First of all, I would like to express my huge gratitude to the Getty Foundation for providing me with the opportunity to attend the Annual Conference and to the CIMAM team for organizing such a fantastic event.
In the recent decades we have seen an extreme commercialization of both state-funded and private museums, which were forced to become active agents in the competitive market struggle. Fighting for the viewers at any cost, the majority of them have turned themselves into touristic meccas and places of sheer entertainment. This condition had a huge negative impact on the quality of the exhibitions they show and the level of discussion they hold.
Hence paradoxically, despite the increasing frequency, which seems to stress the public satisfaction, these museums fail to deliver their public service. The shift of their focus from the local to the global community resulted in the inability of these cultural institutions to effectively support the development of an individual capable of interpreting the cultural heritage of society, producing contemporaneity, and acquiring an active civic position. What is even more frightening is that these museums are insatiable in their appetite for blockbuster events, even bigger and more spectacular buildings, and new branches across the globe.
To satisfy their financial needs they are increasingly hunting for new private and corporate sponsors overseas, notably in the GCC States, not only effectively pushing forward myopic cultural investments, but also diverting the attention and funds from the meaningful initiatives. On the other side of this coin there is whole new bright and exciting world of grassroots cultural organisations. Founded at the instigation of young generations of artists, activists and curators these organisations, dealing with contemporary art, experimental music, film, photography, performance and digital art, are the real power station, the producers of new energy. Many of these particularly active organisations can be found today in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, where in the context of the strained political relationships their main concern is what art can accomplish for the education and emancipation of their citizens.
With funds incomparable to the budgets of the established institutions they managed to launch libraries, produce exhibitions and cultural educational programmes and many of them even have set up collections and amassed and worked out extensive archives from scratch. In Africa and many countries of the Middle East, for example, archives that could be used as the places of remembrance and could form basis of autonomous historical narrative simply did not exist until this new type of institutions have taken the initiative in their hands. In turn, in many countries of Eastern Europe, such archives and institutions that hold them were either completely forgotten and deprived of their social dimension or were and still are being used as tools of support for the official ideology of the nondemocratic states. And again the new institutions, usually lead by just a handful of passionate individuals, are playing an instrumental role in bringing this archives back to life and suggesting alternative ways of exploration of the historical evidence and knowledge they contain. These institutions are working closely with local communities on the terms of direct and equal involvement, raising important questions concerning politics, economy, education, ecology and the arts, and initiating open dialogue. And for this reason, being products of the environments, they are, equally, active agents capable of shaping their societies in turn. In the light of the above said, the staggering disproportion in the distribution of private, corporate or public funds between the established and the grassroots institutions seems not only unfair, but also short-sighted and unproductive in terms of social development.
It would be extremely naïve to address the established institutions with a proposal of scaling back their grandiose yet irrelevant ambitions, but perhaps they could at least, taking an example from the grassroots cultural initiatives, remind themselves what the definition of their social mission really is.