maanantai 27. helmikuuta 2017

Rule 5: Museums hold resources that provide opportunities for other public services and benefits

The fifth rule of the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums looks at co-operation opportunities between museums and other public actors. Or did I misunderstand the heading completely? The subheadings in this section only talk about identification services, meaning the identification of illegally or illicitly acquired objects, and authentication and valuation. Indeed, the special expertise of museums is necessary for these.

The Code warns that the stated mission of museums may be compromised if their special expertise, skills and material resources are used to extend the museum’s activities by sharing resources or providing services.

But could the allocation of resources also be rethought? Could the fifth rule also deal with the sort of co-operation with other providers of public services that aims at richer interaction and is linked with meanings: What do museums have to offer that promotes good interaction between people and makes them strongly feel that they are alive?

In practice, this could involve sharing and developing expertise with actors in the social and health sector: using museums in a new way for special groups and new visitors, making museums more like living rooms, expanding the communal aspects, getting customers more involved and hearing their voices. This is time-consuming and even expensive but rewarding (as we know).

I have been working in the museum field for a long time, also as a freelance specialist in the art and museum fields, and have had the opportunity to be involved in many great – but short-lived! – co-operation projects between museums, the social and health sector and associations. Why on earth have these projects not led to more extensive, long-term or permanent forms of co-operation?

In Finland, we have the Culture for All service, Health from Culture network as well as numerous other bilateral partnerships, projects and publications. There is plenty of proof that we can achieve more together and will learn a lot. Nevertheless, the structures have not changed much, the co-operation has not become permanent and there is still no proper coordination. Many projects are a feather in the cap, nice things to write reports about.

Without a bold new approach and persistence (as well as successful funding and co-operation concepts), there would be no successful concepts like National Museums Liverpool’s House of Memories project, which aims to improve the lives of people living with dementia. In the project, the national group of museums has produced a multi-faceted, research-oriented method that has reached thousands of people through training and has been widely spread and awarded at the national and international level – a method it is developing and productising successfully. Do read more about it!

Why do our museums lack the courage to expand beyond their “stated mission”? Not everyone needs to do everything, but selecting your partners and target groups courageously might sometimes result in something good and lasting.

Satu Itkonen
Head of Public Programmes, Ateneum Art Museum

tiistai 21. helmikuuta 2017

Rule 4: Museums provide opportunities for the appreciation, understanding and management of the natural and cultural heritage

What is a good and functional museum relationship?

According to the fourth rule of the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums, “museums provide opportunities for the appreciation, understanding and management of the natural and cultural heritage. -- Museums have an important duty to develop their educational role and attract wider audiences from the community, locality, or group they serve. Interaction with the constituent community and promotion of their heritage is an integral part of the educational role of the museum.” So, we have the ethical obligation to establish and maintain relations with our communities. What is an ethically sound museum relationship like? Both parties should surely ask themselves what they expect of the relationship, what they get and what they give. If the relationship does not work, who needs the museum? We are facing some rather fundamental questions when we ponder our relationships with our communities.

The background of Lusto – The Finnish Forest Museum lies in the Finnish Forest Museum Foundation, which was founded in 1988 and given the task of establishing a national forest museum in Finland. The foundation consisted of more than 40 stakeholders in forestry who wanted to preserve cultural heritage relating to forests. Forestry organisations were closely involved in planning the museum, gathering the collections, building the museum, starting the operations and even organising the funding.

Many things have changed in 20 years in both forestry and the museum field as well as in the relationships between the forest museum and forestry organisations. We have asked our interest groups what they would like to get from us. Some of the relationships have perhaps gone a bit flat. Some stakeholders did not know what to wish for at all, since they no longer knew how the relationship started in the first place. This means that museum counselling is needed and, at the moment, we are actively looking for new perspectives into old relationships. Communities are important to us, since we would have no significance without them. In order to appreciate, understand and protect the natural and cultural heritage, we need to have enough people who appreciate, understand and protect it. Luckily, many relationships have also been deepened and strengthened in the course of the years. We have even made some completely new relationships and found a new spark in old relationships.

Even though the Code of Ethics talks about interaction and service, talking about the “educational role” of museums feels slightly one-sided and dictated. Learning – as well as the responsibilities, obligations and rights relating to culture heritage – should be mutual. Could the key features of a good museum relationship be modelled after the instructions for a good romantic relationship? These include trust and a steady foundation, shared values, open and direct interaction, mutual responsibility for the relationship, respecting the needs of both parties, acceptance and appreciation, freedom and personal development, true friendship. The parties must also ask themselves whether they are desirable partners. And it does not make sense to stay together if you do not have what is most important: a common goal and purpose.

A good, ethical museum relationship is based on museums being able to open up the significance of appreciating, understanding and protecting cultural heritage to communities for which the cultural heritage may be an important resource that they need when they build their identities, images and brands. The cultural heritage is a societally significant resource whose use and utilisation are enabled by a good museum relationship.

