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E-newsletter January 2014
Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM), Marseille, France
(MuCEM J4_passerelle_FSJ_éclairage Yann Kersalé © Lisa Ricciotti - Rudy Ricciotti – Roland Carta)

ICOM reviews key events of 2013 in the museum world

The year 2013 was marked by numerous international events, museum openings, new projects, and exciting technological developments. It was a successful year for many museums, with visitor numbers surpassing expectations in various areas around the world, but it was also a time of budget cuts and financial difficulty for many museums, and one of instability for cultural heritage in regions of conflict. ICOM has chosen to dedicate this month’s e-newsletter to an overview of some of the years’ most notable developments.

New beginnings

In 2013 many new museums and institutions around the world opened their doors to the public, while others unveiled newly renovated spaces after years of restoration. In March, the Museo de Arte do Río was inaugurated on the 448th anniversary of its hometown, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. On 24 April the Mark Rothko Art Centre opened its doors in Daugavpils, Latvia and on 7 June, the Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM) opened in Marseille, France, offering a permanent collection dedicated to Mediterranean civilisations throughout history and to the present day. The Museum of African Design (MOAD), the first museum in Africa dedicated exclusively to design, was inaugurated on 24 October in Johannesburg, South Africa and Museo Jumex unveiled its contemporary art collection in Mexico City, Mexico on 17 November.

 

The ICOM International Training Centre (ICOM-ITC) in Beijing, China was inaugurated in July 2013, giving its first workshop from 4 to 12 November. A training centre for museum professionals, ICOM-ITC draws support from ICOM’s professional network to offer quality training programmes for ICOM members from around the world, particularly those from emerging countries.

 

 

While these new institutions were just starting out, several established museums were re-opening their doors after years of restoration. Closed for renovation for 10 years, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, re-opened on 13 April with a lavish celebration that included fireworks and music. The museum welcomed its two millionth visitor of 2013 on 3 December. Nanjing Museum, one of the largest and oldest museums in China, re-opened its doors after four years of renovation and expansion, on 6 November, its 80th anniversary.

Photos: ©Daugavpils Mark Rothko Art Centre ©Pedro Pegenaute. Image courtesy of Rijksmuseum

Collaboration for the greater good

The year also saw new partnerships, with the creation of the Global Cultural Districts Network, a collaboration between the New Cities Foundation, the Dallas Arts District and AEA Consulting, which was announced during the New Cities Summit in São Paulo, Brazil in June. The network will be the first of its kind, with a mission to foster co-operation and knowledge-sharing between those responsible for conceiving, funding, building and operating cultural districts around the world.

The Social Justice Alliance of Museums (SJAM) was also launched in 2013, during the Museums Association Conference and Exhibition in Liverpool, UK in November. SJAM aims to recruit museums, related organisations and individuals to collaborate in the pursuit of social justice.

Innovation in the museum community

2013 marked the launch of many new projects, programmes and technologies in the museum world. The Cleveland Museum of Art’s new interactive gallery is a notable example, displaying images of over 3,500 objects from the museum’s permanent collection and featuring the largest multi-touch screen in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum) in Turin, Italy pioneered the use of a special Google Glass application that permits deaf visitors to access the complete museum experience through a wearable device that translates information into sign language. Finally, the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa (Xalapa Museum of Anthropology) completed a project to digitise 70% of the 20,000 pre-hispanic objects it houses, becoming a forerunner for anthropological museums in Mexico.

Excellence in the field

Each year numerous awards are given to museums that demonstrate excellence in their field, and 2013 was no exception. A selection of these award-winning projects were presented at The Best in Heritage, an annual event that brings together representatives of heritage and museum organisations from all over the world to share their innovative work. The 2013 event took place in Dubrovnik, Croatia from 17-21 September and featured 24 projects from 19 countries across five continents. More information about these outstanding projects is available in the 2013 Conference Publication.

The Riverside Museum in Glasgow, Scotland, one of the presenters at The Best in Heritage, was also the winner of the 2013 European Museum of the Year award (EMYA). This award was presented at the Annual Assembly of the European Museum Forum, which was held in Tongeren, Belgium in May.

International cultural events

The first ever World Culture Forum was held in Bali, Indonesia in November 2013. Convened by the Indonesian President, Dr H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, on the theme The power of culture in sustainable development, the forum brought together delegates from around the world, including ICOM President Prof. Dr Hans-Martin Hinz. It provided a platform for strategic discussion about ways to ensure that culture is recognised as a key element of development.

 

It was also the year of ICOM’s 23rd triennial General Conference, which was held in Rio de Janeiro from 10 to 17 August and drew colleagues from all over the world to exchange ideas on the theme Museums (memory + creativity) = social change. This was also the theme for International Museum Day in 2013, which was the most successful year so far, garnering the participation of more than 30,000 museums in 120 countries.

The traveling exhibition Imagining the Balkans: Identities and Memory in the long 19th century was another noteworthy event, which focused on the constitution and evolution of modern nations in South-East Europe. This project, which was coordinated by UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, with the cooperation of ICOM and the ICOM International Committee for Exhibitions and Exchange (ICEE), aimed to enhance cooperation and dialogue among national history museums in the region.

Financial struggles challenge museums

While it was a year of museum openings, high visitor numbers and innovative projects, 2013 was also a time of great financial difficulty for many museums. Due to the financial crisis, many governments made spending cuts, especially in the cultural sector, and finding alternative financing was difficult. A highly publicised case is that of the Detroit Institute of Arts, whose collections were in danger of being de-accessioned in order to help pull the city of Detroit out of bankruptcy. Many other museums also had to survive on tight budgets and some, like the GeldMuseum in Utrecht, the Netherlands, were forced to close their doors for good.

In an effort to encourage European governments to support and protect museums and cultural institutions from this threat, ICOM’s National Committees in Europe released the Lisbon Declaration to Support Culture and Museums to Face the Global Crisis and Build the Future. Explaining the importance of this Declaration, ICOM President Hans-Martin Hinz said, “As the global economic crisis continues to affect museums around the world, ICOM needs to help strengthen the role and impact of museums in the face of unstable financial, political and social contexts.”

Heritage in danger

Another major issue in the museum world last year was that of cultural heritage in danger in areas of conflict. In the cases of both Syria and Mali, political instability led to mass destruction, looting and trafficking of cultural goods, endangering the rich heritage of these countries. Meanwhile, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on 8 November, resulting in casualties of over 6,000 people and ravaging infrastructure and cultural heritage.

New ethical standards and tools

In an effort to protect vulnerable cultural heritage in Syria, on 25 September ICOM published the Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk, a list that illustrates the categories and types of cultural items that are most likely to be traded illegally, helping law enforcement officials and heritage professionals to identify and protect these objects. An Emergency Red List focusing on West Africa with a special section on Mali is currently in progress.

The ICOM Code of Ethics for Natural History Museums was also published in 2013, ratified by the ICOM General Assembly on 17 August. This document, developed by ICOM’s International Committee for Museums and Collections of Natural History (NATHIST) defines ethical standards on issues specific to Natural History Museums, providing standards of professional practice that can serve as a normative basis for museum institutions.

The year 2013 was far too eventful to mention all of the inspiring and challenging developments in the museum world, but in this January special of our e-newsletter we have listed some of the memorable ones. With the passing of the New Year, ICOM wishes all of you a happy and healthy 2014 and looks forward to a dynamic and fruitful new year.

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