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Activity Report 1998 - 2001
The General Secretariat
Programme Activities Service

Within the ICOM Secretariat, the Programme Activities Sector is responsible for implementing the ICOM Triennial Programme adopted at the General Assembly. In this capacity, it supports the implementation of the programmes adopted by the different bodies within ICOM (National and International Committees, Regional Organisations) as and when requested, and coordinates the programme adopted by the Organisation.

It is responsible for elaborating the programme for the subsequent triennial period as presented at the General Assembly and takes care of monitoring the ongoing projects when these have been adopted.

Finally, in addition to its Triennial Programme activities, the service ensures the implementation of activities under contract with UNESCO in the framework ICOM's role as advisor to UNESCO.

Human Resources

This period was marked by changes in the structure in the Programme Sector. Valérie Chieze, Programme Activities Officer, left ICOM in July 1999. She was replaced in this function by Jennifer Thévenot, and in March 2000, Cristina Menegazzi from Italy, with previous experience at ICCROM, joined the Sector as Programme Specialist.

The Sector thus has a permanent staff of only two, which is extremely limited considering the considerable increase in activities undertaken over the last six years. Thus it periodically received the support of other members of the Secretariat and of temporary personnel. Also, to implement some projects, it has been working closely with the Communication Sector.

The Sector also welcomes interns wishing to gain experience in an international cultural organisation. Although these interns do provide assistance which increases its capacity, this also requires a substantial investment by the permanent staff.

Financial Resources

The Programme Activities Sector does not have a regular budget within the Organisation's budget. Each activity undertaken by the service requires specific funds which have to be raised by the Secretary General, after preparatory work by the Programme Sector. This mode of operation explains why some projects or aspects of the Triennial Programme are implemented more quickly than others. A further consequence is that it does not enable activities to be planned entirely rationally on the long term, as the amount of funds that will be available cannot be known in advance, and the funding agencies have their own priorities with regard to countries, regions and themes.

However, fund raising for programmes of good quality, identifying the needs of the professionals and demonstrating their high capacity to develop projects has unquestionably played a major role in securing the recognition of the Organisation by many national and international bodies. Fund raising is also a way for ICOM to play its role as advocate for museums and the museum profession.

Collaboration with Other Secretariat Services

The Communication Sector is systematically linked with projects from the earliest phases. It monitors the preparation and especially the layout of all documents produced by the Programme Sector (working documents, programmes, etc.) and, in collaboration with our service, all the information materials on the activities implemented. Also, each project is accompanied by a press campaign under the responsibility of the Communication Service. Publications by the Programme Activities Sector are produced in close cooperation with the Communication Sector. Finally, some programme objectives have a direct need for a communication policy, especially objectives 8, 9 and 10 concerning the heritage in danger, promoting the ICOM Code of Professional Ethics, and developing and encouraging electronic communications within ICOM. In these cases, the projects are managed jointly by the two services. Via the activities implemented, the programme contributes to reinforcing and significantly extending the existing network of professionals at ICOM.

The purpose of some projects is to develop the regional networks and here, the participation of the Membership Service is essential. The Information Centre plays a major role in the collection of documentation for the preparation of the projects, while ICOM News is an essential instrument in communicating project information to members. Finally, the Programme Activities Sector is responsible for managing the funds granted by the different funding institutions for specific projects. The Secretariat helps with the accountancy for the ongoing management as well as the production of the annual financial reports.

The essential Contribution of ICOM Members and Bodies

The success of the activities implemented has only been made possible by the significant involvement of the ICOM members concerned and by their institutions. The work of the Programme Activities Sector in the ICOM Secretariat is to pool the proposals made by the professionals at the inception of the projects, set up the contacts between the professionals or committees, and then provide the support enabling the professionals to implement the projects themselves. In this perspective, each project has associated the largest number of professionals and ICOM National and International Committees. Without their significant involvement, the Programme Activities Sector, with its limited human resources, could not have successfully completed all the projects undertaken.

