As Marshall Berman predicted, it is the time now when "all that is solid melts into the air."
What we see now, still not very clearly, is that museums start looking into the mirrors of society, in order to question themselves, in order to find out what exactly they are, or they could be, in order to keep the pace with the change and challenges happening out there in real life.
It is not a question of "identity" for these institutions. What is the case now? We all know very well what our museums are, or at least what they could be. The question is one of functionality, of purpose, or integration in a society and in a world in which we barely recognize ourselves or our traditional institutions.
Instead of staying solemnly at the tops of our towers and staircases, waiting for the people to come to us, we have to now run after people in order to know where they are going, where do they think they are going.
From the idea of acting as unending sources of education and enlightenment to all people, we see ourselves now leaving our offices and our files to look outside our walls for more information, for more clues and data in order to update ourselves.
We have to learn people's languages before trying to decodify our specialized dialects to communicate with all our audiences. The problem is the same now for us as it was for Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde's tale. We are looking to our true portrait, and finally we realize we have grown old. Our old models, structures, modes of operation, have grown old, and we don't have the same energy to climb the steps as we used to have.
Let us face that and try to enjoy the benefits of maturity. Aerobics could do us some good. We have already started to practice.
Let me go back to the case of Brazil, which may be the same for other Latin American countries, despite the specific differences of each country's character.
In the last few years, Brazil succeeded in recovering the pace of democracy and of economic stability, and, according to the best analyses, the wave of economic growth. In the same pace, social crisis conflicts also grow, in a country with one of the highest rates of social inequality. Urban violence is growing, together with rural conflicts for the ownership of land, with unemployment, poverty, drug abuse, child abuse, and the failure of basic state services.
Ecological awareness is still weak in a country with a continental dimension such as Brazil. Public Health faces the collapse of minimum basic structures and services, and the educational system is not yet for all. Minorities rights, while expressed in the Constitutional Law, do not have a place in daily struggles.
Beside all these problems, agricultural and industrial production reached their highest levels in the last decades. The access to technology and to information grows steadily, reaching the middle and lower levels of the social scale. The media network reaches the farthest regions of the country and native Amazonian people could recently watch the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
At the same time, it is important to notice that Brazil is perhaps one of the best examples of cultural integration, of a racial, ethnic and cultural melting pot, in a process that increases constantly with the incorporation of new waves of cultural groups that are naturally and smoothly absorbed into the country's social context.
Despite this fascinating quality of cultural equality in a unique culture, having one foot in the first world and another perhaps in the fourth, Brazil has still a long way to full development and to social justice.
While we can say we enjoy now political democracy, we are still very far from cultural democracy, and the access to cultural production, and cultural goods and equipment is not yet for all, but for a few who are in control of the cultural capital, and who have in their hands the tools and the means of reproduction of this cultural capital.
What is the place and the role of museums in this complex situation? This is the question we have been putting to ourselves in our professional and institutional universe.
Even if ,formally, museums, as cultural reproduction media, are for all, reality says they are actually for some, for those who have the abilities and the capacities for the proper use and enjoyment of cultural products and equipment. The majority of Brazilian people do not make use of museums or do not make sense of them as tools for individual and collective development.
Some recent experiences and trials have been working as signals of the directions to follow for those in the museum world and outside this world who feel that something could be done to change the status quo. For traditional museums, the excitement is great, with the prospect of new technologies which little by little start to invade their spaces. People are queuing at the door of some blockbuster exhibitions, some of which come from abroad, others produced locally, enticing the game of competition between the museums, cultural centers and art galleries.
Visitors crave for every new electronic gadget available for interaction. Newspapers and television now open up some spaces for museum activities. The number of visitors increases, and schools come regularly for educational programs, carefully attended by the museum staff.
Conservation and documentation methods owe nothing to the best centers in the world. Private funding and donations support many of these activities. Smaller and regional museums follow the steps of the bigger ones, with constant lack of specialized staff and the same budgetary problems of any museum around the world.
At the same time, the back part of the caterpillar is still far away from this picture. In small towns, in rural areas, in peripheral districts, an unforeseen process is taking place under the eyes of the museological academy.
Under the stress of the pace of development and the need to survive, communities are taking hold of the idea of a "museum," whatever this idea may be in their minds, and are starting to take the job in their own hands. This is the case of some projects developed with the assistance of some educators and museologists in the south of Brazil, for instance.
Working with teachers and children, the process involves now old people and field workers, who start to dig into their past, looking for their roots, recovering self-pride and a sense of belonging to a given group with a unique history. A museum without walls and without objects, a true virtual museum, is being born in some of these communities, that look in wonder to their own process of self-discovery and recognition.
