Order and Integrity
An International Museum Forum, dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the Union of Russian Museums, will be held on November 1st. Museum workers from all over the country, and from the CIS, will gather together to talk about what’s happening in our sphere and exchange their experience. The creation of our Union is an attempt to preserve a common museum space within the country. After ten years of work we would like to look back and sum up. It may sound too presumptuous, but I believe that the Union of Russian Museums is role model for other professional associations.
The epoch of postmodernism, characterized by emphatic disdain for professionalism, is coming to an end. A clear example is Wikipedia where many people get information that can be edited by absolutely anyone. We’re moving into an epoch that demands unity among people who share a common profession. This tendency is manifesting itself everywhere, even in politics. Professionals must protect not so much their interests as their professional standards, their morals, and their ethics. This is what distinguishes the Union of Russian Museums from other artistic organizations. We are young and do not carry the baggage of Soviet artistic unions that used to work as machines for creating and distributing privileges.
We don’t have privileges; we’re working to advance our mission. Today, our union consists of 387 museums in 72 subjects of the Russian Federation; that’s 31 million exhibit pieces. In 10 years, 320 million people have visited our museums, including 75 million children. 900 million users visited the museums’ websites. These are huge numbers. After libraries, museums are the most-visited cultural institutions. In philosophical terms, museums are analogous not to theatres and cinemas, where people go to be entertained, but to libraries and archives. They collect treasures that not even the government has the right to manage. These treasures must be passed on to future generations.
We open exhibitions of our collections, and make what we preserve accessible to people. Our funds are the basis of Museum Affairs. They represent our memory and our right to be immortal. A person is immortal as long as it lives in the memory of future generations. That was the reason why Egyptians erased the names of their enemies from monuments; and even in our history, it happened that names were removed from encyclopaedias.
The common museum space has been created due to the need to preserve
museums and their funds. We are holding
A true common museum space cannot be created by merely talking about it. It happens as a result of defending interests of the museums, which face many dangers. One of them, as I’ve said more than once, is raiding. Many have attempted to put their hands on the property managed by museums. There are ideas of raising new waves of privatization. As you know the church wishes that certain objects in museums lose their status as works of art and become ceremonial items. Museums make claims against other museums, which also creates tension. These tendencies must be resisted. The Hermitage may have claims against many other museums in Russia, regarding things that were removed from its collection at one time or another. We are not going to demand any of them to be returned. Our idea is to show everything that used to form part of the imperial collection together.
Another sort of raiding is a lay belief that Museums are just “dusty storerooms”. In a recent publication about the General Staff Building it was written that as soon as they finished its reconstruction, things from the museum’s “dusty storerooms” would finally see the day light. Storerooms are the most important part of a museum and I don’t understand why there is dust?
On the other hand, many people think that museums are rich. They’re rich thanks to the hard work of many generations, including our own. The people who work in museums create a cultural product that produces an atmosphere of optimism in society. This plays the same role as the protestant work ethic in capitalism: a sense of peace that helps people to live and work.
Those who wish us ill love to rebuke museums for the fact that they make money on government property. That property is worth nothing if it’s dead weight. It’s more sensible and more profitable to produce gasoline than sell crude oil. In the same way, the objects in museums are there for people to see due to the work of their employees. These employees are sometimes not protected by the law.
Today, the government apparatus doesn’t own anything; the state was the
owner in the Soviet times. Now every museum has a legal founder. He has
a tremendous scope of authority, which he can use however he likes. For
example, he has the right to dismiss the director of the museum without
explaining why. That has already happened more than one. The last time
was when the director of the Pavlovsk museum reserve was dismissed. This
was done by order of the founder, with no explanation. In the Soviet times,
there was a whole series of positions, the nomenclature, that people were
assigned to by a particular
We are trying to protect museums and their employees by participating in the legislative process. Over the past ten years, the Union of Museums has worked actively with the State Duma, the Presidential Council for Culture, and the Public Chamber. We participated in the introduction of changes to the Customs Code, to the law regarding autonomous institutions. With our participation, the legal concept of a “museum reserve” came into existence. We managed to save the Rublev Museum, the Malye Karely Museum, and the Borodino Field and the Kulikovo Field museum reserves. In the case of the Pushkin museum reserve, it became necessary to defend not only the territory, but also the people that were trying to save it. We have succeeded in preserving military museums. We are fighting for changes to the law regarding the preservation of monuments...
Not long ago, Russian museums underwent a global inspection by the funds.
This inspection indicated that they had saved themselves from privatization,
and also that the government owes them a large debt. On the basis of the
materials produced by this inspection, we created the “Program for the
Preservation of the Russian Museum Fund” and the “Strategy for the Development
of Museum Affairs in Russia” and sent them to the government. These are
The conversation about museum depositories finally came up. They have
been totally forgotten, but now it has become clear that the government
must provide money for their construction. We have standards that indicate
how many depositories there should be. There is an argument going on about
whether or not it is necessary to combine the depository facilities of
various museums, if that would involve violating the integrity of their
collections. According to the law, funds are protected like collections.
A depository must be located near the associated museum. Problems arise
when it comes to transferring
The “Project for a National Presentation on the Status of Museum Affairs” in our country will be presented at the forum. We have thought through the development strategy for the Russian Federation’s museums. In this way, it seems to me, society and professionals can participate in managing the field they work in.
A museum is an important cultural institution, and, in many ways, the development of society depends on it. Today it is primarily youth and people closer to fifty that go there. The problems in our society lie in the area not covered by museums. I’ve spoken more than once about the atmosphere of general mistrust and resentment that pervades our lives today. People explode at the slightest provocation. We’re on the edge of civil war due to this resentment, it isn’t just social inequality that’s the blame.
A museum is one of the mechanisms that are capable of making the atmosphere in society healthier, by telling people about art and history. It can correct social ills not with the drug of entertainment, but by gradual interaction, reminding people about memory, honour, and nobility...
A lot has been done in ten years; we have managed to inspire a new surge in the cultural and museum life of the country. Now we have to determine the best way to preserve museum ethics and introduce it into the consciousness of society at large. The slogan that I’m planning to use at the opening of the forum is “Order and Integrity”. That’s what the whole country needs.