Snippets from around the World

In preparation of this project we asked colleagues from different countries for their associations and first reactions to the combination of museums, politics and power.

Here is what they said:

Brings to mind clash/coexistence of values: secrecy, data collection, scholarship, sharing.”

My first thoughts are about funding and how the sources of funding might influence messaging, public presentations, content of exhibitions, and even audience demographics.  How can museums (especially those dependent upon government support) be open and representative in a polarized world? Are government-funded institutions mouthpieces of the politicians who shape budget allocations? And how will museums that are funded by a “private elite” really serve a broader public? Is there a workable model of sound funding for museums and the arts, that allows these organizations to really serve a broad audience and have freedom over content and delivery?”

Working on [an international exhibit] was quite interesting considering what topics they did discuss, which I thought were inappropriate, based on their history.”

The Cold War! Also makes me remember visiting the National Museum/Monument of Indonesia in Jakarta years ago, where the version of official history presented was decidedly different than western histories concerning the coup and Suharto…”

I immediately think of the administration and its sluggishness! Always various operating units are involved and cooperation is difficult. This is particularly evident when funds come from the public sector and thus very often can not be used freely.  The various museum agencies have different policies. My question would be: To what extent do political guidelines influences the museums and their tasks?”

Makes me think of how political the standards-based curriculum is and how museums have to change their “product” for field trips everyone there is a new gov’t edict.”

What do you picture? What questions do you have? What concerns does it make you think about, either in terms of the individual institution or the bigger picture?  Comment away!

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12 comments on “Snippets from around the World
  1. My first thought was, I would love to attend this conference but as a queer person I am fearful.

    My questions include: How will this conference address the safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) colleagues, including students and those already working within the museum sector, if they choose to attend? In particular, how can those who plan to submit proposals addressing how they serve LGBTQ audiences and include content related to the lives and histories of LGBTQ people in exhibits and programs be assured first that their presentations will be reviewed fairly, and next, that these presentations, if given in St. Petersburg, will not open the presenters to danger or arrest? And last, if we can’t be assured of these conditions, should this conference be boycotted? See this from the Washington Post for more information:

  2. Dear Therese Quinn,

    I would like to answer your question. Well it is safe to arrive to Russia and Saint-Petersburg. The only thing that will not be safe to do – to go to the street with the placard that could be counted as a propaganda of the LGBTQ community among children. It is a law. I can not do anything with this.
    But your paper – you could make it.
    I do not think that some strange decisions of some law-makers should influence relationships among museums and museum workers.

  3. Theresa, thanks for your comment and questions. We’ve also asked the conference committee (which is international and will consider all proposals equally) for an official statement on this issue and will share as soon as we receive. Afansay, thanks so much for sharing your perspective, and I think we all agree, that connections between colleagues,virtual and real, are important to all of our work!

  4. Dear Afanasy, thank you. I appreciate your assurance. I wonder how you and LGBTQ activists in Russia would hope or recommend that we could use the occasion of this conference to support yours and their organizing for justice? As museum workers and educators we all have a stake in these struggles and can get more done if we work together. Has ICOM-Russia reached out to LGBTQ rights groups to join them in this struggle? What are the positions of our related organizations like the International Sites of Conscience? I look forward to reading the statement when it is published.

    • Dear Therese,

      Are you a member of ICOM? First of all our organization is a global profesional organization for museums and museum specialists. You could look at our mission here –
      In Russia we have several human rights organizations and they are in contact with the LGBT community. They are professionals in the sphere of law.
      I think we should work together and discuss all problems and issues, but it is necessary to be accurate and tactful, because we should remember about different traditions and moral principles.
      Our conference should become a good meeting point and place to discuss problems connected with politics and social development.

  5. Thank you for your response. Yes, I am an ICOM member, and a US contact for CECA. I am not sure if you are saying that only designated human rights organizations should be concerned about human rights? From my perspective all people should have this concern, and museums, as important cultural institutions that present ideas and educate about the past, present, and possible futures, are good places to have discussions about rights and justice. And I expect that at this conference–focused on power and politics!–this issue will come up, along with others. I do think its important to ask ICOM to account for the safety of its participants in this instance.

  6. Pingback: Museums, Politics and Power | Politik im Museum

  7. I just read this quote from Sir Ian McKellen:

    “McKellen said he had been advised by the Foreign Office not to go to Russia because of its laws on homosexuality.

    “They couldn’t protect me from those laws. Two and a half hours from London! In the land of Tchaikovsky, Diaghilev, Rudolf Nureyev – gay artists whose sexuality informed their work,” he said.

    “Imagine trying to be a gay actor, a gay anything in modern Russia? Where to be positively oneself, to be affectionate in public with someone you love of the same gender, or to talk of that love in the hearing of anyone under 18, will put you prison?”

    If “Sir Ian” is scared, should average LGBTQ ICOM conference goers also be scared?

  8. Hello Theresa– The three national committees have issued the following statement which we hope addresses your concerns. It can also be found on the ICOM-US website

    Organizing committee of the ICOM Russia, ICOM Germany and ICOM US Joint Conference

    Three ICOM National committees have joined their forces to organize the conference “Museums and politics,” to be held in the State Hermitage, Saint-Petersburg, Russia, on 09 – 12 of September 2014. The main purpose of this joint meeting is to share knowledge and expertise within the global museum community.

    Shortly after publishing of the “Call for papers” the Program committee received queries from colleagues with an interest in the conference who expressed concerns provoked by the law that was approved in Russia this past summer – the law on prohibition of the popularization of the non-traditional sexual relations among children which has received significant media coverage in Europe and the United States. Expressed concerns included both personal safety and the ability to present sessions related to LGBTQ audiences, artists and collections.

    As the tri-national program committee we felt it was important to address this issue straightforwardly. We would like to underline that nobody could be persecuted or arrested in Russia for their sexual orientation, so anyone may come to Saint-Petersburg without any fears. ICOM is a non-governmental international organization which was created by and for museum professionals. One of ICOM’s main aims is to be a global independent diplomatic forum that contributes to cultural and knowledge promotion and the preservation of tangible and intangible heritage. Decisions about session proposals will be made solely by the program committee, which pledges to select the most compelling, meaningful proposals in a balanced process. Only by convening people, discussing issues and sharing opinions will we, no matter where we are from, be able to find solutions and move forward in the creation of civil society in and sustainable development in each of our nations.

  9. Thank you, Linda. I appreciate this response, but have to admit that it leaves me with mixed feelings. First, this does not directly address or validate concerns about the safety of LGBTQ individuals attending the conference; and next, it seems like that ICOM is trying to appear to be neutral regarding the anti-LGBTQ law passed by Russia. It seems to me that ICOM should press for the safety and defend the rights of its members, and more broadly, that it should advocate for justice for all people. This is an important part of cultural work! The organization could, and I’m suggesting, should take a stand in defense of LGBTQ people, just as other professional organizations have issued resolutions and adopted platforms that acknowledge the rights claims of oppressed groups. And, small but still important (to me) point–my name is spelled with an “e”! Thanks, and with all respect, Therese

  10. Hi Therese–first, my apologies for the mispelling! Not a small thing when it’s your name. Second, although I’d love to think that all of the ICOM leadership (both in the countries and internationally) are reading this blog, I suspect that’s perhaps not entirely true. It may be more effective for you to raise the issue with them directly.

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