Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Our homogeneous teams and our dreams of diversity

Jemma Desai, auhor of "This work isn't for us".

In 2020, the International Day of Museums (IMD) theme was “Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion”. In the field of Culture, we normally reflect on these concepts considering our so-called “audiences”. We express our wish to attract more people, diverse people, and to become a place “for all”.

The 2020 IMD theme allowed me to take one step forward (or is it backwards?) and consider: can we ever hope to become more relevant and create relationships with diverse people (the “audience”) if we ourselves (the teams) remain stubbornly homogeneous? I had the opportunity to first ask this question in a short video for the Municipal Museum Carlos Reis on IMD and more recently in a mini-conference for the Museum of the City of Aveiro, entitled “Museums, Education and Diversity”. This was also one of the points the cultural association Acesso Cultura | Access Culture, where I work, raised when commenting on the preliminary report of the Museums in the Future Project Group.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Our "tea and sympathy" values

In November 2016, a photo of the smiling director of the Byzantine and Christian Museum
 in Athens, Aikaterini Dellaporta,  next to Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, provoked in me a deep discomfort. It was the inauguration of the exhibition “Hermitage: Gate in History”. I expressed my discomfort by sharing its causes on the museum’s Facebook page:

Mr. Lavrov’s government is air striking civilians in Syria (including the children we see on TV and which break our hearts), supporting a dictator. They also invaded a neighbouring country and are occupying part of it. Why did the Greek Government and the Byzantine Museum give a chance to the Russian Foreign Minister and his government to appear… civilised? 

Friday, 4 September 2020

Are we with the bees or with the wolves?


Tania Bruguera, Marquee from Escuela de Arte Útil, 2017-ongoing. 
Installation view, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, March 2020. 
Photo: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

The Golden Dawn trial started in April 2015. The extreme-right-wing-party, holding at the time 17 seats in the Greek Parliament, was accused of being an organised criminal association which had perpetuated the murder of musician Pavlos Fyssas and the attempted murders of the Egyptian fisherman Abuzeid Ebarak and various members of the communist union PAME. In January 2020, the lawyer of Ebarak, Thanassis Kabagiannis, made his closing statement, saying: “Because on that wild night, it was not only the world of wolves that acted, because those who attacked Pavlos Fyssas were a herd of wolves. The world of bees also acted, emerged, the world of solidarity, of humanity, the world that sees a fallen man, covered in blood, in need, and doesn't say 'look, a stranger', but says 'look, my brother.'”

Saturday, 11 July 2020

The "threat" of museologists

In his book “The constructivist museum”, George Hein quotes Edward Forbes (a British naturalist) who in a 1853 lecture said that curators may be prodigies of learning, and yet unfit for their posts, if they do not know anything about pedagogy, if they are not equipped to teach people who know nothing.

Years later, in 1909, one of my greatest inspirations, Newark Museum director John Cotton Dana said that “A good museum attracts, entertains, arouses curiosity, leads to questioning and thus promotes learning. (...) The Museum can help people only if they use it; they will use it only if they know about it and only if attention is given to the interpretation of its possessions in terms they, the people, will understand”. And it was in 1917 that he wrote: “Today, museums of art are built to keep objects of art, and objects of art are bought to be kept in museums. As the objects seem to do their work if they are safely kept, and as museums seem to serve their purpose if they safely keep the objects, the whole thing is as useful in the splendid isolation of a distant park as in the centre of the life of the community which possesses it. Tomorrow, objects of art will be bought to give pleasure, to make manners seem more important, to promote skill, to exalt handwork, and to increase the zest of life by adding to it new interests.” (both quotes come from Reinventing the Museum: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Paradigm Shift” by Gail Anderson).

Sunday, 14 June 2020

My responsibilty for this vandalism

Father António Vieira's statue in Lisbon (Photo: Nuno Fox, for the newspaper Expresso)

The vandalism, destruction or removal of statues is not today’s “fashion”. I already knew that, but I didn’t know how far back this story went. In an interview for the New York Times, art historian Erin L. Thompson mentioned that there are statues of Assyrian kings with curses carved on them (“He who knocks down my statue, let him be in pain for the rest of his life”) and that date from 2700 B.C. Thompson’s career, according to the newspaper, has been spent on thinking what it means when people deliberately destroy icons of cultural heritage. Placing a statue in the public space is a political decision, a public statement, an attempt to solidify a society’s acknowledgement of a person’s values, character and contribution to society. The public space is a place of political affirmation; but also of contestation. These public affirmations of an official version of history are not necessarily immortal and do not necessarily make sense for ever.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

From silence to a hashtag to taking a stand

The news that the director of the Toledo Museum of Art, Alan Levine, wished to “reemphasize” at this point that the museum does not have a political stand sounded odd and anachronic to me. Not only because I joined a long time ago the group of culture professionals who advocate that culture is not neutral or apolitical, but mainly because in the US context, and elsewhere, things have effectively taken a different turn.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Competition for museum directors: a big step forward

Image taken from We Are Museums
As this is a matter of international interest, here's the translation of my article today in the Portuguese newspaper Público.

