Keep the Debate Alive!

Konferensen-2014First some background. I’m a big fan of the blog The Uncataloged Museum, run by blogger and museum consultant Linda Norris. It was utterly interesting to read about her coverage of the uprising in Ukraine and her discussions with Ihor Poshyvailo, deputy director of the Ivan Honchar Museum in Kiev. It was one of these articles that affects you both physically and emotionally. Norris asks some important questions. What can a museum do in this kind of situation? If you ran a museum in Kiev right now, what would
you do? Questions that may seem easy but can be difficult to answer when you’re in the middle of the whole turmoil.

That’s why I’m also enthusiastic about this project, Museums, Politics and Power and the conference in St. Petersburg in September. The idea of opening up the discussion before-hand to guest bloggers and commentators on social media is both brave and ambitious. I will follow the debate with great joy and read about different  experiences and ideas from all over the world. It’s something I really look forward to.

Another reason for my interest is a conference in Östersund, Sweden this upcoming week that I’m working on – The Spring Conference: Take a Stand. The topic is similar. We ask a simple question: are cultural heritage institutions able to take a stand? There is of course no single answer. But the question is a good starting point for discussion. How do the institutions go about it – what kind of strategies and methods are there? What happens when they do?   We will try to give hands-on examples.The three sessions are an important part of the conference.

  • The Unstraight Museum, a project that focus on the unstraight stories in museums and the society, will argue why it’s important for museums to work with human rights and LGBTQ issues.
  • The Memorial Society Archive – a Russian organisation that takes care of historical documents and archival material from periods of governmental oppression – will present their work and what they have experienced since they started in 1989.
  • And finally, Utanför, an exhibition about alienation and its mechanisms at Jamtli in Östersund will present their pedagogical program and how the exhibition came to be.

To us the question of how and why is the most important aspect. Cultural heritage institutions are hardly neutral spaces. They have a history, a mission and people with different opinions. More or less visible, politics and power is always present at cultural heritage institutions. Either we want it to be that way or not.

Discuss and debate. That is what we have to do. There are no perfect solutions, nor a master key to every problem. But to not ask questions or diminish the complexity in these situations is a problematic if not a dangerous attitude. In this regard, I think that the creators of this project do a great job of keeping the discussions alive. A broad, international debate is exactly what we need.

Join in!

This post contributed by Kristofer Soldal of Sweden.

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