Can one have a career in museology? What is a career for a museum professional? Is the membership of the International Council of Museums UNESCO (ICOM) a privilege or necessity for today's museum professional? Dorota Folga Januszewska, Chairperson of the Polish National Committee of ICOM, talks about the membership of ICOM.

What is the International Council of Museums?

ICOM is a huge and dynamic organisation created in Paris 62 years ago, affiliated with UNESCO. Today its members are over 21 000 professionals from 146 countries. It is comprised of National Committees, International Committees (specialized ones), Regional Alliances and Affiliated Organizations. Membership of ICOM is reserved exclusively to museum professionals or individuals cooperating with museums (scholars, conservators etc.), university students  close to graduation (from any fields) doing internships in museums or studying museology, as well as museums (institutional membership).

ICOM has a very effective organization and management structure based on open elections, the rules of how the Council functions are set forth in its Statutes ( . The main rule is the very clear selection of candidates for members, high requirements with regard to professionalism and ethical standards. People involved in trade, acting as commercial agents in appraisals, are not eligible for the ICOM membership. ICOM Code of Ethics (today accepted by the EU law) is a code of practice, and very much resembles the code that is applicable to doctors; it's just that it refers to cultural and natural heritage objects and buildings, their preservation, acquisition ans sale.

ICOM is an apolitical organization, which means it aims to find ways of cooperation as regards organization and protection of museums, and preservation of cultural and natural heritage – this is its most important goal.The leadership and representatives of ICOM are able to negotiate in the most difficult situations. The proof of that was ICOM's unique role in the conflict in former Yugoslavia, and currently its negotiations in Tibet, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Ruanda and North Korea. There was even created a special programme called BLUE SHIELD meant to play an intervention role in the zones where heritage and museums are jeopardized by warfare. The involvement of ICOM members in such missions in the last 2 decades proves the highest professionalism in situations of danger.

In Europe, as part of ICOM, there is also ICOM-Europe and CEICOM (Central European ICOM Group) – regional organizations concerned with the specific problems of the Old Continent. Each ICOM member is also a member of the National Committee of his/her country, and additionally should be a member of one of International Committees, and also often should be a member of other affiliated organizations.

You're the Chairperson of the Polish National Committee of ICOM. What role does ICOM play in Poland?

The Polish National Committee of ICOM (PKN ICOM) was one of the first registered National Committees, was formed in 1948, and its first president was prof. Stani³aw Lorentz. Since then, despite various political situations, PKN ICOM has remained a non-governmental organization (affiliated with the Polish UNESCO Committee) promoting international professional standards among museologists. It has served educational purposes at a specialized level, by promoting the so-called good practices. It is meant to create communication networks and information exchange. It can be, and is, treated by government bodies as a consultancy as regards museology. Frequently the Chairperson of the National Committee and the members of ICOM Presidium are invited to cooperation and negotiations when organizational, personal and professional problems crop up at the regional level and the level of central authorities. PKN ICOM is the initiator of numerous events, e.g. International Museum Day, Museum Night, educational-social campaigns (e.g. for the disabled).

However, the most important task of PKN ICOM is dissemination of knowledge about modern museology and its job opportunities, as well as enabling its members (especially those young ones) to take advantage of professional networks and scholarships. PKN ICOM is an elite meeting and information exchange platform, a forum for discussions and legislative initiatives concerning museology.

ICOM General Session, Palais de l’ UNESCO, Paris, June 2005

Can any Polish museum become an ICOM member? What are the requirements? When should the application be sent?

An ICOM member can be a full-time museum worker fulfilling the requirements set forth in the Statutes, declaring the observance of  ICOM Code of Ethics, and regularly paying membership fees (58 euro per annum). Any museum can become an ICOM institutional member of  A, B or C category (it depends on the number of employees) if it only fulfills the Statutes requitements.  

One can only apply in writing, on a special form (membership form), signed and submitted to PKN ICOM Presidium. The presidium together with the chairperson evaluate if the requirements are met (some of them are, e.g., no criminal record, type of employment, position). Then the opinion of the presidium is submitted in writing to the ICOM office in Paris, which has 3 months to accept or turn down a candidate. The rejection doesn't have to be justified. Sometimes the shadow of suspicion is enough for not granting membership. This has never happened in our committee in Poland, as far as I recall, but there were cases in Africa, Japan and Asia where membership was refused to be granted.