The Programme Activities

The ICOM General Assembly at Melbourne (Australia) in 1998 adopted a Triennial Programme for the period 1998-2001 with 11 main objectives:

  • Objective 1: Identify and respond effectively to the future needs and issues faced by museums and the museum profession.
  • Objective 2: Identify and propose different models of organisation and financing for museums to ensure they are able to continue to fulfil their mission in contemporary society.
  • Objective 3: Review professional practices relating to museums.
  • Objective 4: Re-examine the mission and structure of ICOM in order to strengthen our organisation in supporting the development of museums in the 21st century.
  • Objective 5: Reaffirm the role of ICOM as the International Council of Museums.
  • Objective 6: Support museums as instruments of social and cultural development.
  • Objective 7: Create a programme for the development of the capacity of museums to address cross-cultural issues.
  • Objective 8: Defend the heritage in danger.
  • Objective 9: Promote the ICOM Code of Professional Ethics.
  • Objective 10: Develop and encourage electronic communications within ICOM
  • Objective 11: Regional programmes.

Over the last three years 1998, 1999 and 2000, the Programme Activities Sector has therefore focused on attaining these objectives by implementing specific programme activities within Section III of the Triennial Programme -- Priorities for 1998-2001.

Objectives 1 and 2: Identify and respond effectively to the future needs and issues faced by museums and the museum profession; Identify and propose different models of organisation and financing for museums to ensure they are able to continue to fulfil their mission in contemporary society.

During the last half of April 2000, the recently opened Nubia Museum in Aswan, Egypt, hosted three ICOM activities for the development of museums in the Arab countries, one of which was a Museum Management Training Workshop for young professionals from the region. The objective of this workshop was not only to provide basic management skills for young people beginning their career in the museum world, but also to create a strong nucleus for a network for exchange and collaboration within the region.

All of ICOM's National Committees or resource persons in the region were invited to send participants from their countries; thus, participants from 15 countries within the region benefited from this training. Working closely together and exchanging experiences during the workshop, they created a synergy of conviviality and enthusiasm which sparked proposals for further regional workshops targeting specific aspects of museum management: Education and Exhibitions, Security, Documentation.

ICOM continues to welcome interns in fields related to ICOM's concerns and activities. The result of one such internship was a compilation of available documentation on copyright issues.

Objectives 3 and 7: Review professional practices relating to museums.

The project for the Standardisation of Inventories of African Collections got under way as a result of the alarming observation of the precarious situation of the African heritage. Collections were inventoried in a very haphazard manner which enabled their dispersion and facilitated the frequent theft of objects.

The objectives of the project undertaken with the assistance of ICOM's International Committee for Documentation were to:

  • create inventories of heritage in danger
  • promote exchanges of information
  • create a network of assistance amongst museum professionals
  • build up a database on the African heritage
  • facilitate the circulation of information
  • fight illicit traffic.

The project underwent many phases from 1993 onwards and resulted in the publication, in 1996, of the Handbook of Standards. Documenting African Collections. Tested over three years on the collections of the six pilot museums and continually readapted, these standards have already proven their effectiveness, not only within the individual framework of each museum but also within the wider framework of exchanges. However they will attain their objective only when the majority of the African and Africanist museums have adopted them.

This Programme, an ongoing programme of AFRICOM, will be to develop the terminologies and encourage the use of the standards, through the organisation of regional workshops, with a view to the exchange of information, and with the ultimate aim to protect the heritage across the continent.

During 1998 two standardisation activities were held: a regional workshop, from 27 to 31 July, in Jos, Nigeria, and the annual meeting of the partner museums, in December, in South Africa.

The regional workshop in Jos, Nigeria, was organised jointly by the National Museum of Mali, a co-author of the Handbook of Standards, the Direction of Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, and the ICOM Secretariat, with more that thirty participants from nine West African countries. The choice of Nigeria as host for the workshop was fully justified inasmuch as this country has some thirty museums and the most important collection of African objects of sub-Saharan Africa.

The annual meeting of the partner museums was hosted by the National Cultural History Museum in Pretoria, South Africa. This meeting convened the partners of the project since 1993, together with a number of museums involved in the process of standardising their documentation according to AFRICOM standards.

