In Tirana, Albania, from April 8th to 10th, regional conference Meet See Do 2 was held, organized by the Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB) and Balkan Museum Network (BMN). This conference was realized in the partnership with one of the BMN members, Historical Museum of Albania (Museu Historik Kombetar) from Tirana. 60 museum professionals from the region have participated at the conference. This annual conference of the Balkan Museum Network was held for the second time: the first Meet See Do was organized in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in April 2013.
Besides the basic goal of this conference linked to further professionalization and strengthening of individual and institutional capacities of museums and fostering the development of museum professionals and their practice, main goal of this conference was to enable meeting place for museum professionals of the Balkan region and to inspire them to work jointly. Main topics of the conference are connected with basic idea of a museum that is for everyone and new tendencies and practices routed in needs of community, and discussions around chosen topics and practical solutions offer simple and applicable knowledge and answers on thoughts about problems in museum world. Meet, See Do is also there to enable international partnership of museums, to help museums to shape and prepare their project ideas, but also to encourage museums to be more active in their community and to search partners there. Main topics of the conference are chosen based on the needs and problems recognized and marked as crucial by museums professionals, and exactly this bottom-up approach, starting with the most basic participant in the process, makes these conferences special and relevant for the Balkans. Conference is directed towards individuals, to enrich individual knowledge, which can move and change institutions. Or, how the slogan of Meet, See, Do 2 said, to be the change they want to see.
This year main topics of the Meet, See, Do conference were Museums and Social Justice, Negotiating the Past/Storytelling, Dissonant heritage, and Inclusion and accessibility of museum to disabled persons. Keynote sessions were followed by workshops, organized in parallel sessions, with participation according to the interest of participants.
First introductory lecture, that gave tone to this year gathering, was “Museum and Social Justice”, by David Fleming, director of National Museums of Liverpool. Passionate advocate of museums for social justice, where museum collections are used to explore important questions of human rights, discrimination, differences, multicultural community, has presented basic values of this idea and different methods museums can contribute to access, participation, intercultural dialogue, education and welfare in general.
Traditional understanding where museums are in objects they are collecting, is opposed with understanding that museums are that, but also much more: museum can change the world, museum changes lives. Beginning presents attitude where everyone has right to participate in the work of museum, and active participation of visitors in museum activities – where visitors are both creating and consuming knowledge – changes museum to better. Fleming reminded us that no museum in the world is neutral, and that working museum is actively included in contemporary discussions/problems of its community and helps debating, as true democratic space, that has social justice in the core if its activities. Idea of social justice is, although more and more accepted, what is visible also with Social Justice Alliance for Museums (www.sjam.org), where Fleming is one of the founders, is still denied, and many museums keep acting in a way those collections they keep and ideas they provoke are for the benefit of all. This change will not happen unless there is true leadership, unless museum does not have inspiring mission, and not just to-do list, and also values that are clear to every museum worker. New organizational structures do not solve museum problems, said Fleming, but new attitudes, approaches, believes and actions, and organizational framework of thinking that accepts principle where meeting needs and expecting public is a key mission of the museums. Museums are for all, and not just for educated minorities, and that is a key of social justice.
Pre-condition of museum for all is different understanding of heritage and interpretation. This topic was started with introduction lecture of Darko Babic“Heritage literacy of the Pooh or on interpretation, eco-museums and sustainability“, lecturer in the Department for Museology and heritage management at the University of Zagreb. Essential question for him was how we understand heritage, or if museum objects are necessarily heritage, and why specific groups and with what goal recognize something as heritage. Heritage becomes heritage if it is official, through legalization, as a cultural capital and thanks to (dominant) ideology. As always, heritage is constructed and deconstructed; heritage is always commodity. Collected objects in museums and remembered practices are not heritage, but only constitutive element that, through its use, has a potential to become heritage. Babic states that, if we start thinking about complex term of heritage in a different way, idea of museum can change, as an example of eco-museum demonstrates. These museums, different from traditional ones, show dynamic way in which community uses heritage for sustainable development and self-interpretation, i.e. participatory interpretation. His special attention Babic dedicated to heritage literacy, understanding of heritage in a way it gets additional values, considering it as a part of basic human rights. Professionals in heritage protection and museum professionals, not only they are responsible for re-thinking of our heritage and its re-creation, but also as mediators they need to enable relevant and connected experience to visitors, for them to understand that information is not interpretation (interpretation is revelation and it includes information), and that information is not direction, but provocation (challenge).