The first community museums in the country start to pop out, without rules, without professional staff, without training. In the periphery of the big metropolis, teachers, workers, retired people also find out the value of their memories, of their specific knowledge about life and about themselves. A native tribe in the Amazonian forest that faces the threat of wood explorers and of politicians, with the help of a small museum, is able to tell to the whole country and to the world, "We are here, we exist, we are the owners of this land."
In another area, which is going to be flooded by a big hydroelectric plant, farmers and local authorities have built a new town and are ready to install the first of a series of Houses of Memory to remember the story of their particular flood. The Noah's Ark Project, as it is called is already three years old, and the effect on people as one of the strategies of negotiations with big enterprise was unthinkable before it happened.
Traditional museums and museologists observe these phenomena with curious, if not suspicious, eyes. These are not true museums, according to ICOM's definition. They are right, in fact. Perhaps true museums will continue to exist, there is no doubt research centers and training centers will always have their place. Our national collections will be best cared for and, in the future, exhibitions will continue to attract hundreds of excited visitors.
But one question arises every day more strongly and clearly. The value of a museum cannot be measured by what it is, really. Not by the excellence of its technical staff and resources, by the advance of the technologies used in its many tasks, by the richness of its collections or by the social prestige it has acquired. The value of a museum or a museological work, can only be measured by the effects it produces on people.
In our museum literature, hundreds of research studies have been made on the attractive power of our exhibitions, on the learning environment we are able to produce, and the amount of content people are able to get from a single visit, on perception skills and abilities and on how to foster these capabilities, on the level of museum fatigue, and on the best museographical and interactive devices we may invent.
One study remains to be done, in depth, and that is to examine the effect generated by the museum experience on people's daily life, on the transformational power it may provoke in people's minds.
The paradigms that we have traditionally taken for granted in our museum work are really changing, in the eve of this new millennium. After the cult of Relics, the Temple museums, we have moved to the cult of Knowledge, the Academy museums, and now we see the time coming for the cult of information technology, the info-museums.
It is possible that another time will come, after this new wave will pass, and this could be the cult of human beings, the Life museum, if not to generate concrete actions on behalf of this endangered species, at least to preserve some mummified items that will be collected, studied, dissected and exhibited by sophisticated robots, or, who knows, by Venusians and Saturnians in their exploration tours.
For the moment, in my country, the last legs of the museum caterpillar are being used in a new way, as tools for self-expression, self-recognition and representation, as spaces of power negotiations among social forces, as strategies for empowering people so that they are more capable to decide their own destiny.
MS. MURPHY: I will try to compress my remarks, as we are running behind time.
I wish to begin by reaffirming the indivisibility of theory and practice in the work that we do in museums.
When Tom Hill (a First Nation colleague from Canada) was drawing the particular group session I was part of yesterday to a close, he went round the room and asked everyone to contribute just one word that expressed something we each believed was crucial to the functioning of museums in the near future. I myself agonized over the difficulty of compression involved - just one word, among the many we might prefer - but when his finger finally summoned me and I had to settle for a single word, I said: RE-IMAGINING.
Reimagining museums and culture is something I am really doing every day of my life as a curator. It affects all of the projects I do, my relations with other people, museum people, and people in the communities that I work with. That constant tension between imagination, museums and cultural, that constant vibration of those terms, is very important to the way that I carry out my work.
So in speaking of the kinds of work I do as a curator and administrator, I wish to reflect back on this current state of discussion of museums as we are hearing here, and its rather mournful aspects, the requiem to a period which has passed, which I personally challenge, and I want to suggest the importance of our efforts, as I see them, to reintensify our understanding of museums, our speech about museums, and the values that have circulated through and around them in history and still attend practices now.
I want to reaffirm the importance of opening up and retexturing, giving back life and death to the context of museums, of renewing its continuing potentiality in the work that we do.
Culture is a central concept to the work that we do. It used to be spoken of in a rather soft, idealizing aspect. But I want to emphasize here the hard, intransigent and nonnegotiable aspects of values mobilized around the term "culture." Culture today is a phenomenon that people will destroy everything else they have in this society in the name of.
For example, think of Bosnia. I will never forget, Dr. Ghose, when the [ICOM] executive panel was meeting in Paris. Someone referred to the fact that while we were meeting, the library in Sarajevo was burning. One of the other most dispiriting things I heard that really brought tears to my eyes, again in the executive council meeting, was to learn that the Blue Shield map for protection of cultural and heritage sites to be protected in case of war in the territories of the former Yugoslavia, was being used to map the first targets for destruction, on the principle that if you destroy the things people value most and believe in, in the name of culture and the sense of shared history, you will destroy the people faster.
I want to move to Australia and multi-culturalism and cultural diversity. I want to give not only information about Australia, but also some reflective and sometimes self-critical thoughts I have about the way in which we project our image as a multi-cultural society. It is indeed very important to us, but I think sometimes our official rhetoric sells short the possibilities of really understanding cultural diversity in the present world.
