The ICOM Executive Board appointed Prague as the host city for the 26th ICOM General Conference. The conference was related to the theme The Power of Museums and was, among other things, an opportunity to present cultural heritage of the Czech Republic.
At its 139th meeting in July 2019, the ICOM Executive Board appointed Prague as the host city for the 26th ICOM General Conference. The conference in the Czech Republic thus followed the previous one held in Kyoto, Japan, related to the theme Museums as Cultural Hubs: The Future of Tradition. In 2022, world museums presented their scientific projects and visions under the thematic umbrella of The Power of Museums, related to other key issues, reflecting the challenges and the ability of museums to overcome the periods of crisis. Museum professionals from around the world put forward the topics and set the direction of the museum sector for at least the next three years.
The annual event organised by the Czech Committee and held between August 20th and 28th dominated the space of the Congress Centre. However, the ICOM programme also extended to other cities in the Czech Republic and presented their cultural heritage.
The importance of the General Conference for the Czech Republic was enhanced by the fact that it was held in the same year when the Czech Republic holds the Presidency of the European Union. The largest museum meeting made the country even more visible during the presidency and for a few days, Prague became a place of international meeting of visions, ideas and knowledge. Czech professionals met inspiring people and shared their experiences behind the scenes.
For the first time ever, the conference took place in a hybrid format which allowed the participants who could not attend in person to get access to the expert programme via digital platforms. The most anticipated outcome of the conference was the continuation of discussions on the approval of a new definition of museum which predetermines the functioning of museums.
Before the start of the museum meeting itself, participants could learn more about the upcoming programme and the identity of the Prague conference through its artistic treatment.
The COLMO Studio took care of the unified visual style and created a graphic design based on collage and detail, using objects typical for Czech art, now common museum exhibits, whether they were historical artefacts or works of classical Czech design. The intertwining silhouettes in pure colours referred to the theme of dialogue between historical periods, their artefacts or museum disciplines. “We discussed the graphic concept with the staff of the General Secretariat of the ICOM and it was approved by the members of the ICOM Bureau, who evaluated it very positively, as progressive, helpful, playful, easy to remember, very museum-like,” says the ICOM Bureau press release.
In the graphic design, viewers may recognise the silhouette of the squeaky Cat with a harmonica body by Libuše Niklová; the lines of the back of the wooden chair No.18 by Michael Thonet; a ceramic figure of Venus of Dolní Věstonice, an archaeological gem from the Paleolithic period; the light Mráz M.1 Sokol aircraft constructed in Ing. J. Mráz, Flugzeugfabrik; cubist forms used for the construction of the chairs by Pavel Janák; the rounded shapes of Ladislav Sutnar’s teapot from the 1930s; the ground plan of Renaissance architecture; and the six-pointed stars of the Star Summer Palace in Prague. The classic basic logo of the ICOM was temporarily transformed as well: the form of the letters referred to the combination of history, contemporary and cubist design, mobility, and technology.
Whether it was the depiction of the objects that Czech museums look after or the logo, the graphics expressed meanings that were inverted into the overall concept and approach of the conference. And although the individual objects related directly to the Czech Republic, they were able to express the essence of museology.
One of the key ideas was to bring the iconic objects of the Czech museology into graphic arts, to present the shapes of unique objects from our collections, and to present the actual objects to the participants of the general conference in Prague, which was done in conjunction with the accompanying conference programme.
The conference itself was then accompanied by a rich programme focusing on the cultural heritage of the Czech Republic, so that visitors could learn about the aforementioned iconic objects of Czech history and many more. The opening ceremony took place in the functionalist complex of the National Technical Museum where foreign visitors could see the Sokol M1C aircraft. The Museum Night event then featured a series of exhibitions, concerts and guided tours in 12 museums and galleries such as the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague which preserves Ladislav Sutnar’s and Pavel Janák’s objects of design or the Museum of Czech Literature situated in the Star Summer Palace. The visitors could also learn more about Prague’s districts and their landmarks on organized walks through the city focusing on Czech Cubism. Last but not least, several excursions were made to the ICOM member institutions located outside of Prague. The excursions were exploring 11 selected UNESCO sites in cities as Brno, Olomouc, Holašovice, Český Krumlov, and others. In addition to the UNESCO monument, Villa Tugendhat, the excursion to Brno institutions introduced the Venus of Dolní Věstonice, which was exhibited for the ICOM visitors on the occasion of the General Conference. Other events focused on exploring regions and multi-day excursions.
The General Conference attracted almost 3,500 participants from all over the world and thousands more joined online from their countries. The Congress of Museum Professionals is held once every three years and the place of the next venue was decided by the ICOM Advisory Committee. The 27th General Conference in 2025 will be held in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. The ICOM Advisory Committee also proposed a theme focusing on change, recovery, accessibility, and transparency – The Future of Museums in Rapidly Changing Communities.