Museum Reforms in Norway and “Talking Europe” in Museums and Research

Knowledge about policy making processes is crucial for the Eunamus project. On the one hand Eunamus investigates the political functions of national museums and the agency they have in relation to shifting ideological agendas. On the other hand, Eunamus is funded by the 7th framework of the European commission which means that findings needs to be presented in such ways that they are understandable and relevant for those who produce museum policies. The conference Museum Policies in Europe between 1990 and 2010: Negotiating Political and Professional Utopia Oslo 27-29 June furthered the project’s knowledge on policy making processes and implications.

Several talks focussed on the Norwegian situation. Andreas Halse (deputy leader of Oslo City Council’s Committee for Education and Cultural affairs) was invited to share an insider’s view of the current controversies on the placement of the new Munch Museum in Oslo. The location of this museum is implicitly connected to the aim and social functions of the institution and these may in turn be connected to party politics. Being a Social Democrate, Halse advocates that the Munch Museum would remain at Tøyen, a multicultural area in inner city Oslo on the brink of gentrification and in need of cultural capital. The opponents instead want to locate the new museum close to the waterfront in an area being developed for business and tourism.

In recent years, Norway has seen several museum reforms, institutions have been merged and networked  for the sake of professionalism. Dialogues and diversity have been promoted. This was discussed by Eunamus Lill Eilertsen as well as by Jon-Birger Østby former director of the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority.

In his speech, Leif Pareli from Norsk Folkemuseum (Norway’s Cultural Historical Museum) demonstrated how political and ideological changes have been manifested in this particular national museum. For many years this ethnological museum has grappled with how to more fairly balance their service to immigrant and indigenous communities. Even though Norway has been a two people nation since its construction, the Sámi people were not included in the museums representation of the nation until the 1950’s. Today, the museum’s Sami collection has entered a repatriation programme. In addition, Norsk Folkemuseum has re-constructed the apartment of a Pakistani family in Oslo.

The Sami Parliament of Norway, inaugurated as late as 1989 is one of the main actors in the repatriation of both objects and human remains. The 19th of June they signed the agreement that within the next year will guarantee the replacements of half the collection to the Sami museums. In her speech Vibeke Larsen, member of the Sami Parliament of Norway, highlighted that Norway’s Sami museums do more than exhibit collections. They functions as cultural centers with language courses, children activities and political discussions. Vibeke Larsen also gave evidence to the fact that the politics around minorities and indigenous people’s cultural heritage is connected not only to national politics and museum reforms, but also to declarations from transnational organisations such as the United Nation and ICOM.

The Norwegian policy development reflects a global interest in museums as spaces of cultural encounters and dialogues. In her paper, Clelia Pozzi from the MeLa Project suggested a theoretical model that would take museums beyond the formula of dialogue. Drawing on Chantal Mouffe’s notion of agonistic pluralism, she discussed how power imbued social relations can be acknowledged in museum spaces, not by deliberative dialogues but by keeping democratic contestation alive and by providing space for dissent.

Both Maria Höglund and Stefan Krankenhagen gave speeches on European cultural policy. As culture is a subsidiary area, EU acts by providing funding and not by legislation. Maria Höglund highlighted that in the case of museums, EU interventions have encouraged collaboration, mobility and exchange between institutions. In his speech, Stefan Krankenhagen argued that even though there is no such thing as an explicit museum policy at a European level, many museums “are talking Europe”. Krankenhagen has particularly looked into activities in the field of contemporary collecting. In this area museums finds ways to renew their social bonds by inviting people to participate in assembling objects.  In the field of contemporary collecting as well as in the database Europeana objects are engaged to be part of negotiations of what contemporary Europeaness means.

Comparing research and museum practices, some striking similarities appears. Research programmes funded by the European Commission, such as Eunamus, indeed “talk Europe” too and they do encourage collaboration and scholarly exchange.

Read more on Eunamus and the conference here.

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