Controversial and difficult topics, especially in the Balkans, first include interpretation of recent past and negotiating the past. On new narratives in The Second World War talked Vjeran Pavlakovic, from the Department of Cultural Studies, University of Rijeka, in his lecture “Between Contested Narratives and Institutionalized Remembrance: War and Memory Politics in the former Yugoslavia since 1990”. After presenting in general contested narratives and new narratives created after the collapse of Yugoslavia, he raised the question of role and attitude of museums regarding collective memory and collective remembrance. The way we interpret heritage leads into disagreement and conflict (dissonance is routed in heritage), and in time of changes different meanings become visible and contested. Constructing of memorial spaces, using of monuments, anniversaries, names, historical and commemorative events, is a part of politics of identity. In the Former Yugoslavia, history was written around People’s liberation struggle, and this Yugoslav memory fell apart to the national memories, fragmented and newly constructed narratives. Conflicted narratives of the Second World War most often talk about resistance and collaboration (whose side you were at?), with many taboos, or narratives on the Second World War are completely excluded from the public space and museums. There are two possible basic approaches in presentation: “from up to down” (official explanation) or participation and museum open for dialogue.
Workshops that have treated topic of interpretation of the past and revalorization in more detailed way were “Virtual museums and contemporary practices of marking sites of memory in public spaces” by Tamara Banjeglav, that spoke about virtual museum Dotrscine, “Culture and the City” by Nora Prekazi and Lulzim Hoti, on challenges and experiences of work in divided city, “Dissonant Heritage and Governance” by Visnja Kisic, workshop on heritage that different groups interpret in a different ways and on overcoming these dissonances, while on the way how to engage youth in heritage and on their participatory project “Children and Neighborhoods”, spoke Robert Kozma (Group 484).
Large and rather important segment of the conference was dedicated to inclusion, with topic that was opened by Michele Taylor, experienced British trainer and qualified therapist that worked with many organizations, and museums, on development of policies and practical activities to ensure culture of equality, with her introductory presentation “Access and Inclusion ‘on Trial’ ”. If museums are about people and their histories and stories, if museums are really for social justice and if museums have people in their essence, then they are, as Michele Taylor believes, for inclusion. If we do not do that, and if we keep having excuses not to adjust museum buildings, exhibitions and programmes for disabled persons, then we are not doing our job. Inclusion has been accused to be luxury, and not priority; meaningless, not important for the job we are doing; that it is for specialists, and that is not what we do; impossible to perform because we do not have resources; not needed any more because we did it all. We often talk about museums not being discriminative, because they say disabled people are welcome. But, did we really make possible for everyone to participate equally in the museum activities, did we enable inclusion collections and processes, are we really for differences, different perspectives, and freedom. If we are led by a social model, which says that environment is problem, with impediments that disable equal participation of every person in the cultural life, then we are on a good road. Michele Taylor presented big resource that is created in the region, Balkan Access Group, ready to help for our museums and heritage to become really inclusive.
Practical examples of inclusion of disabled people in museum resources and activities, as “The Process of Creating Tactile Images” and “Interpreting your Exhibitions for Learning Disabled People”, were presented members of Balkan Access Group through their workshops (Alisa Gojani, Danica Ivancevic, Ivan Krucican, Samir Avdic, Tatjana Mijatovic and Etleva Demollari), and Ing-Marie Munktel, “The Use of Replicas as a Tool for Interpretation and Communication – Viking Mother No 2, Risk versus Positive Effects”.
Under the framework of the conference, workshops connected with contemporary museum practice and needs were relised, as “Brand is the Glue”, “Co-production: Sharing your Space” of Annette Prior, “Project Management” by Aida Vezic and “Leadership” by David Fleming.
During the conference, project from the region were also presented, from those of cross-border cooperation (Museum Pass), to the projects of restoration (Wooden Boat from Ohrid), newly open museums (Museum of Macedonian Struggle, Skopje), as well as projects realized through small grants programme on inclusion of the CHwB and BMN, from 2013. These projects are funded through Stavros Niarchos Foundation grant, and conference itself as well as the activities of the Balkan Museum Network, are also funded by Sweden and Swedish Institute.
Meet, See, Do 2 conference in Tirana was also marked with the official launch of the Balkan Museum Network. Our organization is different from the others in the region by its approach to need assessment (“bottom up”) and concrete engaging in creating strong, collective voice for Balkan heritage and museum profession.
Meet, See, Do 2 has continued to thoroughly explore embedded attitudes and beliefs and to create space for changes. Some of these are visible through realized projects, established partnerships, new contacts, but most in deepened and newly acquired individual knowledge and skills. Museums change, and it is our duty to help this change to be real and for the benefit to our communities.
Save the Date for the third Meet, See, Do conference, in April 2015.
Article by:Tatjana Cvjeticanin
The National Museum in Belgrade
Trg Republike 1, Belgrade
 National Museums of Liverpool won museum award of Council of Europe in 2013, by Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). In their explanation, PACE states that “museum in Liverpool enables exemplary recognition of human rights in museum practice”.