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Activity Report 1998 - 2001
Executive Council
Jacques Perot, President

The three-year period that has recently drawn to a close will stand out as an important chapter in the history of ICOM. Without going into detail, I would like to describe the major events that marked this three-year period.

First of all, I would like to start with internal achievements by mentioning the excellent ideas put forward by a working group that has turned out to be a dynamic, efficient and imaginative think-tank, as well as the growing number of members and the wide diversity of their geographical backgrounds.

One of the highlights of this triennial period was the action taken to adapt our Code of Professional Ethics. This Code serves as the foundation for a strategy to fight against the illicit traffic of cultural property, a pressing duty that has won a few victories in this daily, and often difficult, struggle. The place ICOM has acquired alongside important partners, such as UNESCO, INTERPOL, the World Customs Organisation and many other institutions, as well as the media, reflects the spreading influence of our organisation. However, the alliances of ICOM are not limited to this area alone. Within the framework of the Blue Shield programme, there are also the invaluable partnerships with sister NGOs, such as the one with ICCROM. A great source of satisfaction is the outcome of the major efforts undertaken by ICOM that led to the setting up of AFRICOM, with which close links have been forged.

A pool of expertise provided by the committees, an efficient and motivated secretariat, and an unfailing determination have made it possible to pursue a policy that is sometimes ambitious and difficult but always creative and inspiring. These are the principal features that have punctuated this last triennial period.

Major Reforms

The world is changing and evolving, and ICOM is obliged to keep up with these developments and the many challenges faced by museums and museum professionals. This is why it was necessary to initiate a process of reform, to restructure its mode of functioning, and to review its missions. The creation of the reform group, ICOM-RTF, is the most tangible result. This group, chaired by Bernice Murphy, Vice President of ICOM, has submitted to members a report recommending modifications to the structure of ICOM with a view to making the organisation more flexible and capable of responding to the new order reigning in the world of museums.

The debate on the future of the organisation as a whole has focused on its administrative and executive organs, Committees and General Secretariat. This renewal is a gradual process but it has set in motion a dynamic current that has had a very positive effect on the organisation, in keeping with the wishes expressed by members at the General Assembly held in Melbourne in 1998.

At the same time, ICOM has responded to a major preoccupation of its members: professional ethics. A first revised version of the Code of Professional Ethics was presented to members of ICOM in June 1999. This revision is still in progress, and a second version of the Code will be submitted to members of the General Assembly in Barcelona in July 2001. The composition of the Professional Ethics Committee, chaired by Geoffrey Lewis (United Kingdom), has been renewed up to 2003. During an Extraordinary Meeting held in December 2000, members of the Advisory Committee made it clear that the Code of Ethics should be entirely re-written during the three-year period 2001-2004. The Executive Council has already shown itself to be very much in favour of this initiative. The museum community is going through such profound changes that it is imperative to adapt a tool such as the Code of Ethics to current developments among museums and their experts. The project is bound to strengthen the recognised authority of ICOM in this field.

In this respect, ICOM has stood out in its efforts to curb the illicit traffic of cultural property. The organisation has produced a Red List of the African archaeological objects that are the most threatened by looting. The positive reaction to this list demonstrates the need to resort to practical communication tools to combat looting. In the same spirit, we have continued the series "One Hundred Missing Objects" on the problem of looting, and have published a fourth volume on religious objects plundered in four countries: the Czech Republic, France, Hungary and Italy.

In addition, two important workshops for museum experts, law enforcement officers and customs officials were organised in Tunisia and Vietnam. It will be recalled that ICOM signed two agreements: one with the World Customs Organisation and another with INTERPOL.

An Intensive Communications Strategy

The organisation also launched new activities during the last three years, especially in the area of communications and tourism.

Close contacts between our NGO and members have been maintained through ICOM News. This newsletter is published in English, French and Spanish, and informs members regularly of the activities carried out by the organisation and its partners. Other information means have also emerged. Internet has now become an indispensable communication tool for international organisations. Being fully aware of this trend, ICOM has given priority to opening the doors of Internet to its members and partners by recruiting a person to be in charge of Internet at the Secretariat.

