Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lovely Signs of Change

I've been lucky enough to make 3 visits to Ukraine starting in January 2009.  As a result, I have the chance to see changes happening in Ukrainian museums. Change is slow--the financial crisis has been extremely challenging for Ukraine as a whole--but the crisis has also brought some opportunities.  Some observations from my most recent visit last week.
The Bulgakov Museum continues to be one of my favorite places in Kyiv.  I attended a fall celebration and fundraising event last week framed around the idea of the much-loved grape vines that frame the house's veranda.  What's new there?  First, the idea of a fundraising event!   The event attracted far more participants than the staff had anticipated and the audience was a great mix of all ages of people.  You could also purchase mission-related souvenirs, so I now have my very own Bulgakov Museum magnets.  Each of these efforts raised important funds for special projects.
At Saint Sophia's Cathedral, a World Heritage Site, an art installation featured well-designed and produced graphic labels, in both English and Ukrainian, introducing the artist and explaining her approach to the project.
And at the Metropolitan's House at St. Sophia's, each room had a text label in English and Ukrainian and an audio installation as well.   The information was fairly straightforward, but included music and provided a way to understand more about the furnishings and the house.
I know there are more developments at other museums that I didn't have a chance to see--and would love to hear about them from Ukrainian colleagues.  But I think the most important thing about all these developments is that they allow a visitor to control his or her own experience.  All are distinctive moves away from the one-way delivery of controlled information that was the only practice in Soviet-era museums.   Equally important is the fact that at both these institutions, the director and staff are not bemoaning a lack of funds, but are stepping forward to raise funds, to work with foundations, and to become more meaningful institutions.  Now that's a lesson for all museums no matter where we are.

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