European Registrars Conference 2016 – Cultural Heritage, the refugee crisis and building sustainable, peaceful communities
Jasper Visser, Senior partner at VISSCH+STAM Strategic Services, Museum of the Future, Netherlands
The keynote speech by Jasper Visser was an unusual but brilliant choice by the conference organisers. Before getting stuck into detailed discussions around different elements of registrar work, delegates were taken out of the beautiful bubble of the Hofburg Great Hall and encouraged to focus instead on the wider world – specifically the migrant crisis facing all of us across Europe.
Visser spoke of a frustration with political rhetoric, and called for practical, meaningful action ‘on the ground’. He provided shocking statistics, such as the fact that one in every 23 migrants dies in the effort to get to Europe, that 10 million people worldwide are stateless and that the 700 or so conference delegates sitting in the Great Hall was comparable to the number of those one might find in the cramped, unseaworthy conditions of a migrant boat crossing the Mediterranean.
When describing the cycle of conflict and migration, Visser stated that museums and those who work in them were uniquely placed to support the peace-building phase that follows conflict resolution. He emphasized that as professionals who care deeply about history and society, we are uniquely skilled at telling stories using the rich heritage collections we care for. And, as registrars, we also have a unique overview of the ‘migration of objects’, which could perhaps lead to exploring new narratives within our collections with migrant communities. Used appropriately, these stories, collections, and the spaces we have access to, can be used to help foster mutual understanding across different community groups, bringing migrant communities closer to our more traditional audiences in order to create sustainable, peaceful societies.
Visser suggested three different models for museums to explore – aesthetic (migration depicted within objects), topical (the theme of migration explored through the display of objects) and people-centred (co-creating with migrant communities, talking with them rather than simply about them, and seeking opportunities to encourage cultural entrepreneurship). His advice when embarking on a people-centered approach was as follows:
– Be yourself, you are a registrar not a social worker!
– Be humble and listen
– Give away control, do not expect to have all the answers
– Be radically inclusive, embrace the opportunity to develop new relationships, audiences and approaches
The keynote was discussed by delegates throughout the remainder of the conference. Some discussed ways in which they are already engaging as individuals, others were considering how their museum could specifically target migrant communities, either through co-creating exhibitions or revisiting collections to uncover new narratives. Regardless of what form of engagement is ultimately undertaken, the most important message that delegates took away was that even the smallest actions can have a big impact – so to do whatever is within your power.
Public Engagement Manager (Exhibitions)
The Francis Crick Institute