In Australia today there are some 235 officially recognized ethnic communities, having different birth places, identities of family or communal origins, and the number seems to be growing all the time. Ethnicity, of course, is not simply to do with passports, citizenship, or even language distinctions. It has to do with people in groups who share a common ethos, a sense of shared characteristics, dispositions or attitudes.
The city in which I live, Sydney, has the largest concentration of different ethnic groups and languages spoken of any city in Australia. It has the greatest number of different language newspapers, I understand, published in any city in the world. Another interesting fact I learned just very recently is that it has been identified by an American organization as having one of the highest, perhaps the highest, so the organization thought, concentration of culturally diverse, educated, polylingual multi-ethnic social groupings in the world, which is why the multinational company, FRISCO Networks, has sited one of its three operational bases in Sydney. [FRISCO Networks, highly interested in public education, manufacturers digital pieces laid within the computer cable, to permit users to access more and more networked information.] The other one is in the United States and the other in Europe.
When I think of those sorts of exciting possibilities of cultural diversity and technological change, I am also getting back to my plea for the divisibility theory of practice and macro-thinking in our work. I am aware of communities who have the least access to those kinds of cultural groups, which is not always aboriginal cultures.
Aboriginal cultures is a vital part of my museum background. They have technological apparatus themselves, and do remarkable work. Language renewal is in video by satellite in desert communities in society. It presents some the most exciting dynamic possibilities of combining continuity of cultural data for people with the extraordinary technologies accessible to us today.
I just want to make a few quick references to the ways in which, though we speak all the time of social and technological change going on all around us, and these changes are utterly momentous, we still fall back to old rather static ways of speaking, for example, of community, of nation. Communities today are in such a dynamically changing state. In fact, most societies in the world are going through more complex times of change than any other in their history and in human history at large, that it seems to me insufficient to the challenge of the situation to speak of communities singular or as in some way congealed, when so many people live in multiple communities, with multiple identities, with multiple kinds of cultural diversity in their daily lives.
If we speak of nation states, for example, there are some 185 members of the United Nations at the moment. Around 200 peoples in the world, just for simplicity, claiming recognized nation state identity, but some 10,000 identifiable societies. If you would go back some 3,000 years, there seem to have been some 20,000 identifiable different societies. This presents extraordinary paradoxes of identification.
It concerns me very much within my own country that we not project multi-culturalism simply in terms of ethnic celebration of singular kinds of communities who might have come to the country at particular points of time, because when we understand the processes of community, we see that there are layers and differences of history and personal identity even within communities.
I want to caution us against any ethnographic celebration of multi-cultural celebration, and remind you by contrast that this is the process of apartheid in South Africa.
Thinking of South Africa, where I was when the Commonwealth Association of Museums met last year, I thought on the extraordinary personality of Mandela and how fortunate the world is at large, as well as South Africa, to have experienced the force of such a personality in these times. I want to put to you, in terms of these questions of museums and change, the extraordinary subtlety of Mandela's conception of revolutionary change, the way in which he started a process of reconstruction and reconciliation, not simply change.
In museum terms, when we want to bring about change, it has to be negotiated, offered in constructive-reconstructive ways. You cannot simply throw out the old and incarnate a new order. Mandela had such a profound conception of that in the way in which he asked "Don't tear down the old monuments of apartheid, they belong to our history."
We were speaking yesterday in one group of the way in which the breakup of the former eastern block has involved such vandalism of monuments that people need in order to deal with the history. There are graveyards of Marxist-Leninist statues in some museums in Europe, and it is very important not to simply not cast off the old, but to think about cultural change in terms of reconstruction.
Before I bring this to a close, watching the clock, I should mention a couple of very important features of our museum life. We recently brought together one national body out of separate bodies to do with art museums, natural history museums and so on. I participated in a process in which one of the first resolutions of that body was about the foundational place of aboriginal culture in our history. We formed as the first standing committee of Museums Australia, the Standing Committee for Museums and Indigenous People.
I am one of the museum people on that committee, with indigenous people from museums and elders outside of museums. I suppose that comes out of my own work with aboriginal culture for a long time and the particular commitment to aboriginal culture of my museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art which is located on a site, the landing site of British ships coming to establish colonial administration in Australia.
When you work as a curator of contemporary art on such a committee and deal with issues of the return of human remains, it gives the most extraordinary sense of moment to the reconstructing role of museums, the extraordinary efforts that need to be embarked upon to bring about anything that we could begin to call reconciliation of such wounded histories and wounded identities. There is also joy and humor and very positive things coming out of these processes.
