A Culture War? Observations on the Situation in Oldenburg

I have never been in a situation before where my qualifications and experience as a museum and heritage professional were publicly denied, my work dismissed and my character vilified. I find myself in such a situation now. I have no interest in spending time on defending myself against newspaper articles that do not even pretend to be based on balanced research, and letters to the editor that are equally full of claims that even the sloppiest research on this blog and elsewhere reveals to be untrue . However, I do have a few observations I want to share.

 

The complete denial, or the denial of the relevance to working in a museum, of my qualifications and experience is, I suspect, not actually about my qualifications and experience at all [1]. It is, I believe, about the kind of museum these people want. Denying my qualifications and experience is merely a proxy for saying they don’t want a museum that is rooted in what I bring. I base this argument first on the rejection of a co-created exhibition that I coordinated, which one letter writer dismissed as a ‘Sammelsurium’, or incoherent tangle. I also base the argument on these people’s praise for the former director of the local history museum who had this to say about his views on museums [2]. In contrast, I see museums both as social agents and social spaces, where inclusion and representation of diverse people and stories are key, where process is more important than an end product and where collections are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

 

Another proxy for disagreeing with my views on museums is, in my opinion, the accusations about my leadership and communication style. Nothing specific is ever said, and either way, I would never publicly respond with the details of behaviours of any member of staff. Assuming, therefore, that the people accusing me of treating staff poorly are in fact in possession of all the facts, despite never having spoken to me, I do wonder whether, if I were a man, I would face the same allegations or indeed any allegations at all. After all, I would not be the first woman in a leadership position that is accused of being aggressive and bitchy when expecting staff to do their job in accordance with the company’s guidelines.

 

I would have welcomed an open discussion in the appropriate forums about what kind of museum these people want. Indeed, two of the letter writers are a former and a current associate member of the council’s culture committee, to which we (yes, plural) have regularly presented updates on the new concepts for the museum(s), especially the local history museum currently under redevelopment. For them, the opportunities were plenty. I would have gladly also explained to them precisely why my qualifications and experience are exactly right for this task. And they could have reasoned openly why they disagree.

 

I object to the path of public, one-sided accusation not only on a personal, but also on a political level. Starting with the newspaper’s lack of accurate and balanced reporting, I am appalled at the casual abdication of responsibility of (proper) journalism in our democracy. The manipulation of public opinion through one-sided reporting and reporting of false information is part of the problem of the post-truth era we are living in. We should demand better.

 

Speaking of post-truth: I would expect prominent people, as the majority of the letter writers are, to acknowledge facts and base their argument on those facts accordingly. In other words, I would expect them to be more Obama than Trump. I make this reference deliberately, because as someone coming from and working in the cultural sector I am particularly disappointed that a major supporter of the arts and culture, a literary author, and the chair of an artists’ association choose to ignore facts in the manner as is happening here. The cultural sector, in Germany as elsewhere, has been largely united in its rejection of Trumpism. Granted, I do not know if these people share this rejection. They might not. But I certainly hold the cultural sector to a higher standard than this, because if not us, who will stand up to the damaging erosion of truth, debate and civility that we are witnessing in the world at the moment?

 

One final point. I am convinced to the very core of my being of the validity of my approach to museum and heritage practice. It is a scientific approach to understanding heritage, visitor needs, and the role of museums in society. It is my firm belief that this is the only sustainable foundation for responsible museum work today. However, I am exhausted to have to defend this since returning to Germany. I am therefore leaving the sector. And I can tell you that I passionately look forward to entering the further education and sociocultural sector where my view of culture as a dynamic, interactive and shared space is more widespread and where my practice of inclusion, participation and democratization therefore has more resonance. But more about that another time.

 

Notes

[1] You can read about my qualifications and experiences here, or in greater detail on LinkedIn and Xing.

[2] For those of you who don’t read German, he declared himself to be more ‘classically’ trained, with a focus on collections. He acknowledged the importance of topics such as inclusion and participation in museums, but not ‘to this radical extent’, which I suppose is a reference to my approach.

