Saturday, December 19, 2009

Good News and Bad News or хороші і погані новини

Last week I gave a talk at a local library about my time as a Fulbright Scholar in Ukraine.  This meant I spent an afternoon wandering back through all my images and thinking about Ukraine's--and my--past, present and future.   Almost every day, I read two different Ukrainian websites and they present me with two different perspectives on life there--and the work of museums.   (For new readers--my interest in Ukraine comes from my four months there in spring 2009 as a Fulbright Scholar--blog posts from January-April give an picture of my time there).

The Kyiv Post is Ukraine's English language daily--and is filled with a regular and extensive diet of depressing news.  On just one day,  for instance, January's upcoming Presidential election fraud worries, journalists are still arrested and harasssed for their work,  and the eternal news about property development in Kyiv (the latest, a hotel near Pechersk Lavra, a monastery and national treasure, founded in 1015).   Bad news, all the way around.

But I also read the Ukrainian Museum Portal, which is updated daily with news from Ukrainian museums--and I still hear fairly regularly from my Ukrainian museum colleagues.   The portal is only in Ukrainian, so I use Google Translate to get the gist of the brief articles.  The financial situation is dire in Ukraine, so I know museums there are struggling--but--I see exciting evidence of change.  A few examples (hopefully the translations are relatively accurate):
  • The Ivan Honchar Museum is establishing a sort of friends group, to relax and chat about different aspects of Ukrainian folk culture with friends and associates, in honor of the museum's 50th anniversary.
  • The Museum of Volyn now has a virtual tour online and Svetlana Pougach does a great job of keeping the Bulgakov Museum's blog and website current, with beautiful photographs of events and programs.

  • The Bleschunova Museum of Personal Collections in Odessa sponsored a workshop, "Creating a Museum Together"  for teachers and students.   The Chernihiv Historical Museum had a seminar focused on working with the visitor, which attracted more than 60 participants.   I believe both these workshops were developed by MATRA participants.
  • Near Lviv,  citizens are preparing a nomination of four wooden churches as World Heritage Sites.
  • The enthusiastic education staff at the Kharkiv Literary Museum and the National Museum of Art continue to develop new programs for children.   At the National Art Museum there is a special program for children during the holidays focused on graphic arts.  A special exhibit and  classes take a lively approach to art that's found everywhere--from billboards to banknotes.
Why the change?   Several reasons.

First, Sustained professional development.
the Dutch government, through MATRA, invested significant time and resources in a 3 year training program for museum professionals.  Through workshops, mentoring, travel to the Netherlands, and perhaps most importantly, a train the trainer program, Ukrainian museum colleagues gained knowledge, connections and a sense of the possible.    This long-term training, rather than short-term visits from Western countries,  has a far greater chance of success.

Exposure to new ideas and inspirations.
Whether it's a trip to the Netherlands or connections with colleagues on the web--there are many chances to see new ideas and approaches.   My Ukrainian colleagues who visited the US this fall came back with many ideas--"just wait til you see our museum!"  one wrote after her return.

But most importantly,  it's museum workers themselves that are the agents of change.   
As I wrote in an earlier post about community museums in America--you don't get there by hoping.   With limited financial resources, and often working within a system that doesn't reward or encourage initiative,  museum professionals all over Ukraine are beginning to make a real difference.    I'm very pleased to have the opportunity, through a renewal as a Fulbright Scholar, to return to Ukraine for another four months, beginning in March, 2010 and continue to learn, share and work with museums there.  So Ukrainian museum colleagues--please continue to keep me posted on how we can work together!

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