Aboriginal people, of course, are establishing keeping places and centers away from museums. But I can use one example from my own museum. We have now, I think, the only museum of contemporary art in the world that has indigenous collections as the densest constellation of material in our permanent collections already. With one community, the Managreda, in the far north, one of the Arnhem Land communities perhaps you best know them through their bark painting, to give you a sense of what kind of community I am talking about, we were offered a collection as a gift from this community.
All this had been paid for, it was a commissioned collection brought into being by a very imaginative type of curatorship. Instead of accepting that collection as a gift, we said no, let title reside with the people, we would not even seek shared title. We developed a new form of cultural contract with that community. [To see a related exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, visit "The Native Born: Objects and Representations from Ramingining, Arnhem Land."]
I can speak more about it, but there is no time. There were some remarks I heard earlier which I was very sympathetic to about new relationships museums must develop with indigenous people, especially in many other kinds of communities.
So, in my brief remarks I have tried to give you a sense of the cultural diversity of Australia, the challenges of our situation, in our dealing with so many cultures simultaneously, and why the theme of museums and cultural diversity is the theme that we have proposed in holding the 1998 triennial Assembly in Melbourne, in '98, of course. I hope that when we invite museum friends and colleagues from the world to come to Australia, we will speak not just about ourselves, but we will learn from others, and try to give a sense of this very important condition of interdependence in which we all live now and a kind of dynamic situation of interculturality through which we must be mediating our work in new ways.
Many people, notably museum people, speak of this period of history as over. I would say for many people it hasn't yet begun. Many old attitudes continue in the recesses of our own thought and iin the interstices of our ways of representing and speaking about museums.
It seems to me that in the contemporary world in which we live, in the face of such momentous and often undaunting change, museums need to be summoning every intellectual and imaginative reserve possible from within their history and their negotiated capacities for change.
I very much support the idea of interdisciplinary work, and I speak of both mind as well as feeling, to utilize the resources that museums still have within their care and stewardship to help human beings deal with these changes to their lives, to their history, to their collective or even fractured social identities, to their personal consciousness and state of being. To help enable us to understand our history and state of being is still one of the most important things that museums can be devoted to, and we must recommit ourselves to embracing this in every aspect of our lives.
MR. BORRELL: First of all, I want to express how honored I feel for being here among you. Also I want to congratulate the people that organized this. I think this has been great.
I am coming from, as you heard, Mexico. I am sure that many of you have heard of Mexico's economic crisis. This crisis has really given a hard time to museums. Budgets have been cut down. In some places security keeps the public away from museums. Technological differences between rich and poor museums are getting wider. But let me start with a short history of museums in Mexico.
It is known that Pre-Hispanics had [what could be considered] museums and zoos. During the colonial period there were sensible people who collected, studied and kept interesting things and also curiosities. But it was not until Mexico emerged as an independent nation, with the liberal ideas of the 19th century that helped to establish our nationalism, that museums appeared.
For decades our museums kept that pattern and philosophy, only suffering once in a while, with a few additions or surface renovations. During the first part of the 20th century, museums were renovated by the government, but then Mexico passed through a time of revolution. For the next 25 years, the country looked for economic stability.
Finally, in the early sixties, Mexico was prepared to take the modern concept of museums. The challenge was to create several museums, that, when completed, surprised Mexicans and foreigners as well. These are the National Museum of Anthropology, the National History Museum, the Modern Art Museum, and the Natural History Museum.
The impact made by these museums motivated a geometric increase in the number of museums, especially because the government discovered that investing in museums, besides the cultural benefits, helped bring foreign tourism, and the image of a modern country was spread all over.
Nowadays, Mexico has more than 600 museums, plus hundreds or maybe thousands of archeological, historical, and natural sites. Since their creation and establishment, most of them have relied completely on government funds. Of course, it is practically impossible that our government keeps funding alone such an enormous structure. But, on the other hand, for decades the government kept every offer ofm private help away from culture.
When I referred to the big museums created in the sixties as modern institutions, I really think they were advanced for their time. The professionals at those projects had the opportunity to create whole new structures from nothing and the results were great. But, politicians who came later never understood that it was one thing was to pay for the building, the study, the research, and installations, but another to maintain it. The actual demands of a museum easily surpasses every annual budget expectation. The result can be dramatic, because it could go right to the quality of the image of the museums to the visitors.
The need to participate in cultural activities encouraged private individuals and enterprises in Mexico to create their own museums and a whole new generation of professionals joined along those lines. Maybe some of you who attended the 1980 the general meeting of ICOM will remember visiting banks and corporate collections and galleries. That was when a new era began.
Government, and those governed, learn that we all care for the same things and that we all share the same responsibilities for what museums are and for what they give.
We have been struggling to wake up the sense of philanthropy in our republic. Mexicans have great warm hearts, as shown in the hard times and disasters. We are trying now to teach them that museums exist for their benefit and to make them feel they are or should be part of their lives.
