International Day of Solidarity: Bosnia-Herzegovina cultural institutions close

From Roy Clare, Director Auckland War Memorial Museum:

“The entire world was touched by the crisis in the former Republic of Yugoslavia during the 90s. Peaceful times have been restored in Sarejevo and in recent years the Bosnian people have been dedicated to restoring pride in their nation and once again to celebrating their culture.

“Despite a harsh economic climate, the closure of the city’s museum is a gravely short-sighted measure. Museums add value in the lives of people: the right of access to material culture, to artefacts and heritage collections is a basic human necessity. People deprived of understanding their past stand very little chance of being able to make sense of their future.

“In common with museums across the globe, Auckland War Memorial Museum deplores the closure of museums and cultural institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We stand up for the role of museums in giving people access to collections and liberating the stories that help to define identity and support education, learning and scholarship.

“Museums should be defined by their cultural, social and environmental value and not merely by what they cost.”

We invited Phillipa Tocker, the Executive Director of Museums Aotearoa to write a guest blog about these closures:

What if Te Papa, Auckland Museum, the National Library, Film Archive and three other major cultural institutions were closed down indefinitely?

This is exactly what has happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Over the past few years budgets and opening hours have been squeezed, and now seven major public institutions have closed.  The list includes:

  • National and University Library
  • Historical Museum
  • National Library for the Blind
  • National Film Archive
  • Museum of Literature and Theatre Arts
  • National Art Gallery
  • National Museum of Bosnia-Herzegovina

Reasons for the closures in Bosnia-Herzegovina include financial crisis and legal and political wrangling over responsibility as a legacy of civil war.  The situation has been brought to international attention through the cultureshutdown website and activity including today’s International Day of Museum Solidarity.

To support institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, museums all over the world are putting yellow tape across key exhibits, effectively ‘closing’ them in solidarity with the closed museums in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and bringing this to the attention of the visiting public.

While solidarity with international colleagues is a good thing, there is much more that can be done locally. Museums Aotearoa actively gathers data about museums and galleries, and makes this information publicly available. Museum sector surveys have been conducted regularly, with the most recent published report from 2009.  A new, more comprehensive museum sector survey was carried out in late 2012. The report is due out later this month (contact mail@museumsaotearoa.org.nz if you would like to be notified).

While this kind of survey can show the amount of public and private money museums receive, the number of staff employed, and visitors to their programmes, both physical and virtual, it is much harder to quantify the ‘value’ that museums bring to their communities by their very existence.

To fulfil its role in the community, a museum must be open to visit, and offer a wide range of ways for people to gain access to its offerings – through targeted events, temporary and ‘permanent’ exhibitions, and virtual programming.

An example of a museum which has continued to fulfil this role even though it has been closed due to earthquakes is Christchurch Art Gallery – it is keeping its audiences engaged through offsite and online programmes, and it most assuredly will reopen as soon as it can.

Michael Parekowhai Chapman's Homer 2011. Bronze, stainless steel. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett, Auckland. Photographer: John Collie, Christchurch Art Gallery

To fulfil its role for future generations, a museum must continue to research and collect cultural material.  This ensures that objects, buildings, archives and taonga from the past are preserved safely; and that the evidence and knowledge of contemporary innovations, knowledge, social, cultural and creative endeavour is understood, collected and preserved.

Our museums are part of a network of organisations, working alongside, and often in close collaboration with, archives, libraries, universities and other research bodies.

For example, in 2011, Auckland Museum was part of a scientific and cultural expedition to the Kermadecs, a group of small islands to the north east of New Zealand.  The participating organisations have gathered a mass of collected material and data that will form part of the heritage of future generations. Their research has already given rise to blogs, scientific papers and creative works and Auckland Museum will bring more of this to the public with an exhibition later this year.

Clinton Duffy, Department of Conservation Scientific Officer for Marine Species conducts a fish count on the Western Side of North Meyer Island © Richard Robinson

In April, Museums Aotearoa will hold its annual conference in Hamilton.  As part of that programme, we will present a public lecture by Professor Brad Jackson, the Fletcher Building Education Trust Chair in Leadership at the University of Auckland.  Brad has been looking at New Zealand’s potential to become a global ‘testing ground’ for the new leadership practices, models and processes that the world needs in order to respond effectively to the complex man-made and natural challenges that are increasing in frequency and in intensity.

New Zealand is blessed with a number of innovative, thought-leading museums; there are also some much-loved, quirky examples that add spice to the cultural mix. It is up to us to show our solidarity and support for them all, and to ensure they continue to serve our communities into the future.

Phillipa Tocker
Executive Director, Museums Aotearoa


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