An opportunity was offered to ICOM to create a new domain name on Internet for museums: ".museum". This domain name was approved by ICANN, the body responsible for authorising the creation of new domain names. This first victory is not due to mere chance. ICOM had prepared for it well ahead of time and was able to submit its candidacy in partnership with the J. Paul Getty Trust (United States). However, the initiative has still to be finalised. ICANN postponed its decision at the time of writing this report, so it is not yet possible for museums to use the new domain name ".museum". Despite this setback, the remarkable preparatory work carried out by Cary Karp (Sweden) should be applauded.

It is impossible not to mention also the important work undertaken within our organisation on museums and tourism, a crucial question that was the topic of an interesting conference on "Museums, Heritage and Cultural Tourism", held from 21 to 27 May 2000 in Trujillo (Peru) and La Paz (Bolivia).

Sustained Activities

The activities of the International Committees that have enabled ICOM to assume its role as a leader in different areas should be stressed. The Triennial Conference of the Conservation Committee is a major event for conservation and restoration experts. The session held in Lyons in 1999 is but one example among many others. As for the National Committees, they have played an active role in ICOM. In addition to recruiting new members, they have organised a certain number of activities that were of great benefit to the organisation.

If ICOM has been in a position to develop and broaden its field of action, it is thanks to its members. The membership of ICOM has grown, and now exceeds 16,445 active members, compared to 14,065 in 1998. Even though this expansion has obviously increased the workload of the Membership Service of the Secretariat, the team has met the challenge successfully.

At the same time, ICOM has remained stable and continues to carry out a certain number of regular tasks. The financial situation is positive, showing a clear surplus at the end of every year thanks to the prudent and wise management of Piet Pouw, the Treasurer of ICOM, assisted by the Secretary General. Considerable funds have been raised to enable ICOM to organise many of its activities.

Closer Partnerships

In addition to the inputs of its members, ICOM benefits from the valuable contributions of its partner organisations. It has endeavoured to strengthen these ties, some of which were forged a long time ago.

Many of ICOM's partners have, in fact, added to the efficiency of the organisation. The fruitful relations between ICOM and UNESCO have led to a renewal of the framework-agreement for the next two years. Manus Brinkman and I have met the new Director General of UNESCO. Many activities are now being planned. ICCROM will also be one of the sister organisations, and its collaboration with ICOM will be reinforced through several co-operative projects, in particular the Risk Preparedness project, aimed primarily at the upstream protection of cultural heritage.

The partner organisations of the International Committee of the Blue Shield share some of the daily tasks of ICOM. Activities linked to the Blue Shield programme are being developed and will be further strengthened. To achieve this, ICOM has requested and encouraged its National Committees to set up Liaison Committees with the Blue Shield. The National Committees of Belgium, France and the Netherlands are among those that have reacted positively to this appeal.

Many institutions have collaborated with ICOM during the past three years. ICOM considers such partnerships to be a key factor in joint efforts to ensure the protection and durability of world heritage.

Finally, we welcome the arrival of a new partner, the International Council of African Museums (AFRICOM). Although some of you will claim that members of ICOM have known AFRICOM for a long time, this organisation has taken on a new dimension and is now the equal of ICOM. I was particularly pleased to attend the inauguration of this new organisation in Lusaka (Zambia), when our colleague Shaje'a Tshiluila was elected President. AFRICOM has functioned as an independent pan-African organisation since 1999. It was recently established in Nairobi (Kenya), and has its own director and secretariat. We look forward to a fruitful collaboration with AFRICOM, in the interests of museums and museum professionals in Africa.

The General Conference in Barcelona will be an important step towards the development of ICOM, with a renewed mandate, revised statutes and prospects for new work sites in other regions of the world. In a nutshell, it should add value to the work already accomplished thanks to the energy of many of our members.

Now that we have achieved so much, it is important not to lose our momentum. Nor should we rest on the laurels we have acquired in the last three years.

Updated: 12 July 2005