Bart de Baere

Day 1: Changing from the Inside: How should we Govern Ourselves?

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Bart De Baere, Director, M HKA, Antwerp, Belgium

Bart de Baere
, General and Artistic Director, M HKA Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerp, and CIMAM Board Member, Antwerp, Belgium.

Even if I’ve been asked explicitly for a personal reflection, this talk is foremost reporting about a collective effort. During the biweekly meetings with CIMAM’s Museum Watch Committee, we often concluded that the root cause of a crisis was often governance deficits. Because Cimam was focussing on re-establishing its relation with ICOM, I contacted two of its standing committees, INTERCOM, its management committee, and ETHCOM, responsible for the ethical code of museums.

We started a research program with INTERCOM that now leads to a joint proposal to ETHCOM about why and how to include the governance question in the next iteration of the ethical code. We felt that the preparative text to this might be of help to colleagues on its own behalf and published it last week.

Indeed, a lot of us experience that governance is now often rhetorically taking the lead, in real terms harassing museum operations. Not only as high voltage events in situations of crisis as in the recent Polish cases but all over, also appearing as mains voltage or low voltage effects in daily business. We need a more holistic proactive stance to this if we don’t want systemic to disrupt our core mission.

Contemporary art museums are bipolar institutions, combining the eternal challenges coming from art with a cultural heritage sense of sustainability. Combining those two requires a committed staff backed up by its boards, and with founders underwriting this dual approach. We can’t live up to the challenges if our governing bodies want to merely control and normalize our operations.


Bart De Baere is the director of M HKA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, and board member of the Museum Watch Committee of CIMAM.

With a background in archeology and art history De Baere’s experience is broad. He served as a chairman of the Flemish Council for Culture, which advises the government on cultural policy, and he was advisor for cultural heritage and contemporary art to the Flemish Minister of Culture. From 1986 to 2001, he was curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent (now S.M.A.K.). He organised and curated events for several venues abroad including Documenta IX in Kassel where he was member of the curatorial team.

Bart De Baere’s writing, theoretical texts and interviews have been featured in a variety of publications, including Eurasia and Transnational Thinking, in Jimmie Durham: Festschrift (edited by Maria Thereza Alves), Nero, 2020, pp. 80-87.