A great number of friends of museums have been created recently, and, even in the depth of the crisis, fund-raising and volunteering is becoming more and more popular. Alternative ways to earn money are also common. Special tours for VIP groups, receptions in our spaces, museum shops, royalties for reproductions, publications and so on, are a few of the things governmental museums never dreamed of having, because of a misunderstood sense of museums and ethics. Just to give an example of how it is important for a country to encourage friends of museums organizations, next October we will host the international meeting for the World Federation of Friends of Museums Associations.
There is a lot to be done. Mexican museum professionals keep an eye on the future. Our present right now is not very clear, but we are trying to be prepared for better times, hopefully to serve better our public. Crisis often teaches something. I think that the bad times in Mexico are allowing us to review what we are doing and to make us more effective and also more efficient, and will help our museums grow as better places when the light comes up again at the end of the road.
MR. NICKISHIN: I must save time for the discussion and questions, but I should spend a few seconds to express my gratitude to the organizers of the symposium for inviting me, and my special thanks to the staff of the museum studies center who succeeded in making the atmosphere of the symposium so friendly, so wonderfully warm, in spite of those terrible frost-making machines called air conditioners, which makes the temperature lower in the rooms than outside. This is another stereotype to be said.
Seriously, on the importance of stereotypes, I should say that maybe the main importance of this symposium is to help the museums to overcome those numerous stereotypes which really are dangerous for the future of our museums. I will not develop this idea. It is clear.
I will come to my message, which will be a short one, of course, and I will say only some points about the situation in the museum field in Russia, and, of course, the role of my organization.
In 1986, it was first statistically shown that the number of museums in Russia was catastrophically falling. It was a real challenge for the first time for the museum professionals in our country, as the very future of the museums became problematic.
Thus, 1987 was a good year to start with the museological organization of a new type that would develop a completely new strategy of methodological support to museums. This was my risky initiative to organize in 1987 the Museum Planning and Design Center in the Russian Institute for Cultural Research.
During the period of totalitarianism, the main task of the Museology Department of our institute was to prepare and spread all over the country so-called methodological recommendations. These were aimed at making the museum institution work along the lines laid out in the official ideological doctrine. The museums' activities were strictly limited and all the museum projects were controlled. The results of such museum policies were that all museum projects and a great number of museums resembled each other like twins, with hundreds of almost identical exhibitions. This contributed to the low prestige of the museum profession. It is no wonder that Peristroika became a time of crisis for the Russian museums.
It was at this time that the Museum Planning and Design Center began activities with which to struggle against this crisis. The first mission of the Center was to awaken museum people to the creative activities which were suppressed during the previous years.
With about 10 staff, the Center became a venture firm or experimental laboratory which tested and developed new museological concepts and museum practices in what we call the post-totalitarian country. It was the organization which announced a new principle of museum work: the process of modernization in the museum field belongs not to somebody above, but to the museum workers themselves, to their partners, and to the visitors. This principle of social project developing was a discovery for all post-Soviet society, not only in the field of museums.
The activities of the Center differ from those of museological institutions of the previous period. We call these activities more catalytic than dictating or controlling, as it had been before.
In time, the Center has become a kind of consulting agency that works along the following lines. First, monitoring the natural process of museum development; second, looking for points of growth in the museum field; third, making contacts with the real local leaders; fourth, rendering assistance to the people in the field in order to promote their projects; and, fifth, making new ideas and experiences widely known to the professionals and to communities involved.
At the same time, the Center, which is still a part of the Russian Institute for Cultural Research, is also engaged in some schooling activities. The result is a number of analytical research works. We have six volumes of this series, and more than 100 different articles published in different editions. Among the books published by the Center, there are such titles as Regional Problems of Museum Development, Museum Preserves, and some others.
Another form of reflection and a form of support for museum leaders, are the Ph.D. theses made by museum professionals in the Center. These have helped us to prevent losing some interesting museum professionals who were proposing to go to other institutions in the commercial sector.
But the most important contribution of the Center to the modernization of museums in Russia has been the participation of its experts in a variety of museum projects. We have now experience in innovative planning and design in every fourth region of the country. Some of the works performed by the Center include regional programs made at the request of the authorities; development of particular museums; shaping policies for new museums; and others dealing with building particular exhibitions with some public educational programs.
Certainly, some projects are successful, some are not successful, but it is approved, because we call ourselves an experimental laboratory. The most socially effective projects were the Children's Open Museum in Moscow; the Ivangorod Museum in [St. Petersburg]; the Museum of the First Manned Space Flight in the native town of Yury Gagarin; and some others. The most interesting and successful program I can name was the Siberian Museum, which was opened last year.
The methodology of involving a lot of partners outside of museums has been used widely. The museums are growing faster than in the previous decades and the statistics of visiting is improving in many regions. 1995 year was the first year to show an increase in the number of museum visitors in the country as a whole. I see that creative activities in museums has definitely begun to grow also. This means the initial goal of the Center of Museum Design and Planning in our institute is about to be reached.
