Discussion panel "The recipient as a co-creator of a modern museum" - a report

The Sybir Memorial Museum, as a new museum facility at the stage of building the headquarter and creating a permanent exhibition, is still looking for the best and the most effective forms of activity. We want to use modern and effective trends currently prevailing in museology, hence we gladly use the experience of leading Polish museums.

In 2017, we began a series of meetings under the slogan "Direction - Museum", which aim at regular exchange of knowledge and experience between a wide range of historians and museum professionals. The first meeting gathered historians and it was about everyday prison life in the Soviet camp systems of the Gulag era. The discussion between Polish and Russian experts on this subject brought many interesting requests which encouraged to continue the initiative.

The second meeting took place on 26th November at the University Cultural Center of the University of Bialystok. Nearly a hundred registered guests participated in it. They were mostly representatives of Białystok and regional museums and cultural institutions. In the discussion panel, which was led by the Director of the Sybir Memorial Museum - dr habil. Wojciech Śleszyński, were present the representatives of the management staff of the leading Polish museums institutions: dr habil. Piotr Majewski (the Director of the National Institute of Museology and Conservation of Collections - NIMOZ), PhD Karol Nawrocki (the Director of the Museum of the Second World War), Jacek Salwiński (the Deputy Director of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow) and Sebastian Tyrakowski (the Deputy Director of the Emigration Museum in Gdynia).

The discussion about the methods of learning the museum's audience needs, as well as how to respond effectively to the signals coming from the audience, brought many interesting conclusions as well as additional questions. Panelists raised a number of important issues that often go beyond the original framework of discussion. "During the creation of a permanent exhibition, it is not always time to contact the museum’s audience" - said PhD Karol Nawrocki, the Director of the Museum of the Second World War. "Thus, the exhibition becomes only an emanation of views of a group of historians or its creators," he added. He was followed by dr habil. Piotr Majewski, the director of NIMOZ, who said that: "the more talks before the opening of the exhibition, the less controversy after its opening". However, he also paid attention to the dangers resulting from the audience's excessive influence on the exhibition and the necessity to set at some point a clear border that can not be exceeded. Other panel participants also perceived this threat. The Deputy Director of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow, Jacek Salwiński said simply: "Someone ultimately takes responsibility for the exhibition, and that are the museologists". But if the creators of the exhibition listen only to the audience, there will be a risk that an amusement park will be created instead of the museum, noted the Director Nawrocki.

The term "amusement park" was also mentioned by the Deputy Director of the Emigration Museum in Gdynia - Sebastian Tyrakowski, who noted the need to compete "with a different culture of spending free time". It is impossible to disagree, especially as according to the data quoted by Director Majewski, over 65% of Polish society live without museums and even without visits to their websites.

The discussion unexpectedly often deviated from the subject of the audience, to the subject of the museum staff. Director Tyrakowski appealed that the research about who is the potential recipient of a given museum, must be preceded by serious deliberations - what is the museum itself, in which direction it is heading, what its mission is. It was also strongly emphasized by the director Salwiński, who called for more time to be devoted to the museum staff. The museum staff must constitute an interdisciplinary team, which is able to analyze both their successes and failures. This is extremely important especially in the case of museums just working on their permanent exhibition, such as the Sybir Memorial Museum, because "it's easier to destroy than to build" concluded Salwiński.

We experienced a real "brainstorm" during the round of questions and reflections from the room. This confirmed us in the belief that "The Museum Direction" is definitely the proper "direction" of our activity. We are sure that as a result of this and future meetings, we will develop methods that will allow both - our museum and the institutions represented by other participants of the meetings - to enter the higher level of museum work. Therefore we are inviting you to the next year's meeting and we will keep you informed of topics and formula.

Photos by K. Karpiński

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