Thursday, November 18, 2010

Would Young People March to Save Your Historic Site? A Story from Western Ukraine

Who cares about your historic site?  Would young people come to a march to save it?  Although change in Ukrainian museums sometimes seems slow, I'm continually impressed by the passionate commitment of some young Ukrainians.  When I was in Ukraine, I spent some time working with the State Historical and Cultural Preserve of Tustan, an mountaintop archaeological fortess site in the Carpathians, in western Ukraine.

Today, I read on a Ukrainian museum news website (via Google Translate) about new protests about the illegal development of the site.  In brief, the site is a protected preserve but this past summer a local businessman, with permission from the village council,  began to build on the property.  Appeals to the prosecutor general halted the construction, but just recently, it has begun again, altering the course of the river on the preserve.

Rather than wait for someone else to take action, a group of young people, led by the site's director, Vasyl Rozkho, organized a protest in the center of L'viv.  A flash mob,  photographs documenting the construction,  costumed re-enactors, artists, artisans and others joined together to march and present a letter of protest to the city administration.

There are two take-aways for me as I read this article.  First, it draws attention to the important, and sometimes threatened, growth of civil society in Ukraine.  Vasyl and others are using the full array of tools--public assembly, official protest to officials, the media, the internet--to get their message out and fight corruption as they see it.

But equally important is what this says for historic sites everywhere.  It feels like almost every day I have a conversation about a historical society or historic site where "no one cares" and "we can't get any young people involved."  I'm not quite sure of the reasons that young people care about this particular site--but I'll speculate a bit.

First, the site represents a period in Ukrainian history that many are proud of and that was suppressed during the Soviet era.   Second,  this is a site that had a tradition of involving young people.  Vasyl's father conducted the archaeological expeditions, bringing students into the mountains to work so the involvement of young people has been an important part of the site for decades--and that involvement of young people continues today.   Third, a September festival (as shown in photos in this post) attracts thousands of visitors and offers a highly participatory experience at odds with many Ukrainian museums.  This means a large number of people know and care about the site.  For whatever reason, perhaps the very small staff, the organization is not a hide-bound bureaucracy.  Vasyl also came to the job with training as an architect, rather than as a historian or scientist, so perhaps his perspective is different.

But as I read this article, I thought back to several days spent with Vasyl and others this past spring--and the thing that makes a difference here--passion.  This is not just a job,  but a passionate commitment to sharing a part of a Ukrainian past.   So think about your museum or historic site?  Would young people in your community come out to save it?  And if the answer is less than a resounding yes, perhaps its time to consider what you could do to make that difference.

2 comments:

MELISSA MANNON said...

absolutely fabulous Linda!I think you've given us a useful way to evaluate our institutions...and I especially love the image of a cultural flash mob. I think there is something that can be done with that to promote our institutions since it seems to be a truly "in" thing at the moment. I wonder if anyone in the States has explored flash mobs for museums, archives and libraries. Would it raise awareness and make any impact toward helping our institutions avoid the cuts many have been experiencing.

Justine Roberts said...

melissa - yes! just this past april the Opera Company of Phil held a flash mob event at Reading Terminal Market - a big multi-vendor public food hall downtown. Its very cool although I don't know whether they have any data to measure how "successful" it was.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zmwRitYO3w