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3 October, 2012  ▪  Спілкувався: Anastasiya Levkova

The Future of Ukrainian Museums: Schools, Showrooms or Clubs?

Danuta Bilavich on Ukraine’s management of cultural institutions compared to Europe and America.

Ukrainian museums are traditionally perceived as establishments that are modernized slowly and unwillingly. Still, the issue has recently provoked scandals. The current Ministry of Culture is constantly conducting unreasonable staff policies and museum employees are forced to pay for the image stained by officials. Meanwhile, there is some progress in museum affairs, just as in most areas of Ukrainian culture, which comes in spite of state policy and not due to it. The Ukrainian Week discussed Ukrainian exhibits and the people caring for them with Danuta Bilavich, international trainer of museum management and head of the science division of the Solomiya Krushelnytska Musical and Memorial Museum, Lviv.

U.W.: What is the main difference between American or European and Ukrainian museums?

In 1960, the famous museologist Aleksandr Benua pointed out that the European type of museum is a showroom, the American one is a club and the Soviet one, a school. The classification is still true, though it now relates to post-Soviet, not Soviet museums (the relevant situation in most former USSR republics is similar to Ukrainian one). Today foreign museums, both European and American, impress Ukrainians with their technical equipment and interactivity. Still, Ukrainian museums do have an advantage over  as opposed their American and West European counterparts, namely their academicism and active research work. In general, every museum has several equally important tasks, notably the search for exhibits, preservation, research and popularization; and exhibits do not dominate over preservation or research.

U.W.: What do you think is the best way to fund museums?

Most European museums belong to the state, thus the government takes care of them, but they also earn money and can spend it. As a rule, these are funds for their development. As for the US, local state museums are limited to those under the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Others are subordinate to NGOs or foundations. An NGO appoints a board of directors which is responsible for further management of the institution. Usually, it is headed by an experienced manager. American museums have three sources of financing, namely funds they earn themselves, funds received from a state, a city or sponsors, as well as grants allocated for certain expositions, initiatives and museum events. As far as Ukraine is concerned, its museums get over half of their funding from the state (such as institutions submitted to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, of course; and there are also separate museums like the Museum of Chocolate or the Museum of Beer in Lviv). The State Treasury registers the funds earned by museum. Museums can these funds to buy furniture, equipment, repair premises, and so on, but only after numerous approvals. As for grants, Ukrainian employees are still learning the art of writing projects to receive a grant. It is worth mentioning, the cost of museum ticket is cheaper (UAH 5-80) in Ukraine, compared to Europe or the US (EUR 10 or – US $10). But of course, Ukrainians' own wages should be taken into account.

U.W.: Could the problem of Ukrainian museums’ inertia be because most of their employees represent an earlier time?

This is not the principal problem — age is not as crucial as a willingness to work and create something new. There are many wonderful museum employees of age who have passion for their work. Still, apparently now that the state constantly underfinances museums and they are forced to earn money themselves, it has become obvious that museum employees are not managers. Today a major in museology is being introduced in universities, but most current museum employees learned everything from older colleagues and have had to adjust to new circumstances and learn how to write projects and establish new, interesting programmes for visitors. Museum affairs are currently much more versatile than in Soviet times.

U.W.: What are the most popular museums in Ukraine? What makes them succesful?

There are many successful museums with a great number of visitors. I won't name all of them. I’ll just mention two most popular ones. The first one is the Mikhail Bulgakov Literature-Memorial Museum, Kyiv. It is not only the writer’s fame that makes the museum popular; its founders managed to individualize it and create an interesting concept in the exposition. They are also exceptionally active on the Internet. I would also like to mention another institution, which has got unexpected popularity. People have got used to the fact that entering “museum” as a key word in Google brings up the Kyiv Museum of Water. In fact, this is an institution of the Kyiv water service company with interactive exposition aimed at teaching people to conserve water. Sweden and the Netherlands have already implemented similar projects. Employees of the Kyiv Museum of Water have been surprised by its popularity. In general, institutions ready to propose various forms of work with visitors, become successful. There is some progress of course. For instance, the National Andrey Sheptytskiy Museum in Lviv activated its work after having established a children’s playroom, which hosts various workshops. Our museum also organizes interactive events for school children, for instance interactive lessons entitled “Musical Lviv,” which include a short excursion and a story-concert dedicated to relevant parts of the history of ancient Lviv or to famous composers and musicians… It is also worth mentioning that a museum’s success depends on outer factors too, namely its location.

U.W.: How do foreign museums attract new visitors?

They have a whole system that has developed over decades. Ukrainian museums only began regularly working on this five to seven years ago. Foreign museums attract visitors mostly with the help of advertisements, namely web-sites, and mail outs. New museum products also play an important role, in particular new expositions or, say, night excursions. Once in a museum, a new visitor is treated as a potential frequent visitor; museum employees discuss his/her likes or dislikes and ask for contact information.

U.W.: What do Ukrainian museums lack for commercial success?

First, legislation needs to change and be updated it in line with modern circumstances. If the state is unable to fully support museums, they should have more opportunities to earn money independently. A law on sponsorship is badly needed. It is important to develop museums’ mobility, train their employees. Museum associations are needed, as European and American experience proves these are influential unions with considerable funds that can help museums support each other. There is All-Ukrainian Museums Association, but its activity is much more limited.

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