Thursday, June 19, 2014

An Abundant Spirit: Ukrainian Views on AAM's Conference

Before the annual AAM conference, I wrote about the chances you'd have to hear from my Ukrainian colleagues, Ihor Poshyvailo, Eugene Chervony and Tania Kochubinska about their work--and current issues in Ukraine. We had an amazing time in Seattle and I thought Uncataloged readers might be interested in hear their perspectives on the conference and what it meant to each of them.

From Eugene:

The most inspiring thing about the conference was the sharing of different ideas and what museums are doing in own organizations. Understanding of this big museum family every part of whom are doing great things in different parts of the world. At the same time I am understanding how much people did not come who have to share with others. 

One surprising thing was the similarity of problems in Ukrainian and US museums. We have very different circumstances in museum field, but problems are common for both environments - human resources, capacity building, decreasing of exhibit costs. Based on it we are sharing ideas with each other to increase our perception of solutions for the problems. Communication and linkage between professionals are very important and it has been proven again. Another surprising thing is that our ideas from unknown country could be very successful in other countries who have very developed and stable museum environments.
The size of the conference and development of museum industry is very memorable and it is hard to imagine such things in my country. A lot of great museum professionals are coming to present to the annual meeting and it is really great to understand that around you people and authors of books, that are standing on your shelf!
From Tania:
If to think about the conference generally, first of all, it is about communication and ideas exchange. What is great about any conference, it is about meeting professionals of your field from different contexts. If to talk about Seattle, it was all extremely welcoming, and it was really stimulating to be a presenter (with a great thanks to Linda Norris), for the 1st time in my life, and to share experience, and being heard and discussed. What I was really surprised about was that at the AAM conference that (despite the keynote speakers that of course which gathered major audiences) all the sessions were attended equally. You could see the equal amount of people coming to quite different sessions, whether the speakers presented leading museums or were from museums of a local value. It seemed to me that people were more interested in what is unknown rather than known and familiar. The audience seemed not to have preconceived expectations.

But at the same time, strange feeling of dischronation has always accompanied me because of coming from a quite different context into a safe society with different problems and different social reality. Getting into a new context makes you always rethink your own values, and this time, particularly.
And from Ihor:
It was my first experience of participation in the AAM Annual Meeting and Museum Expo. I was deeply impressed by the concentration of creative thinking and challenging opportunities for the museum world at that Innovation Edge in Seattle. I have never felt such a positive energy lavishly generated by a museum family of over 5000 participants from 50 countries at almost two hundred sessions in the spacious and hi-tech Washington State Convention Center.

It was so exciting to listen and even to talk to iconic persons of American museum field. Great to hear keynote speech of David Fleming on museums and social justice, and his referring to Ukrainian museums which try to be socially inclusive and go beyond traditional thinking.

But no less exciting was participating in a series of presentations and discussions in a frame of the International Track sessions focused on global aspects and cultural perspectives. And such an honor for the Ukrainian museum delegation to share its challenges, approaches, hopes, lessons and preliminary results on the road to change. This happened due to our American colleagues namely Linda Norris and Tricia Edwards with whom we hold a fantastic discussion on how constraints make us more creative, getting so many inspiring ideas from the audience. It was also a fantastic pop-up session on challenges and threats for the museum sector in Ukraine, presentation of the Dynamic Museum project at the "Lessons from the International Community”, meeting with the American Committee of ICOM. It was so nice to see familiar and friendly faces of our American colleagues who have invested so many time and efforts in building bridges between our museum communities.

Intensive days of the innovative gathering in Seattle have overwhelmed me with new feelings, inspired with new ideas and empowered with new tools for making change back home. It was a good start for a smaller but no less important museum initiative – “Visitors Voices” project which will be bringing the best American practices in transforming museums into places where diverse viewpoints and independent perspectives can be freely shared.
All of us give great shout-outs and thank yous to Tricia Edwards, our co-presenter and co-organizer of the entire effort (and photographer of our post-session relaxing at the head of the post); Dean Phelus of AAM, who helped make so many things possible; the United States Embassy in Ukraine and the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation,  who provided financial support; and ICOM-US, who provided a platform for additional presentations. From my own perspective, I'll long remember the ICOM-US lunch, where Ihor, Tania and Eugene, stepped forward to talk movingly and spontaneously,  about the power of art, the meaning of museums, and the ways in which we all need to work together.  And of course, thanks to all of you who introduced yourselves, asked a question, had a drink with us, or in any and every way made our Ukrainian colleagues feel a welcomed part of the larger museum community.

I could see, around the web, from photos and comments, that Eugene's innovative leaves (below) created from constraints were memorable for many others at our session. They symbolize a kind of creativity and abundant spirit and generosity that I hope always to see in our work.  

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