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2 thoughts on “A Culture War? Observations on the Situation in Oldenburg

  1. Und Summa summarum? Ihr “Blogtext” oben belegt in beeindruckend erschreckender Weise, dass Sie nichts, aber auch gar nichts verstanden haben. Museen brauchen Fachleute, die aus Sachverstand mit den Sammlungen etwas Vorzeigbares erarbeiten und präsentieren – kompetente Pragmatiker statt Phrasendrescher.
    Gehen Sie wirklich einmal in sich, kommen Sie von Ihrem Ego-Trip herunter – und arbeiten Sie an sich – anstelle von Kritik an irgendwelchen Provinzzeitungen ist das allemal effektiver. Ich – ich – ich – das interessiert nicht und interessiert niemanden! So wichtig sind Sie nicht. Gehen Sie in sich. Denn: Geschieht dies nicht, droht ein ähnliches Szenario: Auch im Südwesten der Republik setzen Sie dann das nächste Projekt in den Sand.
    Brauchen wir die angelsächsischen Wohltaten im Zeitalter der Unfrisuren von Trump und Johnson wirklich oder können wir mit kontinentalem Selbstbewusstsein sagen: Rom, Wien und Berlin taugen tausendfach mehr als London und Washington? Da haben doch ohnehin nur Koofmichs das Sagen!

    Und wieder einmal Goethes Faust ins Stammbuch:
    Schon gut! Nur muß man sich nicht allzu
    ängstlich quälen,
    Denn eben wo Begriffe fehlen,
    Da stellt ein Wort zur rechten Zeit sich ein.

    Mehr gibt es zur “Causa Deufel” nicht mehr zu sagen.

    1. This comment is typical for the ‚criticism‘ I face in Oldenburg (although I have my doubts about the honesty of the name – call me suspicious): full of personal attacks (‘get off your ego trip – work on yourself’), unsubstantiated statements about the quality of my work (‘[you will] drive the next project against the wall’), an uncritical reference to collections, and a blanket rejection of all research coming from Britain and the United States (‘Or can we, with continental self-confidence say: Rome, Vienna and Berlin are worth a thousand times more than London and Washington?’). And to round it all off, a quote from Goethe, as if that could mask the lack of class and substance.

      Let’s have the facts about the project I am supposed to have driven against a wall. I’ll be happy to respond.

      And while I am appalled by the rampant continental nationalism and the castration of serious academic thought advocated by this particular writer, I will just point to the list of publications of the German Museum Association, and for good measure, that of the Austrian Museum Association as well. A whole lot of “Phrasendrescher” like me out there, as it turns out, advocating precisely what I advocate when it comes to museum practice.

       
      Dieser Kommentar ist typisch für die ‘Kritik’, der ich in Oldenburg ausgesetzt bin (obwohl ich meine Zweifel habe an der Ehrlichkeit des Namens – nennen Sie mich argwöhnisch): er ist voller persönlicher Attacken (‘kommen Sie von Ihrem Ego-Trip runter – und arbeiten Sie an sich‘), nicht weiter begründeter Behauptungen über die Qualität meiner Arbeit („…setzen Sie dann das nächste Projekt in den Sand“), ein unkritischer Bezug auf Sammlungen, und eine komplette Ablehnung jeglicher Forschung aus Großbritannien und den Vereinigten Staaten („Oder können wir mit kontinentalem Selbstbewusstsein sagen: Rom, Wien und Berlin taugen tausendfach mehr als London und Washington?“). Und zum Schluss ein Goethe-Zitat, als ob das die fehlende Klasse und Substanz kaschieren könne.

      Nennen Sie doch die Fakten zum Projekt, das ich in den Sand gesetzt haben soll. Ich antworte gerne.

      Und obgleich ich angewidert bin von dem wild wuchernden kontinentalen Nationalismus und der Kastration jeglichen ernsthaften akademischen Gedankens, wie in diesem Kommentar befürwortet, weise ich einfach mal auf die Liste der Publikationen des Deutschen Museumsbundes hin, und als Zugabe gleich noch auf die des österreichischen Museumsbundes. Da stellt sich heraus, dass es zahllose „Phrasendrescher“ wie mich dort draußen gibt, die für genau dasselbe eintreten wie ich, wenn es um Museumspraxis geht. Auf Deutsch.

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