Mami Kataoka, President of CIMAM, Talks About the Potential Long Term Impact of Covid-19

13 July 2020

Interview with Mami Kataoka, Director of the Mori Art Museum, and President of CIMAM, for ArtDependence, Thursday, June 18, 2020

The International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM) was founded in 1962 with the goal of ensuring that museums, collections and archives of modern and contemporary art are supported both and valued by the cultural sector and wider world. They have been supporting institutions around the world for nearly 60 years, and in 2020, as closures and cancellations have impacted everyone, their role has been more important than ever.

CIMAM have been offering a series of online support services and are now helping institutions to re-open their doors safely as the pandemic recedes. We caught up with CIMAM’s President Mami Kataoka, to find out more about the ways they are supporting their network and to hear her vision for the future of the sector.

Artdependence(AD): What is CIMAM and who do you represent?

Mami Kataoka (MK): CIMAM is the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art, an Affiliated Organization of ICOM. Founded in 1962, it is the only global network of modern and contemporary art museum experts working to raise awareness and respond to the evolving needs of the profession, taking a leadership role on issues of concern.

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Image: Mami Kataoka, photo: Ito Akinori, photo courtesy: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo

Our membership includes more than 600 museum directors and curators from 86 countries working in modern and contemporary art museums, collections, and archives, that share CIMAM’s vision of a world where the contribution of these contemporary art institutions to the cultural, social, and economic well-being of society is recognized and respected.

Together with our very experienced and engaged Board members, we are very much looking forward to further developing CIMAM’s network and leadership role in promoting good practices in the modern and contemporary art museum profession. Our members are our essence, and we hope we can count on their involvement to continue building a strong CIMAM that can lead the discussions and provide new perspectives that answer the challenges museums are and will be facing in the years to come.

AD: Can you tell us a little about what has happened within the museum and exhibition sector during COVID-19?

MK: Situations are extremely diverse in the different museum models around the world, but we are all aware that the consequences of this upheaval on the art ecosystem will be significant, and that museums will have to reinvent much of what has been taken for granted up to now.

One of the main challenges we face is the dramatic loss of income due to museum closures, while postponement and cancellation of exhibitions and events could cause museums to lose sponsorship income.

Another challenge for museums is the rapid development and needs of online programs. Several museums around the world have launched digital programs during this closure. Since social distancing and travel restrictions will continue and people will continue to spend more time at home, even after museums resume their activities this online arena will remainan important parallel to the real experience. However, since not all museums are equipped with sufficient financial and human resources to further develop online initiatives, the significant investment needed to develop and maintain digital channels may not be financially supported.

AD: Do you have any idea of the long-termimpact of this global crisis?

MK: Assuming that the world economic impact is long-term, it also throws into doubt future philanthropic funding for museums. Even when we reopen our doors, social distancing and limited visitor numbers will undermine museum business models dependenton revenue from paid entry. This will be especially dramatic for those models that rely heavily on blockbuster exhibitions.

In the long run, this is the time for museums to make a serious commitment to global warming and sustainability. COVID-19 could be only the beginning of a larger global crisis. A number of people have suggested that this is an auto purification process for the planet or a warning from the natural world regarding over-inflated anthropocentrism. It is one of the most urgent issues for the museum sector, and there is no better time than now.

AD: How will your work change over the coming months as you respond to the coronaera?

MK: With all the current uncertainties for the museum sector, CIMAM needs to advocate the importance of museums in contributing to our lives and social well being. During these times, CIMAM Board members have been discussing what this means to museums and how CIMAM could contribute as an essential platform for the professionals of modern and contemporary museums.

As an immediate response to the situation, CIMAM has made available a set of Precautions for Museums during the COVID-19 Pandemic containing safety measures for the reopening and resuming of museum activity. This document is based on examples of the National Gallery Singapore, M+ Hong Kong, and Mori Art Museum responding to the initial outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year.

We will continue to share experiences of how museums are responding to the pandemic over time. To this end, we have recently re-launched the call for Outstanding Museum Practices in a Time of Global Crisis, which is intended to bring together innovative best practices of museums in their response to the current situation to ensure a continued and inclusive access to culture.

Also, given the new social conditions and travel restrictions caused by COVID-19, CIMAM has decided to postpone this year's Annual Conference to November 2021. As an alternative, we have designed a program of Rapid Response Webinars that allow CIMAM members to continue discussing the most urgent concerns and questions affecting the modern and contemporary art museum community at this time. This initiative responds to CIMAM’s spirit and commitment to be a platform for global discussion, a space for sharing and connecting, for learning and encouraging cooperation. Rapid Response Webinars are held on the last Thursday of the month moderated by Board members in different time zones and guests that are confirmed closer to the online event. The first was held on May 28 and the next is scheduled for June 25.

AD: What do you imagine museums and exhibition spaces looking like this time next year?

MK: While it is hard to predict, I would like to imagine that museums and exhibition spaces transform themselves from placeswhere a number of audiences come together to apricate art to places where one could contemplate fundamental and essential questions regarding our existence, life, and death, the beauty of our life in the spacious galleries.

AD: Do you think that it is important to be able to reopen museums and exhibitions at this time?

MK: After several months of closure, now that the number of infected is decreasing, and under the guidance of different state and regional governments, it is time for museums to test how we can explore our “new everyday” andcoexist with COVID-19. It might be a long journey, but if this is the way to go, we have to challenge the situation in the most creative way.

AD: Do you have any words of advice for museums and exhibitions spaces around the world? 

MK: The museum sector must work together in solidarity. As we are all facing the same global crisis, if we share new ideas and strategies for supporting each other, then, in the long run, we might be able to find a new global standard for museums and exhibition spaces. My advice would be:“You are not alone. Let’s work together to bring culture and creativity to the ‘new everyday’for everyone.”