Thursday, September 10, 2015

What Can Museums Learn from Europe's Soccer Teams?

I say refugee, I say migrant, I say neighbor, I say friend, because everyone is deserving of dignity. Because moving for economic benefit is itself a matter of life and death. Because money is the universal language, and to be deprived of it is to be deprived of a voice while everyone else is shouting. Sometimes the gun aimed at your head is grinding poverty, or endless shabby struggle, or soul crushing tedium.
                                                                             Teju Cole in Migrants Welcome
Just about a year ago, at the Museums and Politics conference in Russia, I did a presentation called, "Do Museums Need Disaster Plans for People?"  In it, I talked about our responsibility to people in times of disasters both natural and man-made, disasters both immediate and long-term, and shared some amazing examples from museums around the world.

Over the last several weeks, as stories of migrants to Europe have been increasingly covered by the news, I've tried again to puzzle out what we might do.  I'm aware that the issue of migrants, however defined, is an issue everywhere in the world:  here in the United States, in Ukraine, where more than a million people have been displaced by the war in the east, and in so many other places.  Teju Cole, in his moving essay, reminded us of both our humanity and our history:
And more than “refugee” or “migrant,” I say “people,” and say it with compassion because everyone I love, and everyone they love has at some point said tearful goodbyes and moved from place to place to seek new opportunities, and almost all of them have by their movement improved those new places. ..Did all sixteen of your great great grandparents live, work, and die in the same town where you now live? If no, then you’re a child of migrants.
Museums can open their doors, they can provide free concerts, they can do all kinds of things to begin.  But more and more, I'm thinking about our role in the long-term--that in some ways our strengths--of being able to think about the long-term--can be a strength in working as a part of communities to find solutions to connect all of us more deeply.

But how will we do that?  Over the weekend I had saved the picture at the top of the post (from @JamesMelville on Twitter) because it interested me (for another take on soccer fans, see this long ago post from Donetsk about Shaktar's superfans).  This morning, I came across this article about how soccer fans--and now soccer clubs all over Europe--are taking a lead in both raising funds and making migrants welcome.  Here's a bit of what fans of the St. Pauli club, a working class club have been doing according to a spokesman in this New York Times article (be sure to read the full piece)
“We think we can provide more than just football,” PrĂ¼ss said. “Not just about 90 minutes. We have a responsibility for the people around the club.”  Few take that responsibility more seriously than St. Pauli’s fans. Since 2004, the Ultras St. Pauli group has been visiting refugee camps around Hamburg, bringing clothes, food and lawyers to help the migrants navigate Germany’s complex asylum applications.
[After a game] After the final whistle, players from both teams walked to the four sides of the stadium, with St. Pauli carrying a banner that said, “Welcome,” and the Dortmund players displaying another that said, “Refugees.”
I think there's a critical piece in the way that European soccer clubs understand issues of migration that we're missing in museums. A spokesman for the Roma club says,
“No European club is city — or country — specific,” he said. “Look, we have Mohamed Salah from Egypt, Dzeko from Bosnia” — a reference to striker Edin Dzeko — “Gervinho from Africa. A lot of players are directly related to where refugees are coming from or going to.”
That diversity of staff, if you want to think about professional soccer players as staff,  helps to make these issues a matter of importance.  When museum staff and leadership lack diverse voices, it's easy to characterize refugees as "the other" and not do anything despite our common humanity. When we diversify our staff, our audiences, our everything, we begin change.  By opening the door, we might get the same response that came from a Syrian St. Pauli fan, “We can help build a society here,” he said. “This is the only society that gave us a chance to be part of it.”

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