Last week was a strange combination: the launch of this site and discussions about politics and power; an American Thanksgiving; and the distressing turn of Ukraine’s leaders away from Europe back towards Russia generating ongoing, heartening, peaceful yet scary protests in Kyiv and many other Ukrainian cities, followed by violent police crackdowns.
They seem unconnected right? But in fact, they are connected and those connections are a large part of the personal reasons why I’m going to St. Petersburg next year. I first went to Ukraine in 2009 as a Fulbright Scholar, technically an official representative of the United States. But what I discovered, through the active questioning of my graduate students (many of whom I see out in the protests this week) and gradual connections with my museum colleagues (who I also see out and supporting the protests) that I came as an American, but in many ways, I represented me–a set of values and experiences that are distinctly American but also distinctly my own. It became clear during those first months, and in many subsequent visits to Ukraine, that those connections, those personal ties we make are what really matters. So although I disagree deeply with the current Ukrainian government, with the Russian government (and even sometimes with my own government), I know that my participation is important.
As an individual I can help dispel misconceptions (I am very much not any American you meet in the movies) but I’m also able to dispel my own misconceptions. Together, we can broaden our understandings of the world–and museums’ place in it. I’ve learned so much from my Ukrainian colleagues and friends; and I know in return, how important connections with the larger world are for many of them.
As museum colleagues we have much to share. We can remember that people and governments are two very different things and that, in the trite, but still meaningful words of Margaret Mead,
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.