But now there is another great problem which we meet, a problem which really limits the development and the progress of museum institutions in Russia. This is a communicational crisis. The vertical channels which have provided information within the former administrative system are ruined or discredited. The distance between museums and conferences are very few because of extremely high travel expenses. The number of books is smaller also because of financial problems. The slow development of telecommunication prolongs the isolation of the Russian museum people from the world museum community.
All these things are the new challenge for the Center of Museum Planning and Design. This is where we start to work now, and the goal we promulgate these days is to create a new communication infrastructure for the museum field in Russia.
We have developed several projects in this field. One of them is connected with making some informal relationships between the most active museum professionals. This project is a club called Museum-Plus. While not a formal organization, the club unites people living in different parts of the country who meet on or corresponding through available mediums.
Another project is an attempt to fight the lack of museological publications, such as monographs, collections of articles and periodicals. Sometimes it is not worth waiting for good financing to publish a new collection of papers or other hot materials, so we plan to start an electronic magazine, called Museum Pro, (We define "pro" as professionals and projects - not like "pro" and "con.") The prototype of Museum Pro will be issued beginning in January of 1997. It looks like a pocketbook, but you see it is an envelope for a diskette, and in the future it might be a pocket for a CD-ROM, and maybe in some long period, it will be without an envelope and will be placed as a web page on the Internet.
The problem of connecting with the Internet is a real problem for Russia, and this is the motive for another project. It is aimed at making a computer interregional network for the Russian museum professionals, which would be also open to foreign guests.
The instrument chosen for this is a specialized bulletin board system which reaches into the Internet and other networks. It is important for our country because our network is based on simple hardware and software requirements. A crucial factor of this is that a member of the network community may use his or her native Russian language, and not only English, as in most other networks. These technical linguistic qualities,make it useful for the small and ill-equipped museums, especially those in the deep provinces of Russia. It is a great advantage in reaching the most far away institutions.
I must stress that there are about 700 museums in Russia equipped with computers, but only about 50 of them are in cities which have access to Internet and World Wide Web services. The majority of the museums have no facilities to use the Internet directly, and some of them say that Internet services nowadays are too expensive, even if the service is available.
So the specialized museum bulletin board system, is a good solution and a good step forward to solve this problem. If it will be possible this afternoon, I will show you this project with the modem communication with our server located in Moscow.
I would like to finish my message with my belief that the future of the museums in my country is connected to the prosperity of small and medium, local and regional museums, as well as large museums. It is very important to construct bridges and channels of communication between local and regional museums. A lot of interesting active persons work in museums, and usually they are very alone, having no contacts between each other. I think that our symposium will help us to construct new bridges, and it will be useful.
I thank you for your attention and will be glad to answer questions here or in the showcase hall.
Thank you. [Visit several well known Russian museums here.]
MS. LOAR: We have gotten a great deal of information about the current situation in many of these countries and museums. Obviously we now know that analysis and questions really are the beginning of a process that leads to solutions and prepares us for the future.
There is another international colleague in the audience who has a long-standing history with the Smithsonian in terms of exhibition development and the folk life program, and that is Rajeev Sethi.
Rajeev, we don't have a lot of time, but I wonder if you might go to the microphone and offer us any words of wisdom and ask our panelists the first question, and we will launch our questions with the audience.
MR. SETHI: What I have to say may take six or seven minutes so I will cut it will short and say Happy Birthday, Smithsonian.
MS. LOAR: Let's open the discussion up. First question? Please address your questions either to an individual or to the panel generally.
VOICE: My name is Rolando Roebuck. I am a community activist. The reason I say that is so you can understand the nature of my question.
The first one is to Mr. Ghose, and this is a reference to what negotiations are taking place to ensure that countries like England and France, et cetera, begin to return cultural artifacts to the former colonies.
Question number two, to the rest of the panelists, I am very interested in knowing the role that racial attitudes play in your respective countries as you begin to do your work within museums.
Finally, I am hoping that in the future you will get a larger table, so we can include representatives from the Middle East and Africa. Thank you.
DR. GHOSE: Regarding the first question, I would mention that UNESCO developed a convention in 1972 and many countries were signatories. This convention has several clauses for the restitution of cultural properties to the rightful owners. But the document is not flawless.
A very important flaw is that, as written, if the purchasers of the material, (they use the term "innocent purchasers,") purchased in good faith, not knowing that it was stolen property, then restitution becomes very, very complicated.
One important thing is that some countries have not signed this convention. But, still, in spite of that, the museums and authorities of those countries are fully cooperating in restitution. One of these is France. France has not yet ratified this convention, but so far in the last one year, ICOM, working with different museums in France, has been able to identify five very important stolen materials from Cambodia and Africa, and they have now been returned to their owners.
