Guest Blog by Stanislav Desyatnikov: An insight into Russia’s Museums @museums_RU0
I would like to thank Mar Dixon for giving me a chance to write about Russian museums in her blog. It is an honour for me. I appreciate and with interest read about what Mar does and write with regards to museums and libraries.
I came to London from Russia 5 years ago to work as a software tester. Here while visiting many various museums, libraries, castles, parks, and towns, I became interested in culture, more than I had been before. At some point I came to an idea to help museum workers from my country to communicate with their international colleagues. In this blog, I will try to share with you some bits of knowledge about Russian museums.
About 60 Moscow museums became free during 7-day winter holidays this year, and had much more visitors. The bigger museums dealt with the increased visitation easier, but the smaller ones faced difficulties. Also from now on each third Sunday, these Moscow museums will be free to visit. Museums workers are discussing positive and negative sides of this initiative. Another, international initiative, Museum Night, has been run in Russian museums too for several years.
Museums use social networks and blogging platforms, such as Facebook (e.g. group “Changing museum in changing world”, Twitter, Russian network VKontakte (means “in contact”), Live Journal, YouTube, and others.
Some museums are not quite sure about why or how they need to use the social networks. But there are successful stories. For example, Yekaterinburg Gallery of Modern Art which hired a social network professional to communicate with the public via Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/ArtGallery.Yekaterinburg) and Twitter and to manage the social network strategy for the museum. Other museums might have a web designer whose responsibilities also include publication of news via the networks.
Twitter is also becoming more popular: more than 70 museums have Twitter accounts. Not that many in comparison with thousands museums in the country, but still even this progress is good.
In social networks, museum workers share and discuss news about exhibitions, approaches and problems. (Interestingly, I noticed that librarians are more active in social networks and blogging than museum workers: librarians’ discussions last longer and occur more often; they raise many issues related to reading, libraries, schools, culture.)
Worth to mention that Russian specialists started using the social network LinkedIn, where there are thousands of colleagues from the whole world.
One of the problems museums (and libraries) have is lack of financing. Except for few private museums, most of them are funded by the state. Local authorities sometimes do not fund museums properly or in some cases close them. But even though some museums get closed, there appear new ones.
Other problems in some museums comprise:
a) Low salaries, which partially leads to
b) Lack of young specialists;
c) Some museums (and not only) need new buildings if they are currently located in former churches (according to a law, such buildings should be given to the Russian Orthodox Church);
d) Lack of marketing and IT professionals.
Foreign museum curators are invited on conferences and master classes to share their knowledge, and I want to say that such foreign experience is very valuable for Russian professionals. Ideas exchange among Russian colleagues happens on a daily basis, e.g. via the Internet, or several times a year during conferences (like this one), where specialists from different towns of the country participate.
Lack of foreign language skills is a barrier that does not allow the majority of the museum workers to easily communicate with people in other countries. Though, it seems to me, the situation is getting better.
One of the major Internet museum projects is the website “Museums of Russia“, which contains a list of probably all Russian museums, and which publishes the related news.
There is a fund for museums, called “Changing museum in changing world“. This is one of several charity projects sponsored by Russian businessman Vladimir Potanin. Museum professionals are invited to participate in a yearly competition for the best museum projects. The winners get financial support to realize their projects, which is very helpful, especially for small museums or those from province. On the “Changing museum in changing world” website, the winners write diaries about their projects’ progress. Also for the winners, the fund organizes visits to foreign museums. For example, in 2011, a group of winners visited some museums inLondon and other towns in Great Britain.
Even though modern media technologies, e.g. QR codes and mobile applications are not widespread, museums use some approaches to attract people. For children museums organize activities in play form, with games, costumes, songs, dances, and storytelling. Besides, among not only children, but young people and adults too, are popular theatrical and historical re-enactment shows.
For people with disabilities museums also try to help (please feel free to download a PDF book about this sort of work; you can contact Sergey Vanshin, the director of the organization that created the book and helps disabled people, at firstname.lastname@example.org. The organization is called Institute of Professional Rehabilitation and Training of Personnel of All-Russian Association of the Blind “Reacomp”)
With the openness of information in the Internet, understanding of what a modern museum should and can be is changing. I hope that gradually Russian museum professionals will communicate more often and easier in the international museum society, which will lead to better mutual understanding, more active experience exchange and to new partnerships.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please leave a comment.