Celebration of ICOM's 60th Anniversary, Grand Palais in Paris, 1 June 2006

What benefits do museums have from such cooperation?

For many years – before NEMO (the Network Museum Organisation, currently affiliated with ICOM) and before Working Groups at Culture Unit EU for Museums -  ICOM was the only international museological organization in Poland which carried out regular educational programmes about the latest trends in museology, organized training sessions and conferences, provided its members with the information about the latest publications and training programmes. Today, thanks to the internal information network, the huge archives in Paris, an enormous web of international connections (I venture a statement that this web is reaching everywhere), each museum and each ICOM member may participate, through the agency of the organization, in the most important museological events, have access to know-how and many privileges (such free orout-of-turn admission to museums, archives or libraries).
To give the most prosaic example, during the great exhibitions in the world, where one needs to queue up for many hours to be admitted, ICOM members are admitted out of turn. The ICOM membership card enables one to access many archives, storage spaces, libraries and database resources. Polish members not always make use of all that, but this is a rather technological and mental barrier, not an actual one. Many of our new young members apply for scholarships, use travel opportunities and ICOM information centres all over the world.

I understood the significance of ICOM for Polish colleagues when I was receiving calls from Australia, Japan or China, and was asked to identify and confirm the identity of our colleagues who were accessing usually inaccessable museum resources solely thanks to the fact that they were ICOM members.

PKN ICOM meeting on 5 Dec. 2007, from the right: Dorota Folga Januszewska (dr hab.) –  Chairperson of PKN ICOM, Prof. W³adys³aw Bartoszewski – guest of honour, Prof. Wojciech  Kowalski – Ministry of Foreigh Affairs, Tomasz Merta – Under-Secretary of State at Ministry  of Culture and National Heritage, addressing the attendants - Prof. Stanis³aw Walto, Director of  The Jagiellonian University Museum

Everyone who joins ICOM has to observe the Code – could you say why it was created?

The ICOM Code of Ethics is the basic collection of rules of conduct for all ICOM members. It comprises of moral principles and rules of professional conduct that override the local law. The Code is accepted  as being above the local legal traditions, above various penal and civil systems in the world. It's a document of enlightened people – not those who circumvent rules, but those who voluntarily covenant to obey them. That's why I said that the ICOM membership is elite, because it's not about a 'requirement', but about the 'will' to act this way. Recruitment to museums has to be selective in order to choose trustworthy people. If there appear fraudsters or fools (that happens, and can always happen), the reputation of the whole professional circle is endangered. So, despite the omnipresent evil, the economic rule of integrity is usually understood and observed by experienced people comprehending the mechanisms of protecting heritange. Fraud simply doesn't pay off here in the long term. Some realize that too late, and that's why the ICOM Code plays a preventive role. It's not easy to follow it, but it's accepted and abided. It's a guidebook  for the museological profession.

You participated in the conference ''Towards a Modern Museum'', organized by MCKiS, and gave a talk entitled ''Action Plan for European Museums'' – guidelines by Working Groups at Culture Unit EU for Cooperation with Museums. Would you mind saying a little more about this?

In 2004 in the Hague, when the EU was under the leadership of the Netherlands, a long-term action plan called Mobility of Collection (2005 – 2013) was drawn up to establish common standards as regards loaning procedures, information exchange, agreements and other similar legal-administrative regulations, as they are necessary for organizing international exhibitions and reciprocal loaning of valuable artworks. Later the work on those problems was continued by the subsequent countries that held the presidency of the EU (the UK, Austria, Finland and Germany). In 2006 in Helsinki, after numerous meetings, a document was issued (the second after the directive entitled ''Lending to Europe'', Rotterdam 2005) which set forth guidelines for governments, museums and local administrative bodies about what work should be done to allow, close and based on similar regulations, cooperation among all types of museums in Europe. There was one goal – making the exhibitions more attractive, displaying the collections hidden in storage spaces, revival of collaboration and education of young people. At the conference you mentioned I was presenting the guidelines to our colleagues from Mazowsze Region.

Does international cooperation between museums translate into their increasingly better quality (as regards educational programmes, exhibitions and functioning)? What changes do you notice in Poland?

