Interview with Suzanne Cotter, Chair of the Outstanding Museum Practices Award


Suzanne Cotter is CIMAM's Secretary-Treasurer and Board Member, chair of the "Outstanding Museum Practices Award" working group at CIMAM, and Director of Mudam Luxembourg -Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, on the need for recognition for the work of modern and contemporary art museum and outstanding practices during a time of global crisis.

In November 2019, CIMAM launched the "Outstanding Museum Practices Award" to enhance to CIMAM's core mission of promoting knowledge and exchange among professionals in modern and contemporary art museums and collections and learning from each other.

In early 2020, in light of museum closures due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, CIMAM reframed the newly launched award to acknowledge the period of the global pandemic and to draw attention to the exceptional work being done by museums and peer institutions around the world at this critical time.

One year later, we spoke with Suzanne Cotter, CIMAM board member and chair of the CIMAM Outstanding Museum Practices Award committee.

CIMAM: In 2020, CIMAM launched a call to its members to share inspiring projects developed by modern and contemporary art museums during the COVID-19 pandemic. How is this project in line with CIMAM's mission?

Suzanne Cotter: CIMAM's mission is to promote best practices in modern and contemporary art museums and collections worldwide. As a global network of museums and museum professionals, CIMAM is also a vital platform for visibility and exchange, out of which new models for museums can be made visible and developed.

CIMAM's current board established this award to recognize the work being done by our peers. Less than six months after CIMAM announced the award, most museums worldwide found themselves closed due to the Covid 19 pandemic. CIMAM wanted to use this challenging situation as an opportunity to draw attention to the importance of museums and their capacity to respond in real-time to their many communities.

CIMAM: We have seen some exciting innovations and bold proposals from museums this past year, adapting to the new reality and supporting the diversity of audiences they represent, from artists, collectors, internal workers, suppliers, and the general public. Can you anticipate some highlights of the projects presented so far?

Suzanne Cotter: Nominations are coming in different formats. We ask for a description and documentation of the practice being nominated and a statement as to why it is considered outstanding. We are looking at what has the potential to inspire other museum professionals and other professionals operating in very different contexts. Context is crucial in being able to consider the importance of the proposed practices. What may be a practice that is considered routine in a resource-rich context may be understood as remarkable for a museum or institution working in less privileged circumstances. While practices have been developed for specific places and situations, their exceptional nature could prove an inspiration for museums and institutions elsewhere.

The process of submitting nominations and making them accessible through the CIMAM website is intended to inspire peers and colleagues, encourage exchange, and recognize them in a time of immense challenge.

The nominations received so far present innovative exemplars of public outreach using technology that involves direct participation, and working with artists to transform museums into community spaces for people to come together and to exchange basic necessities.

CIMAM: The Outstanding Museum Practice in Time of Global Crisis is a live platform where modern and contemporary art museum professionals can present their projects by nominating their museum. The working group dedicated to this project is composed of CIMAM board members*. CIMAM members will be invited to review the nominations and send their preferences for the Award to the CIMAM board. Recipients of the Award will be announced in November 2021. What aspects will the jury take into account when deciding which projects to recognise?

Suzanne Cotter: With the Outstanding Museum Practices Award, we will be looking for boldness, creativity, and specificity, and responsiveness to context. At this moment of cultural and political reckoning, museums are conscious, more than ever, of the importance of responding through their activities and their ways of working to the urgencies of equality, social justice, climate change and the impact of technology. We want to recognize the potential of nominated practices that give us permission to think and act differently and to question systemic ways of working that are no longer socially, ethically or environmentally viable.

CIMAM: The selected nominees will be presented in November 2021 during the CIMAM Annual Conference. How will this recognition be delivered? Is there any official certification for the awarded museum that identifies CIMAM's distinction?

Suzanne Cotter: We are asking to receive nominations until the end of September 2021. All nominations are published weekly on the CIMAM website and social media channels distinguished with the hashtag #OutstandingMuseumPractices.

CIMAM members will be invited to review all the nominations and submit their vote on those practices deemed outstanding. CIMAM will announce the winning practices in November at the time of the annual conference. They will receive CIMAM official recognition that can be applied to their communication platforms.

CIMAM: Given the many challenges that current museum models are facing, will this award have continuity over the years?

Suzanne Cotter: The ambition of the award is to be given on a regular basis. It is intended to be a source of inspiration and reflection, where professionals can learn about strategies and initiatives for addressing issues and real-life challenges that affect our community globally.

CIMAM: Why would you encourage other colleagues to nominate a project for the Outstanding Museum Practice in Time of Global Crisis?

Suzanne Cotter: The professional community working in cultural institutions is going through one of its most challenging times ever. CIMAM wants to highlight the urgency and the benefit of sharing best practices by generating exchange and debate on the role of museums in our rapidly evolving present. We invite all institutions to make more known the amazing work they are doing.

* Suzanne Cotter (Chair), Suhanya Raffel, Ernestine White-Mifetu, Ann-Sofi Noring, Malgorzata Ludwisiak, and Rhana Devenport.