On the Role of Museums

Volunteers building the New Belgica

Many of the Saint Petersburg conference participants traveled to Yekaterinburg for the second part of the meeting – a three hours flight to the Ural -, and many more Russian colleagues joined us there. But before any papers were presented, an agreement was signed in the presence of the international participants and many members of the press: the agreement of intent to establish a Hermitage-Ural cultural and learning center. Yekaterinburg has long been a closed city, but today it is bursting with construction and development projects, and the cultural center is an important component to make an appearance on an international scale. In the morning’s plenary session, we ranged all over the world to develop a great understanding of the role of museums, partly in politics and partly in the life of their communities.  Knut Wik, Senior Advisor, Sor-trondelag County Authority, Trondheim, Norway discussed the merger, at the government’s behest, of a large number of small museums into a smaller number of larger museums.  Needless to say, it wasn’t an easy process, but overall, the results were successful.
Volunteers were at the center of the presentation by Bruno de Corte, “The New Belgica” charity fund, Boom, Belgium.  He shared the ways in which passionate volunteers helped save and renew an industrial site–and now are working on the New Belgica project.  His passion for industrial history–and as well, for this part of Russia –was felt by all.
Would you open your museum at 6:30 AM?  Ching-yueh Hsieh, University of Leicester, Great Britain spoke about the lessons learned by the opening of a museum for an indigenous tribe in Taiwan. Understanding the community’s needs was central to the project’s success–and that’s why the museum opening was at 6:30–so farmers could attend before they headed off to the fields. The same community commitment was demonstrated by Elena Ilyina, Expert, Elena and Gennady Timchenko Charity Foundation and Vice Director of Research at the Nizhny Tagil Museum of Fine Arts. She spoke about the necessity of museums to become really connected to their communities, to tell the stories of real people, using examples from Nizhny Tagil. It was far more than just a case study, but a talk that could resonate with small (and large) museums everywhere!
But what about community´s needs in times of crisis? Our team member Linda Norris made us think of small and big disasters–from power failures after a hurrican to political and social catastrophies. Thats the time when museums can become good neighbours, caring for people just as much as they do for their objects. Surprisingly, not much is needed. Sometimes a warm place and a cup of tea in the middle of the night or power supplies to recharge phones are the biggest help of all. In actively ‘writing the first drafts of the hard history’, museums can built an incredible strong relationship with the public.

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