The Sector also participated in the Asia-Europe Conference on Museums in Stockholm, "Reforming Museums for the 21st Century", September 2000, in order to network with the some 60 persons attending the conference from Asia and Southeast Asia in view of ICOM programme activities being planned for that region.

Objectives 4 and 5: Re-examine the mission and structure of ICOM in order to strengthen our organisation in supporting the development of museums in the 21st century; Reaffirm the role of ICOM as the International Council of Museums.

In the framework of the AFRICOM Programme, the AFRICOM Coordinating Committee designated two of its members to work on networks and new perspectives for museums in Africa. This working group which focuses on the development of science and contemporary art in African museums, organised a meeting in Mauritius, in February 1999, with resource persons and coordinators in these fields. It resulted in new directions for the African museums and project proposals to enrich the discussions of the AFRICOM Constitutional Assembly scheduled for October 1999.

Upon the invitation of the Yugoslav National Committee of ICOM, the Secretary General and the Programme Activities Officer undertook a mission to Belgrade and Novi Sad in January 2000 to meet with the members of the National Committee and to visit museums and heritage institutions in need of contacts and assistance and to discuss the means of providing these.

Together with all the members of the ICOM Secretariat and in the context of the Reform Task Force objectives to re-examine the mission and structure of ICOM, the Programme Activities Sector took stock of its role and functioning in the form of reports and participation in various meetings that were held on this subject during the course of 2000.

Objectives 6, 7 and 9: Support museums as instruments of social and cultural development; Create a programme for the development of the capacity of museums to address cross-cultural issues; Promote the ICOM Code of Professional Ethics.

The educational role of museums in the social and cultural development of a country is of the utmost importance. Thus, within the AFRICOM Programme, the Museum Education Project of Africa (MEPOA) was developed. A first activity under this project was the ICOM/UNESCO Workshop on Outreach Museum Programmes in West and Southern Africa: Current and Future Perspectives, held in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in June 1999. This workshop addressed the issue of outreach museum programmes in Africa. Approximately forty participants from African countries convened for five days to exchange and share ideas with the view to improving outreach museum education programmes in Africa, and to make recommendations regarding possibilities of carrying out these programmes on the continent. Two versions, English and French, of the proceedings from this workshop were prepared and sent to all the participants, the funding institutions, the African ICOM National Committees, and other interested persons. These proceedings will be an important reference document for preparing guidelines aimed at improving outreach museum programmes in Africa.

As a follow-up to the Bulawayo workshop, a second phase of this project was organised in March and May 2001, in order to carry the recommendations and proposals of the Bulawayo workshop further. This activity was carried out in Burkina Faso, in the community of Gaoua. It consisted in working with the women of the community to enable them, through their tradition of pottery making, to serve as a link between the community and the museum, in this case the Musée des Civilisations du Sud-ouest, in Gaoua. The concrete results of this pilot activity -- a didactic brochure used by the women to approach the community, developed by means of a drawing contest; panels for a travelling exhibition developed with the assistance of the members of the community and the personnel of the museum; and a brochure containing guidelines for mounting an exhibition -- composed a "kit" to be used in other similar experiences in West Africa and throughout the entire continent.

Cultural tourism is another factor of social and cultural development. A Workshop on this issue was organised in Trujillo, Peru and La Paz, Bolivia, in May 2000. Yani Herreman, Vice-President of ICOM was the General Coordinator for the workshop, and the Chairpersons of the Peruvian and Bolivian National Committees ensured the local organisation.

The participants in the Workshop drew up a Declaration of Principles that offers guidance and gives a conceptual basis for ethical professional practice. It outlines the required strategies and the aims and objectives that would ensure that cultural heritage, including museum collections, is enjoyed, interpreted and managed in a way that favours its preservation and respect for future generations. The participants based their work essentially on the ICOM Code of Professional Ethics, thus linking this activity to triennial Objective 9, bearing in mind the mission of museums as non-profit making institutions in the service of society and its development.