Reetta Karhunkorva
Curator, Exhibitions Lusto – The Finnish Forest Museum

Leena Paaskoski
Collections Manager, Lusto – The Finnish Forest Museum
Member of the Board of the Finnish National Committee of ICOM

maanantai 13. helmikuuta 2017

Rule 3: Museums hold primary evidence for establishing and furthering knowledge

Does your museum conduct research?

The third rule of the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums reminds us that “museums hold primary evidence for establishing and furthering knowledge”. It is our duty to ensure that the collections are researched and looked after. Also, the collections and the information contained in them should be accessible to everyone.

The Code takes a stand on the acquisition, analysis and respectful handling of materials. It ponders the personnel’s rights to the results of the research and urges people to share their expertise and respect the expertise of others. The Code also encourages co-operation with other institutions collecting cultural heritage.

Like many other things, research is closely linked with the collection management policy of museums. The ICOM Code of Ethics demands that the value of collections as research material is clearly identified in the collection management policy of museums. The collection management policy must also make clear that it is based on the museum’s stated mission. The document should not depend on trends that are popular in the museum world at each time.

How is this realised in your museum?

In the 2010s, an increasingly central role is played by visions and goals specified by museums in co-operation with other communities. However, many museum researchers are still individualists whose interests are guided by their own ideas more than the employer’s strategies. How far away from the museum’s stated mission can the research topics actually diverge? Where is the line between an employee’s rights and obligations? How long can a researcher sit on material for some eventual, possible research use?

Whose truths and stories do the museum collections intend to highlight and corroborate? Can collections and collection research be used to challenge predominant truths and power relationships? Do we dare? What about changing truths? Scientific information is accumulating and self-correcting by nature. Can we identify today’s essential information and share it with others? Does funding influence the selection of research subjects? On what principles do we publish material in Finna, the shared search service of Finnish cultural memory organisations?

Research conducted at a museum should be linked with the overall collections and collection management policy of the museum, if we want to spend our resources sensibly and, therefore, maybe also ethically. Do we always check the background of new material acquired carefully enough? How will the information we collect be conveyed to the next generation of museum professionals? Are we collecting information for ourselves or serving the accumulation of overall cultural heritage? Ethical acquisition results in high-quality collections whose acquisition principles will also be understandable to those who will continue our work. I think that this is linked with modern documentation in particular but, naturally, all other acquisition as well.

The ICOM Code of Ethics does not mention research policy among the documents necessary for a museum. I do not know if every museum needs one – each can consider it individually. However, it is probably clear that all museums must think about what research means for them, since very few museums have resources for research based on purely scientific questions. Nevertheless, a Finnish museum professional’s education includes an understanding of the various stages of the academic research process. It would be useful to specify to both oneself and others the parts of the process in which the research work of one’s own museum is positioned. Producing information and opening it for an audience, also an academic audience, is an important part of both the research process and museum work. Co-operation with academic institutions also increases mutual understanding of the cultural heritage, and museums need not perform all the work themselves. For an example, you can look at Espoo City Museum’s recently published research and publication policy (in Finnish).

Minna Sarantola-Weiss
Member of the Board of the Finnish National Committee of ICOM
Head of Research, Helsinki City Museum

maanantai 6. helmikuuta 2017

Rule 2: Museums that maintain collections hold them in trust for the benefit of society and its development

On the influence of museum collections and the energy in objects 

According to the second rule of the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums, “museums that maintain collections hold them in trust for the benefit of society and its development”. The societal positioning of museums inspires discussion, like Eero Ehanti aptly pointed out in the previous blog post. Museums constantly need to justify activities that do not yield any short-term benefits. Do museum collections and collections management sound out of date in today’s electronic world with its quick updates? Does collections management have an influence, and do collections promote the benefit of society?

When looking at museum operations in the long term, museum collections are the core of the operations that will stand the test of time. We have the understanding that museums are public institutions where all demographic groups have the opportunity to gather and exchange ideas in a calm and safe environment.

One of the points of reference in these havens is the museum collection, its original, three-dimensional objects and, most of all, the energy conveyed by them. By the energy in objects, it can be understood that each original museum object has characteristics exceeding its information value, consisting of its originality, external form and history of existence and eventually adding up to more than the sum of its parts. This is the underlying reason behind the influence of museums.

In a Great Museum, as defined by museologist Kenneth Hudson, it has been considered important to preserve a part of society by means of the expertise of museums. The objects in the collections have been preserved for hundreds of years thanks to the museum’s collections management, and the museum value of the objects has been relayed from generation to generation in an unbroken chain. Museum collections are historical proof of the influence of museums. The objects in the collections and their heritological value are part of the capital that only museums and other cultural memory organisations possess. This potential should not be wasted in an era where the influence of one’s own activities matters.

Nina Robbins
MA, UAS Master, museology postgraduate
Päivi Ukkonen
UAS Master, conservation lecturer
Minna Turtiainen
Collections Manager, Gallen-Kallela Museum
Students of paper and interior conservation at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences