ICOM incorporated inclusivity, accessibility and diversity into its new definition of the museum and reflected it in different thematic areas addressed by the conference through four keynote lectures presenting perspectives on the theme The Power of Museums.
In 1946, the Czechoslovak Committee was one of the 14 founding countries of the International Council of Museums and was at the birth of the main museological platform, which has developed over 70 years into an international association cooperating with more than 20,000 institutions from 136 countries. Representatives of these institutions met this summer at an international conference at the Prague Congress Centre to discuss the future direction of museums.
In the past, the Czechoslovak Committee was at the forefront of the global museum industry, contributing to the development of the professional association thanks to the prominent figures of modern museology, such as Zbyněk Zbyslav Stránský. Jan Jelinek, who was president of the ICOM between 1971 and 1977, also took part in the initiative of founding the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Science and Technology, the CIMUSET. The CIMUSET was chaired by Josef Kuba between 1971 and 1974 and between 1983 and 1989.
The interconnectedness of the activities of the professional association and Czech museology was later reflected in the adoption of the ethical requirements accepted at the 15th General Assembly of the ICOM Conference in Buenos Aires – the ethical requirements of the International Council of Museums were incorporated into Czech methodological procedures and legislation, including the current law on the protection of museum collections.
In the 1970s, there were general changes in the organisation of international committees and their cooperation, and in 1974, the definition of museums came into force, which was partially updated in 2007 and has remained valid until this year.
In previous years, the global meeting of museum professionals had already been working on a new definition of the museum to meet the challenges and expectations of contemporary museum institutions. During this year’s international conference, Prague became the centre of the museum world for a few days and the new definition of the museum was created and approved by a convincing majority of 92 percent of the participants of the extraordinary session. In contrast to the original definition, a museum is expected to participate in inclusiveness, accessibility and diversity in the entire scope of the institution: “A museum is a not-for-profit, permanent institution in the service of society that researches, collects, conserves, interprets and exhibits tangible and intangible heritage. Open to the public, accessible and inclusive, museums foster diversity and sustainability. They operate and communicate ethically, professionally and with the participation of communities, offering varied experiences for education, enjoyment, reflection and knowledge sharing.” Together with the Code of Ethics, the definition of a museum is binding for all ICOM member institutions and must be kept in mind for the further direction of their own visions.
The current definition of museum institutions and their functioning was partly reflected in the different thematic areas addressed by the conference through four keynote lectures presenting perspectives on the theme The Power of Museums. Ugandan environmental rights and climate change activist, Hilda Flavia Nakabuye, presented her lecture “Sustainability: Museums and the Ability to Overcome Crises.” In the lecture appreciated with standing ovation, she said: “Museums are not just buildings, they are the roots to preserve our cultural heritage, and this place needs to be shared with the young generation in ways that are understandable to them … Youth should be actively involved in ICOM activities and decision-making processes, youth must be included if we want to achieve sustainability.”
Colombian anthropologist and museologist Margarita Reyes Suárez presented the lecture “Meaning: Museums and Civil Society” saying that “Believing that the cultural sector can remain neutral in the face of exclusion and discrimination would endanger museums own relevance.”
Seb Chan, director of multiplatform museum, spoke about the use of technology and the digitization of museum institutions in his lecture “Communication: Museums and New Technologies” and asked, “How might our buildings adapt and be re-designed for an always-connected visitor? And even more importantly, how might we retain that visitor’s attention and focus whilst they are in our building?”
Lonnie G. Bunch III and Hilary Carty talked about leadership and the relationship of institutional leadership with their staff in time of crisis in the lecture “Vision: Museums and Leadership”. “Accelerated change and unimaginable events can either destabilise leaders or carve new parameters …” said Bunch.
The four keynote lectures were then complemented by other sessions, workshops and discussions developing the themes of environmental sustainability, digital technologies, social responsibility and progressive leadership targeting an updated concept of the museum: inclusivity, accessibility, diversity.
Although the ICOM is incorporating inclusivity, accessibility and diversity into its work this year, there are already museums, non-profit associations and projects in the Czech Republic that aim to address these issues.
The Jindřich Chalupecký Society has long supported the development of social or sexual minority issues and experimented with the use of renewable energy resources. The Jindřich Chalupecký Society is also one of the platforms involved in the adoption of the Code of the Feminist Art Institution, established in 2017, and many other institutions have also joined the initiative as well. The sub-themes of this movement were also the basis for Art for Climate, which was behind the Declaration of the Prague Cultural Institutions on the Declaration of a State of Climate Emergency in the City of Prague.
Another interesting project is the support group for parents and primarily mothers – artists of the Skutek Association, Mothers Artlovers, which is a functional platform that allows to share opportunities, support each other’s work and develop the political-institutional level of the issue.
The ArtMap Society and Skutek are collaborating on the Art re use project which aims to create a major communication point in the recycling, distribution and transformation of useless gallery and art material into useful sources, while providing a material base for the art creation.
It is questionable how the change in the definition of museums and galleries will affect institutions in a broader context, especially when the issue in question moves from the partial projects and fragmented approaches of museologists and gallerists themselves to a legitimate demand of a professional association. Can this mean a change of perspective?