60th Annual Conference of the Estonian National Museum
3 May 2022
Jette Sandahl. No Time for Denial
As museums begin to adjust, revise and reinvent their principles, policies and practices to face the complexities of the 21st century, there is a continuous discussion about the future of museums and about future concepts, purposes and definitions of museums – often focused, as in this context, on the relevance of museums and of the contributions, museums make and could make to society.
Across the vastly different conditions under which museums work, there seems to be a general readiness to enter the obligations of engaging with the urgent issues and global concerns of today. Remaining – or becoming - relevant, for the individual museum as well as for the sector as such, implies dealing with climate change and the destruction of nature, with conflicts and wars, with the legacies of colonialism, with economic inequality and social injustice. There is no neutral place in society, and there is little time for denial. There is, however, a need to clarify a transparent ethical foundation in support of these commitments.
In this current landscape, museums increasingly frame and express their core museum functions and their social responsibilities as an interconnected whole. Museums strive to address and fulfil their societal and humanitarian purposes exactly through – and not in contradiction or opposition to - the unique, characteristic and specific museum functions and methods of collecting, preserving, documenting, researching, exhibiting and communicating the collections and other evidence of cultural heritage.
A wealth of examples shows how this is accomplished with great impact, with gravity, with beauty, in anger or with humour, by all types, scales, disciplines and traditions of museums, based and rooted, meaningfully, in each museum’s particular collection and expertise, its particular location and communities.
This development is often supported, and at times driven, by ever more permeable boundaries of museums, allowing the growing expectation of cultural democracy, of equal access, equal representation and the rights of participation for the stakeholder communities of the museum.
Philippa Simpson, Permanence as Relevance: the V&A Museum of Childhood
The V&A is undertaking a major transformation of its site in East London, the “Museum of Childhood”. This is a unique opportunity to rethink and reform the museum as a creative hub for 0-14 year olds, to redefine its local, national and international significance and, critically, to re-establish it as a truly civic site. Relevance, in this context, could take many forms. On the one hand the new museum is a political act, a response to an immediate crisis in art and design education in the UK. No longer a neutral “temple of knowledge”, the museum is an active, polemical initiative. But while this may be relevant to the moment, is it meaningful for the visitor? Does it resonate with or enhance their lived experience? Perhaps the more significant aspect of the new museum will be its central hall, which is being recast as a ‘town square’, an open and democratic site of social and cultural dialogue. The museum sits in the borough of Tower Hamlets, which has the highest levels of child deprivation in the country and one of the most socio-economically diverse communities. Providing a safe space which is open to all is a powerful gesture of cohesion at an uncertain time of fracture. However, the most potent aspect of the new museum, and the one that speaks most clearly to the ambition to remain relevant, is perhaps not in the product but in the process. Working with children, families and teachers our architects are developing the new spaces through a rigorous process of co-design, absorbing ideas from those who will use the museum most, and in return providing them with a deep understanding of the creative and curatorial process. From this has emerged a direct challenge, to create the “world’s most joyful museum”. This could be read as a more genuine, a more profound ‘relevance’, one rooted in a universal human need. Perhaps the relevance of the museum comes not from being of the “now”, but from being of the “always”.
Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt. The impact of CCIs, Measurement and Data: What to Choose and Where it Takes Us?
The talk will give a brief overview from experiences from Me-Mind project, where we have worked with the idea of how to experience data and make culture count. Starting with the assumption that cultural and creative industries have an impact, we will discuss how we can think about data and measurement to understand that impact. Considering the challenges of identifying indicators, distinguishing between outputs and outcomes, and identifying indicators, data and data analysis opportunities, the presentation addresses briefly the questions of what is data about impact, what can be done with the data, and finally, what is needed for a creative, but also critical understanding of data about cultural industries.
Rasmus Kask. Development Plans in Estonian Museums: Hurdles or Springboards Towards Impact?