I can't breath

Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images, taken from NPR

The year of 2014 was marked in the USA by the death of unarmed black people in the hands of police officers in the cities of Ferguson, Cleveland and New York. It was the year Eric Garner died, repeating “I can’t breath”…

That same year, in their joint statement on Ferguson and related events (which became known as “Museums Respond to Ferguson”), museum professionals took a stand regarding the role of museums in the face of those tragic deaths. There are three points from that statement that I highlighted in a post I wrote at the time.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Quarantine readings #2 and a first version of my wishlist

Photo: Maria Vlachou

Since our confinement started, I had the opportunity of reading many thought-provoking articles and participating in dynamic online debates. There is a frequently expressed concern regarding the opportunity this crisis presents to rethink our practices, redefine our values and the system of valuing our work, develop relationships of proximity, respect and care both within our organisations and with our communities.

Will it happen? Will we manage to defy the usual (known) barriers and promote a new and necessary way of being and acting? Will we be able not to win the war (of changing the world), but a few decisive battles? Franco “Bifo” Berardi warned us back March that, when the quarantine ends, humans “will get the chance to rewrite the rules and break any automatism. But it is good to know, this won’t happen peacefully. We cannot foresee the shape the conflict will take, yet we must begin to imagine it. Whoever imagines first wins - one of the universal laws of history.”

Friday, 10 April 2020

Is this about postponing "business as usual"?

“I think it’s the responsibility of an artistic director, or let’s say, the collective, which is the artistic institution, to say here’s the pull that I’m feeling in our community. But, after all, isn’t it our responsibility to have a sort of eloquence or articulation around that, that maybe the community itself feels but does not deliver as a particular statement of need? So, I think being sensitive to that, to me, is leadership, saying here’s what we feel is in the air and what we think is worthy of giving voice to.”

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Quarantine readings

Ionian Sea, Summer 2019

Trying to make sense of everything that is happening, trying to put one’s thoughts in order, trying to take care of the immediate as well as imagine the distant, the “post-something”, my latest readings mix up, one feeding the other, and some words keep emerging:

fear and uncertainty; hope and imagination; care and solidatity;
 And… silence

Saturday, 7 March 2020

What if one likes broccoli?

A few weeks ago, I came across an advertising campaign of Folkoperan (Stockholm, Sweden) called “Broccoli vs. Opera”. The idea behind it is that the only think children dislike more than opera is broccoli. Thus, when having to choose between the two… they´ll go for the lesser of two evils.

The campaign irritated me. The prejudiced assumptions behind it irritated me. The way many in the classical music world avoid addressing the real barriers, the ones raised by them, upsets me. Do you remember the “Classical Cannabis: the high note series” promoted by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra back in 2014? That sort of thing… Anything but trying to understand better what is keeping people, of all ages, away. Perhaps because a better understanding would require action; and change.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Beauty will prevail

“Today, our time requires lightness, humor, enchantment and poetry. It is no longer the struggle between good and evil, represented by Star Wars, but the utopia of a beautiful life. To discover the moment of beauty poetry gives us, the inspiration that reminds us that we are in this life not only to work, to fight, to bicker, but also to love, to smile, to dance, to hug, to dream. We live in a time where the most revolutionary thing is to be a poet.”

Sunday, 9 February 2020

The pursuit of happiness: the Trump in us

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Last summer, I read the article Why science needs the humanities to solve climate change. Watching a number of democratically elected authoritarian leaders attacking, as usual, the humanities, this article reminded us of why they're doing it:

“Scholars in the humanities interpret human history, literature and imagery to figure out how people make sense of their world. Humanists challenge others to consider what makes a good life, and pose uncomfortable questions – for example, ‘Good for whom?’ and ‘At whose expense?’”.

The authors – Steven D. Allison, a Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Earth System Science and Tyrus Miller, the Dean of the School of Humanities, both from the University of California – affirmed that “Cultural scholars and philosophers can inject ethical principles into policymaking” and that “Humanists can also help decision makers see how history and culture affect policy options.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Where are the opportunities? Regarding ACE's new ten-year strategy

Image teken from the Arts Council England website.
A few days ago, I read in The Guardian a piece about young cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Kanneh-Mason is 20 years old, he became known when he performed in Harry and Meghan’s wedding and a few days ago he became the first cello player to make it to the top 10 in the UK music chart. He has undoubtedly (and fortunately) had the right opportunities, just like every young person should have. He took them and he has made marvels with them.

Kanneh-Mason is aware of the importance of having an opportunity, of having access. “I’ve benefited from having so much music education. And the thought that lots of people won’t have something even close to that same level is a real shame. Diversity needs to start way, way before people are auditioning. If actual education is not invested in and supported, then nothing will change.”

Monday, 27 January 2020

Seven days in New York

MoMA entrance (Photo Maria Vlachou)

I was flying to the ISPA Congress earlier this month with some concrete expectations: an opportunity for intense political thinking regarding the cultural field worldwide; visiting the new MoMA and its People’s Studio; attending Public Theater’s “Under the Radar” festival and watching Jess Thom performing Beckett’s “Not I”, as well as Guillermo Calderon’s “Feos”. I got all of this and much more (oh… so much more…). And still, I came back with a bittersweet feeling about our field and our self-image.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Radical TRUST

The People's Studio: Collective Imagination, at the new MoMA (image taken from the website)

Hospitality. Courage. Humility. TRUST.

I was in my RESHAPE group’s last meeting for 2019, reflecting on art and citizenship, and I wrote down these words, which kept coming up in our discussions. The word “TRUST”, though, was one that I was carrying with me from other meetings and discussions in the last months. It had sprang on so many occasions, that it finally caught my full attention.

On December 13, the last day of our RESHAPE meeting, we woke up to the news of the British election. One of the first articles I read on that day was entitled “Why people vote for politicians they know are liars”, the pressing question on many people’s mind that morning.