Saturday, April 10, 2010

Great Changes in Small Steps

"Great changes in small steps"--that's how Katerina Chuyeva, one of the members of the newly formed ICOM-Ukraine Section on Professionalism of Museum Personnel described their work.  The committee consists primarily of Ukrainian museum staff who participated in an extensive Dutch/Ukrainian program, MATRA which was designed to introduce Ukrainian museum professionals to current museum issues and included a train the trainers program.  Katerina (right) and Anna Peredhodko (left) are working with me to design a two day workshop here in Kyiv looking at cultual tourism and museum collaborations.  Tourism is high on everyone's agenda because of the upcoming Euro 2012 soccer championship to be held in various locations throughout Ukraine and Poland, including Kyiv.  Collaboration is a topic of importance--because collaborations are rare here and resources are scarce.

Planning a workshop here includes many of the same elements as planning a workshop at home, but some additional twists.  The same--thinking about audience,  using a variety of presentation methods (although most people here expect the delivery of a paper, rather than more interactive sessions),  planning the logistical details (when, where, when are breaks needed, etc).   But there are some additional elements unique to a post-Soviet way of doing business.   Here's a few:
  • Who should attend?  Job titles in many museums are still Soviet style and I'm still trying to figure them all out.  As I understand it,   there are "scientists,"  who function primarily as researchers about their own particular interests and curate exhibits; there are people in charge of "social programs" --programs for the people, however that's defined;  and there are keepers of the fonds (collections) along with gallery attendants, security guards, maintenance people and others.   But at other museums, the roles and titles have changed.  Larger museums like the National Gallery of Art now have education staff and a development department.  So identifying exactly who might engage in this workshop is sometimes a bit complicated.
  • Who wants to learn?   The idea of professional development and life-long professional or avocational learning is fairly new here, so many view attendance at a workshop as a day away from work, not a day to learn something new.   The three of us agreed that our interest is not in providing that day away from the office, so we've decided to target participants and issue some direct invitations.
  • Who's a decision-maker?  This is still a very open question for me but gets at the heart of creating change.  It's possible that, here in Ukraine, as in the states, smaller organizations are more able to create substantive change.  They're more nimble.  Not surprisingly,  many directors in Ukraine were trained under the Soviet system and every time I think about what it must have been like to wake up one day and find your world changed,  it's amazing that anything happens.   So who do we invite--decision makers perhaps not as interested in change?  or young professionals interested in change but with less opportunity to change their organization?  or a mix of the two?   (And, I should say, in several institutions I have met directors who are exceptionally committed to the change and growth of their organization)
  • Who will pay for it?  Museums, even large museums, don't have funds for professional development.  There are not specific grants available for an organization like ICOM-Ukraine to apply for to support professional development, there are no staff at the very few service organizations (although regional museum associations do exist).  So every expense--postage, coffee, copies,  has to be found somewhere.   This is a country where average salaries are very low. Of course, museum workers are paid at the low end of any pay scale and the global economic crisis has hit Ukraine very hard.  
But, and this is a huge but--all those obstacles are surmountable with the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of my colleagues here.   Will our workshop immediately result in great collaborations and fabulous cultural tourism in Kyiv?  No,  but I never expect that large a result in any workshop--but I do hope that the three of us, working together to plan and present, can inspire--and provide some concrete tools--for our colleagues to take some of those small steps to great changes.