Tuesday, 13 August 2019

A new museum definition

MASP, São Paulo, Brazil (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

“A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”

The current museum definition of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) serves perfectly those museum professionals who know how to give meaning to expressions such as “at the service of society” and “for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment”. It serves perfectly those museum professionals who not only know how to give meaning to these words, but also how to share this meaning with other citizens, non-specialists, through both their thinking and their practice.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

For us and for our friends

From left to right: poet Odysseas Elytis, composer Manos Hadjidakis, theatre director Karolos Koun, Theatro Technis 1957, rehearsals of Bertolt Brecht's "The Caucasian Chalk Circle"  © Manos Hadjudakis Archive

News that Warren Kanders resigned from Whitney Museum Board left me truly pleased. After months of protests, the owner of Safariland (a company that produces “law enforcement products” – in other words, weapons, including the tear gas used against immigrants at the US border) was forced to leave, as many people felt that making money out of producing weapons and then philanthropically investing that money in culture and the arts is an oxymoron (to say the least).

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Memory that resists

A scene from the documentary The Silence of Others

A few weeks ago, I read in an article that the impasse regarding Brexit negotiations is considered, both by Remainers and Leavers, humiliating for Britain. According to one poll, 90% of the respondents agreed that the way the UK is dealing with Brexit is a national humiliation. The author of the article, Professor of Political Psychology Barry Richards, referred to an increasingly influential body of psychological theory which emphasises that “the need for dignity is basic to our psychological make up. To feel that we have been stripped of it is very threatening and destabilising.” He makes the distinction between feeling humiliated and feeling betrayed and his advice is to avoid endorsing and amplifying the sense of humiliation. He also suggests that the word “humiliation”, and others (such as “traitor”, “betrayal” or “treachery”) shouldn’t be used in the debate.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

First thoughts on the National Plan of the Arts

There were two occasions for a first appreciation of the National Plan of the Arts (NPA): its public presentation, on 18 June, and the reading of the document. I'll start by sharing my thoughts on the first.

The room where the presentation took place was packed. Many colleagues, journalists, people representing private organisations that support the cultural sector and the arts. One could feel the good mood and the expectation, mixed with some distrust (“Will this be it?”). I believe that that moment of encounter and everything one felt in the air was a positive sign that the sector is made up of professionals who are still very much interested and ready to get involved in a common effort that may value, support and strengthen their work and their contribution to society.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Sour lemons, sweet lemonades

National Portrait Gallery, Washington (Photo: Ben Hines)

In a training course for culture professionals last month, I showed the photo of a two-year-old black girl admiring the portrait of Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. She seemed awestruck and she reportedly told her mother that the woman on the painting was a queen and that she wanted to be a queen too. The point I wanted to make was that black people, or other so-called minorities, rarely do they see people looking like them as part of the mainstream narratives presented in museums; rarely do they come across the stories of people who look like them and who achieved something in their lives; people they could look up to.