Cultural tourism is also a cross-cultural issue, and in the wake of the success of the Peru/Bolivia workshop, ways and means are being sought to develop this activity in other regions of the world.

The Proceedings from this Workshop were printed in two editions, English and Spanish, and distributed to all participants of the workshop and all ICOM members in Latin America, as well as government and specialised agencies.

In ICOM's capacity as NGO in formal relation with and advisor to UNESCO, the Programme Activities Sector, as well as other members of the ICOM Secretariat, frequently participate in meetings held by UNESCO on themes of common concern to our two organisations: return and restitution of cultural property, heritage in danger, World Heritage sites, risk preparedness, cultural diversity, cultural tourism, etc. These meetings afford good opportunities for ICOM to create awareness of our aims and objectives and to advocate the ICOM Code of Professional Ethics.

Objective 8: Defend the heritage in danger

In defence of the heritage in danger, a number of actions have been undertaken in the framework of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) which was founded by four non-governmental organisations in 1996: International Council on Archives (ICA), International Council of Museums (ICOM), International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

These four non-governmental organisations within ICBS are joining together with the aim of providing authorities and professionals with expertise and networks in the case of armed conflict or natural disasters that could affect cultural heritage. The four organisations are also working together to organise risk preparedness at an international level and to encourage it at local level. The members of ICBS are the chief executives of each of the four organisations or their nominated substitutes.

Objectives of ICBS:

  • To act in an advisory capacity for the protection of endangered heritage.
  • To facilitate international response to threats or emergencies through co-operation between ICBS and national organisations.
  • To propose its services in terms of expertise in cases arising under the Hague Convention of 1954.
  • To encourage safeguarding and respect for cultural property, and particularly to promote standards of risk preparedness.
  • To train experts at a national or regional level to prevent, control and recover from disasters.
  • To consult and co-operate with other bodies with appropriate expertise or interest including (but not excluding others): UNESCO, ICCROM and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

There is no sense in the action of ICBS unless it is taken up and supported by local initiatives. These alone can significantly improve conditions for protecting and safeguarding cultural heritage. Several countries, for instance, have set up their own Blue Shield National Committee, complying with the criteria that governed the birth of the Blue Shield, and which have been adapted to suit local conditions:

  • to bring together committees or institutions from the four fields of archives, libraries, museums, monuments and sites.
  • to form ties between the Blue Shield National Committees and civilian defence units, the army, the police, the fire brigade, etc. The aim is that these bodies share their respective experiences, and work together to integrate protecting cultural heritage in emergency plans.
  • to raise awareness amongst government bodies or local authorities about protecting cultural heritage and integrating this in emergency measures.
  • to promote ratification and implementation of the Hague Convention.

Blue Shield National Committees have been established or are under way in: Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, United Kingdom and Yugoslavia.

During the past triennium, several actions were undertaken under the banner of the International Committee of the Blue Shield:

With support from UNESCO and the International Institute for Archival Science Maribor, Slovenia, ICBS held its first practical "Seminar for Personnel Intervening following Armed Conflict or other Disasters" at Radenci, Slovenia, from 11 to 17 November 1998. The aim of the meeting was to bring together for the week at least one person from each of the four "Blue Shield" professions from a range of European countries, (although not every country had a full coverage of archives, monuments, museums and libraries) to discuss responsibility for emergency protection and response by different services within the cities. The meeting concluded that the experimental form of the seminar had worked very well, and could form the basis of future training seminars at both the international and national levels.

Following the final meeting of experts in Austria during the early summer of 1998, a two-week formal diplomatic conference for the Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property the Event of Armed Conflict was held in The Hague in March 1999 at the invitation of the Government of the Netherlands. The ICBS was represented by Patrick Boylan at this meeting.

This new Protocol is a great advance in international cultural protection measures. It creates a new category of "Exceptional Protection" for the most important sites, monuments and institutions. It also sets out a range of new explicit crimes in relation to breaches of cultural protection and provides for universal criminal jurisdiction and extradition in relation to the most serious of these. It establishes institutional arrangements in respect of the application of the 1954 Convention, and defines the important standing advisory role of the ICBS and its constituent organisations. The formal recognition of the ICBS in several places in the new Protocol is highly significant.