Definitely, yes. The mechanism is simple – to keep up with the better one. I believe there's no better education than face-to-face meetings of educated people, exchange of reflections, and then joint realization of a project. Getting involved in organizing a huge international exhibition – where it's necessary to have expertise in the particular field, international law, economics, conservation, marketing strategies, promotion and creation of educational programmes, and additionally in ways of cooperation with difficult partners (artists) – gives much more to a young museologist than years of studies. Cooperation between museums is really cooperation between particular people, who later may decide about programmes in their institutions. The extent to which directors can use this is the matter of management culture and techniques.

Changes in Poland are slow, but consistent. The distance to the so-called European average is considerable, but different in different realms. The museums in Poland which are developing have  many good educational programmes, programmes addressed to children, to the disabled, and there are already a few museums using technological advances as regards picture and sound. However, an average Polish museum is still 15 to 20 years behind other Europeans museums. It's a one-generation gap. The largest number of problems is at the decision-making level – various authorities have no understanding of the significant role museums play in creating everyday culture, even though they are often the only cultural centres providing that kind of education in a given region. There are no appropriate investments in museum buildings that would be adequate, in their scale and proportion, to the cultural wealth owned by museums. There is no all-Poland programme that would standardize access to museum collections (and this is the first tool for popularizing and making use of collections).
Public administration clerks deciding how to spend taxpayers money don't see the need to invest in and make use of museums, though in a majority of countries neighbouring with Poland (even in Russia and Ukraine) this is something most obvious. Changes take place in those museums in Poland where there is dynamic staff who urges reforms, or where there are open-minded directors, who understand the functioning of a complex organism, such as a museum. Then there are good exhibitions, crowds of visitors, and it turns out that a museum doesn't have to be either bleak or scary.

In a museum community, can we talk about 'a career in culture'? And what does such a career look like?

This is a difficult question because the so-called career in museology is a product of many factors: knowledge, expertise (this is a separate thing), interpersonal skills, experience (gained over the period of many years, like in medicine, is very important), individual abilities (the so-called ear or eye that a good curator should have), the ability to push oneself forward, industriousness, a sense potrafi± stworzyæ warunków zachêcaj±cych ambitnych, aktywnych ludzi do starania siê o najwy¿sze stanowiska. of a mission and responsibility. Usually people who are really wise and experienced give up the active, visible-on-the-outside work at some point. Instead of the so-called career, they prefer work in peace, scholarly work, often mere communing with art and masterpieces.

There are different careers in museology. I know many great curators who don't want to be appointed directors (and manage a museum), because they find such work boring. And this is probably the reason why there's a shortage of managerial staff in Polish museums, because the owners of museums don't know how to create conditions that would encourage ambitious and active people to aim for top-ranking posts.

I know few cases of spectacular careers in Polish museums. A majority of such institutions are managed by very experienced people who have been working their way up the ladder patiently and for many years. In other European countries, it is more frequently the case that top-ranking positions are attained by young people with definite views who are taking risks with certain experiments. Staff turnover is much higher in top-ranking administrative positions in museums there (this is taken for granted, and does not happen in the whiff of scandal). What counts is visible and measurable achievements, and not political and social connections.   

Could you give some examples of Poland's best managed museums?

Yes, but with a reservation that there are many I don't know of, and that's why I don't mention them. There are museums where many positive aspects form a very interesting whole – in Warsaw, it is definitely  The Museum-Palace in Wilanów, which is now at the time of its revival, also The Warsaw Uprising Museum, which created a new kind of ''museum society''; in Cracow, The Jagiellonian University Museum, where a unique balance is maintained between tradition and the on-going changes at the university; The National Museum in Wroc³aw and Wawel Castle in Cracow. These are the institutions where there is a clear relation between the audience, the place and the exhibition. Of course, there are many more such places. And there are museums which appear to be well managed, but are cold, impersonal and uninteresting. There are also museums with souls which, despite functioning in difficult conditions, offer atmosphere, knowledge and hospitality towards visitors, for example the Clock Museum in Jêdrzejowo.

Good museum management has many facets. Sometimes it is modernity and easiness of access, sometimes the opposite – the ability to create atmoshphere, mystery, a sense of an important meeting etc. There is no one recipe for this, as is frequently the case in the realm of  art and culture. For that reason museum management is a tough task, since each institution requires an individualized management model, taking into account its history and collections.