So, document or no document, it depends very much on what I would say is the ethical stand taken by a particular museum, and especially mentioning the National Museum of Art. Something was offered to them, I do not remember exactly now the details, but something very important was offered to them, and they immediately informed the rightful owner.
This is the general picture. I don't want to elaborate, but one major problem for the restitution is that many of the stolen materials are not properly documented. The rightful owners in some cases have been unable to establish ownership because they did not take elaborate photographs with identifying marks or they did not prepare a documentation card. It becomes very difficult, a protracted legal battle goes on to reestablish their rights.
That is why ICOM is now insisting that museums and archaeological sites document their holdings. We have established five computerized documentation centers Africa. The people have been trained on what is going on over there. They are supposed to be working for other countries in the region to train those people so that this goes on.
For the second part of the question, I would defer to the members of the panel.
MS. HORTA: It is difficult to answer very shortly such a complex question. Basically, as I have said, Brazil, is a cultural melting pot and a racial melting pot. Racial struggle in Brazil is not really a problem that we have to face, because there is no one Brazilian citizen who can claim to be a pure race. We are developing a sort of race that we call "coffee and milk." We are all colors.
What happens now in our social crisis is social exclusion. This is not happening [because of] race [or ethnicity.] We have the excluded and the included, and the excluded are the majority of people still in need of social security, of stability, of recognition of the basic human rights.
The discussion which is going on in Brazil, in our process of maturity, is that people are much more aware of the basic rights of human beings, and much more able to claim those rights and also to understand the origins of this discrimination process which has [a basis in the colonial period but] we still see living in our social structures.
African Brazilians who have the marks of slavery inherit this history. They are now discussing their "official" history, which has been told in schoolbooks and also in museums. To give an example in the case of the museum, we had the Abolition Museum which was closed six years ago because of pressure from African Brazilians who would not accept that kind of story from one perspective. Now they are getting together to discuss what really should be exhibited and told to Brazil and to the world about this period of our history.
MR. NICKISHIN: I can say in Russia that we said for a long period that we have no problems in the field of national tensions, but now we say that there are. We are thinking about it. And at the Center for Museum Planning and Design, we try to contribute to solving the problem with an exhibition organized by the Children's Open Museum in Moscow. It is called "Me and Others, I and Others." It is an exhibition against prejudice and discrimination in Russia.
MS. MURPHY: Perhaps I might just report very briefly on one project in our national museum structure, to do with aboriginal culture in particular. The first is a national effort which requires moving the old state borders and state legislature under which all the major museums are governed, to work collaboratively, first of all to establish a national data base.
We decided to put, in one large natural history museum in Adelaide, a project to collate information that would restore the correlation that had been severed between human remains, various forms of human remains, (and I won't get to the dreadful subject called wet material, that is another matter,) to restore the connection between human remains and documentation that often did exist but it had been broken up through material being shifted.
This required a national effort, because museums wanted to take the burden of aboriginal people themselves, who were otherwise forced to go from museum to museum if they wanted to trace some of this history. It was a way of developing a national project in which it was declared that the results of this were not for museums, but for aboriginal people to decide what they wanted to be done with this information.
Some aboriginal people on certain local councils absolutely insisted on the nature of any testing that might be done, measurements they would tolerate, but absolutely nothing to do with DNA testing. Those of you familiar with indigenous people and attitudes to death and the body would be familiar with how people feel about that. This is a very important effort and in fact some human remains have been returned, and an enormous amount of information is being put together. I emphasize, it is for aboriginal people to decide on first.
After that we are going to follow up with secret sacred material. It is very important to aboriginal culture where there is a lot of culture that is sacred, but public, but then secret sacred material cannot be revealed or even talked about to anyone who is not an initiated member of that community. Again, this requires a national effort.
Where we are having very poor response, and we are not even trying to deal with it particularly at the moment, is with foreign museums, like the British Museum, that won't even talk about repatriation of material, and claim all sorts of obfuscating safeguards, like they cannot change what they do under their act. However, it is an act that will require legislation to change the name of the museum. If you can change the name of the museum, you could do other things under new legislation. This is one way we are trying to deal with some aspects of that dreadful history.
I would just like to say while there continues to be an access between the groups in power and controlling cultural boards and race, it is very hard to be comfortable about any discussion of assimilation. Thank you.
MS. LOAR: Other questions? I have one. I would like to ask our panelists to address the question of should museums strive to be social architects? We have talked about reflecting society versus shaping society. Would any one of you or several of you wish to comment on that?
MS. HORTA: We should not be social architects, and I wonder who would be appointed as having this role. But I do believe that we can be social mediators, social points of encounter for people, as far as understanding each other better. Things get better naturally.