A special ICBS meeting was held in April 2000 in Strasbourg, France, specifically to define the vision, mission and organisational structure of ICBS.

The vision of the ICBS is that: the Blue Shield will in time become for cultural heritage protection what the Red Cross is for humanitarian protection.

The mission of the ICBS is:

  • to raise awareness of threats to cultural heritage from man made and natural disasters and the need for protection;
  • to improve risk preparedness among all cultural heritage institutions and professions through co-operation;
  • to provide expertise in the event of disaster affecting cultural property throughout the world and co-ordinate international relief;
  • to advise the Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (as set up by the 1999 diplomatic conference at the Hague).

ICBS regular meetings were held on September 1998, January 1999, May 1999, September 1999, December 1999, February 2000, April 2000, June 2000, November 2000, February 2001 and June 2001.

The ICOM Secretariat produced a fourth publication in its series of One Hundred Missing Objects during this period: Looting in Europe. It focuses on religious objects stolen and looted from four countries in Europe: Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary and France, and contains photos and descriptions of the objects in the languages of the countries, plus English. Press campaigns in each of four countries are being organised; the first was held in Prague, Czech Republic, on 30 March 2001, and the second, in Hungary, on 11 May 2001.

ICOM attended the European Preventive Conservation Strategy Meeting which was held in Vantaa, Finland from 20 to 22 September 2000, with some eighty participants from twenty-four European countries. The objective of the project was to produce a strategy document on preventive conservation for Europe which will enable concerted international planning and actions for preventive conservation in Europe. At the national level, it will assist ministries of culture, museums and conservation services to justify, plan and implement services in support of preventive conservation. The final document "Towards a European Preventive Conservation Strategy" which has been translated in all the languages of the European countries attending the meeting, can be consulted on ICCROM's web page (

Activities concerning museums, training opportunities (such as the creation of new training courses, schools, PhD opportunities, etc), public involvement and access to information will be developed by the partners of the project at national and European levels in order to implement the preventive conservation strategy. The ICOM secretariat, ICOM-CC, especially the working group on preventive conservation, and national ICOM committees could play an important role in supporting these activities.

ICOM also collaborated in the organisation of the International Congress held in Draguignan, France in November 2000 on disaster prevention in cultural heritage storage areas. One of the most interesting aspects of this meeting was that it was open to a wide variety of specialists in the area of disaster prevention such as: fireman, conservator-restorers, curators, archivists, librarians, architects, private companies, computer and software companies, preventive conservation specialists, insurance companies… The programme included examples of emergency planning for heritage institutions, presentation of prevention and/or recovery activities in the case of earthquakes, hurricanes and strong winds, fire, floods and acts of war. One part of the congress was dedicated to the importance of setting up National Blue Shield Committees and to the fundamental role that they could play in preventing disasters and co-ordinating activities in case of disaster within a country.

In April 2001, in Hanoi, Vietnam, ICOM, in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Information of Vietnam, organised an important activity for the Asian region: a workshop on the protection of cultural property in south-east Asia, thus extending to Asia this focus on which ICOM had already held workshops in Tanzania, for Southern Africa; in Mali, for North and West Africa; in Zaire, for Central Africa;, in The Netherlands, for the African cultural heritage at continental level, in Ecuador for Latin America, and in Tunisia, for the Arabic-speaking countries. These workshops led to concrete actions at the national and regional levels, such as the strengthening of national legislation with which to constantly improve the status of museum personnel and give greater force to the decrees in vigour for heritage protection, establishing greater regional co-operation, strengthening security in the museums and developing education policies and public awareness on a wide scale and for different sectors of the public.

Thus the workshop convened heritage professionals and police and customs officials from the entire Southeast Asian region to present the situations of their countries, exchange information and draw up a long-term forward plan for the region. The overall aim of the workshop was to establish a new approach to the problems by increasing regional co-operation and developing new strategies to sensitise decision makers, police and customs, local populations and the general public world-wide.

Updated: 17 June 2005