Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Productive Exchange of Experiences, Upstate Edition

What would you want museum colleagues from another country to understand about your museum? What would you want to know about museums in another place?

The past year has been full of amazing opportunities for me to contemplate these questions and this week provided another chance. Ten Ukrainian museum professionals were in the Albany area as part of the US State Department's International Visitors program (and organized by Bonnie Beard of the International Center of the Capital Region). I had the chance to spend a day with them, visiting the Albany Institute of History and Art and Olana, the home of artist Frederic Church. My Ukrainian colleagues, many of whom I had met while in Ukraine, had a host of questions. Just a few:
  • How long is the exhibit development process? Who is involved in it?
  • Are your employees unionized?
  • What is your membership program like?
  • What do people volunteer and how do you provide oversight of volunteers?
  • How are decisions made about furnishing Olana?
  • How does Olana cope with the potential of "overuse" of the site?
  • Does your museum charge for loans?
  • How do you make sure your Quadracentennial exhibit is different than other museums?
  • What partnerships do you develop and how?
  • What kinds of educational materials are developed--and who is responsible for developing them?
  • How is, or is not, the local government involved in your work?

The group had already visited Washington and Williamsburg, and will head on to South Dakota, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Chicago as part of their three-week whirlwind tour--but I suspect, based on our conversations, two things in particular will remain memorable for them about this particular day. First, the idea of visible storage at the Institute--although visitors can't visit storage, a large window in a gallery space provides an open view. As one person said, "nothing is secret." And the second is Olana itself on the most beautiful of autumn days. Several people remarked to me that it was both a beautiful and a meditative space, a very special place to think about beauty and the landscape.

And I suspect the biggest take-away will be what one participant already mentioned: that United States museums are all different--that there is no one-size-fits-all model for how we do our work here. There are meditative places, there are noisy, crazy, try anything places; places for art, history and science; big places, small places; innovative places, traditional places. I can't wait to hear more about the rest of their trip!

Top: The view from Olana
Bottom: Vasyl Rozhko, Director, Tustan State Preserve, Lviv; Mykola Skyba,
Head, Department of Museums Analysis and Prognosis, Ministry of Culture and Sports, Kyiv; and Tania Poshyvailo, Deputy Director for Science and Education, Ivan Honchar Museum, Kyiv, at the Albany Institute.

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