The varied practices of development plans are currently the main tools of institutional self-governance in museums. Usually, these documents are comprised of the mission and vision statements, the main objectives and a broad roadmap toward the stated goals for the next four or five years.
In the presentation I will analyse the corresponding documents of 25 Estonian museums, based on variance (state-owned vs municipality run; big, medium or small; regional and thematic) in terms of key elements, cohesion, types of metric used and how impact is defined and pursued within the development plans. Although the vision and mission statements are sometimes defined on the level of broader impact, metrics tend to focus mainly on the output of the institutions (stated in terms of visitor or event numbers, more rarely in terms of visitor satisfaction) and are in this aspect well in line with the main objectives. This discrepancy shows a will and readiness to embrace the discourse of impact, but also might allude to a strongly rooted practice of focusing on the internal goals and development of institutions and challenges of integrating the understanding of wider social relevance of museums into the formal practices and daily routines of Estonian museums.
Raivis Simansons. Influential Communication of a Difficult Past: The Case of the Žanis Lipke Memorial
Kenneth Hudson, founder of the European Museum of the Year Award (EMYA), published his best-selling book Museums of Influence in 1987. In this work, Hudson reviewed the development of the world's museums over the past 200 years by identifying 37 pioneers in ten countries, from large iconic museums to small but innovative ones. According to Hudson, amidst this diversity a small number can be singled out that have significantly influenced museum thinking and practice.
In the 2021 Revisiting Museums of Influence: Four Decades of Innovation and Public Quality in European Museums was published, in which the European Museum Forum reflected upon Hudson’s legacy and made a new selection of 'museums of influence'. Assessing the initially proposed 200 museums, the editors of the book first applied criteria such as the type and geographical location of the museum, so as to cover the 47 (the number is currently down to 46 due to the suspension of Russia) member states of the Council of Europe. Additionally, the editorial board made sure that proposals came from judges representing different generations. However, the key criterion was that these were the museum the authors wished to write about, after many decades of working in, visiting, and assessing museums.
The Žanis Lipke Memorial in Riga was honoured to find itself among the 50 selected museums. What was the reasoning for that? In 2014, the Žanis Lipke Memorial was awarded the Kenneth Hudson Award, a special prize in the EMYA scheme to carry forward the spirit of Hudson’s work by recognising a person, project or group of people who have demonstrated the most unusual, daring and, perhaps, controversial achievement which challenges the common perceptions of the role of the museum in society.
The relevance of the story of civic resistance under Nazi occupation conveyed by this small yet award-winning memorial museum in its first decade of operation proved to be convincing in professional circles and in the Latvian society generally.
This success has been channelled into tangible plans for developing a new museum extension. In 2022 work on a blueprint for the House of Courage, a future civic education centre, is underway. This presentation will reflect upon the influence of the Žanis Lipke Memorial’s bottom-up approach in shaping memory culture in Latvia and outline its future development plans for civic education.
Hudson, K. (1987). Museums of Influence. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.
O’Neill, M., Sandhal, J., Mouliou, M. (Eds.). (2021). Revisiting Museums of Influence. Four Decades of Innovation and Public Quality in European Museums. Abingdon. Routledge.
Website of European Museum Forum. Accessible from: https://europeanforum.museum/ (08/04/2022).
Website of the Žanis Lipke Memorial. House of Courage. Available from: https://lipke.lv/en/house-of-courage/ (08/04/2022).
Pirjo Hamari. Evaluation for impact – or how a critical look at yourself can help with impact
This presentation will focus on the developing self-evaluation framework for impact, which is being currently developed in the MOI! Museums of Impact project. The concept underlying the framework is based on developmental self-evaluation, a method of evaluation that helps organisations to take a critical look at their own activities and evaluate where there is the most room for development. This talk will explain the project, its underlying concepts and goals, as well as the methodology and benefits of applying a self-evaluation framework as part of the impact value chain. The MOI framework is built specifically for museums, with societal impact at its core, and is based on the emerging understanding of the role of museums today.