MR. BORRELL: In our country, there is such a great variety of museums that everybody can find a suit for their own. Somehow this is helping all these different people to find an identity. I think the concept of museums that we have now, I am sure, is really helping to establish what we understand as a country.
MS. LOAR: We have time for one more question.
MIGEUL BRETOS: I would like to follow up the point about museums as social architects. One of the remarks made by the gentleman from Russia indicates that in his country, as we all know, for many years museums in fact acted as social architects, in fact, in a very gross fashion. Museum exhibits were standardized throughout the country so that the same exhibit was seen over and over again, thus illustrating the point.
One of the most important historic transformations of the latter part of the 20th century is the move of many countries from a, let's say totalitarian mode, to one where there is a great deal more freedom of expression and one assumes more freedom for museums to exercise their function towards the populations.
My question is: How can we help? How can an international collaboration help those countries which are going through that process is there any kind of way in which, out of dialogues like this, we can precisely expand the area of freedom and the area where museums can be the kinds of mediators that Ms. Horta suggested?
MS. LOAR: Who would like to respond to that?
MR. NICKISHIN: I think I had the answer to this question in my initial report. The best thing we can imagine or invent on this occasion is channels of communication between different stratas of the museum-sphere, between different countries of the museum world.
MR. BORRELL: I would say that the international communication between museums will help some of the countries that are passing through this kind of problem to find new solutions. I am sure that problems are always seen better from the outside, so I think that we should be very much in touch and try to make the links stronger.
DR. GHOSE: This is an important point touched upon by my colleagues on the panel on this question of the need for preservation of culture heritage relating to the totalitarian age in some of the Eastern European countries, and also the break-away republics from the Soviet Union.
This question came up at ICOM some time back on the need for preserving the history of the totalitarian period. This did not receive any kind of support internally from these republics after they became, in some cases they say they are liberated, in some cases they say disinherited. The demand did not come from inside those countries. It came from outside.
So there are some political issues involved there, and a lot of things depend on whether such demand comes from those countries or from outside.
MS. LOAR: Thank you. I am afraid we must conclude. I would like to thank all of our panelists for their wisdom and words. Do you want to hand those out?
MS. MURPHY: I must say my colleagues will beat me up if I don't alert you to the fact that I have here some brochures on ICOM 98 in Melbourne if anyone is interested.
MS. LOAR: Insight into tomorrow is the difference between survival and distinction, or failure and extinction. We have talked a lot about change, we have talked about how change can be the beginning of growth. I will leave you with actually an American bumper sticker saying which says "If you don't make dust, you eat dust."
We are going to go eat lunch now.
DR. ELLIS: Before you go, please, give them another hand, please. Before we dismiss, let me give you some information. I would like for all of the members of the CMS staff who are here to get up and come forward this way, please. All the members of the CMS staff please stand up and walk this way toward me.
DR. ELLIS: When the office is at its best, it is because we have consulted each one of these folk. When the office is at its worst, it is because I thought I could do it on my own or a member of the staff thought they could do it on their own. I can't tell you the number of hours, I can't tell you how much time, I can't tell you the number of times they have woken up in the middle of the night or morning wondering about something that has not been done. I can't tell you how many ribbons have been folded and crossed and how many thumbs have been pressed down. I can't tell you how many faxes have been sent or how many papers and things have been stuffed or how many people have helped this to go.
I didn't want to wait until the end of the day when some of you might have decided you wanted to leave. I wanted them to know and for you to know that this is what has made this symposium a success, if it has been successful. Not only that, but Mignon in the back, raise your hand up. She is the one who is entering everything. She is the one who is putting this all on the Web, and we have a great deal of the program already on the Web as we speak.
So there are many, many folk who have brought this together. But this particular staff has given a pound of flesh for many months, and I wanted you to see them. Manning the telephones in our office is Eleanor David, and also Stacy Burkhardt, who is not here today, helped us. I simply wanted you to see these faces and realize that, even though it doesn't look it, there is a lot of power that is up here in this room, and they have the power to make something succeed, or, if you don't use them, to make you wish you certainly had.
And let me just have this man stand up, only because we are so proud to have him as a part of our office. We just sort of grabbed him when he decided he wanted to retire. We have almost mentioned his name in every session there has been. Steven Weil is now part of the Center for Museum Studies. Stand up, Steven.
David Bridge, who is not here today, networked all the computers and was responsible overall for the technological end of the symposium. We are very glad he helped us.
For those of you thinking about skipping out before 3:30, you cannot miss Bran Ferren. He is going to be an experience. So I invite you all to come back. He is an excellent speaker, and I look forward to seeing him. But I will not see you all until after lunch. There is the Technology Showcase, and then we meet back here at 3:30. You get coffee and desert in the Technology Showcase after your box lunch.
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