How to create new partnerships and thus a wider working context?

It is hard for even a moment to forget the political reality of B&H and try to think about the problems of cultural institutions in a fresh and different way. In my opinion, to make that kind of thinking at least possible, we need to separate the two issues which, unfortunately, often intervene with each other. The first issue is the very existence of these institutions, and the second is about the models of work and the responsibilities which the leaders of these institutions have.

By mixing these two different issues, the media has created the impression that those who represent these institutions and their inactivity might be the reason for the current problem, and therefore the real threat for their survival.

We, as citizens and as cultural activists, have to be vocal and clearly state that the question of existence of these institutions is a purely political issue which depends mostly on political will. Henceforth, the result for this problem/discussion will mostly depend on whether there will be enough civil activism strong enough to ‘make’ B&H politicians realize the need to resolve the legal statuses of these institutions. If we know the reality of civil activism in B&H one question rises above all others: What needs to happen for the citizens to feel/understand that the problem of these institutions is not just important for those that work there, but it is a matter of their personal interests as well.

There begins discussion of another aspect of the problem which focuses on the modalities of work, and also on the roles and responsibilities that the leaders of these institutions have. Their passivity – although not the same level in all institutions – is a problem; yet, to some extent, passivity is also understandable, even justified. Because if the problem of existence itself is not resolved, why bother with all those other questions such as passivity?
I assume that part of the explanation for the passivity is the reality of how people who ran these public institutions are placed in such positions, since these spots are mostly ‘earned’ as the result of political aptitude and not professional abilities. Of course, the question is also to what extent any possible activities of the employees and the management of these institutions could create conditions that are required for the positive political decision about their existence.

I don’t want to go further into the big discussion about the modalities of work which requires a deeper understanding of the specificities of each institution. However, I want to point out the three aspects that are crucial for the existence and the success of every modern institution/cultural establishment anywhere in the world,other than the hard work and professionalism of their employees.

De-politicizing of the institution

The influence of politics in our society is all-pervading, and that is exactly why it is important that all employees and activists demand that the people of profession dominate the work of these institutions. That is not just because of a need that the management should be selected based on profession’s criteria and not the political affiliation, but also because of a need to eradicate claims of the exclusive cultural heritage that certain ethnic groups and political factors make.

Creating positive public opinion and openness

More than ever, these institutions have to make a positive relationship with the public. The time when every institution had the backing of the state is gone, as well as the time when state institutions had the monopoly in communication of the cultural heritage. The public no longer visits these institutions out of obligation, but out of personal motives. How to attract, motivate, but also build a positive relationship with the public is, in my opinion, one of the hardest and most-pressing assignments which these institutions have for the future. It will be a key task which they have to work on from the moment when the political decision for their temporary funding is going to be made.

Strategic partnerships

How to create new partnerships and thus create wider context for work?
Openness for cooperation and partnership with other institutions is one of the perquisites for their success. Why is it not possible for the Ars Aevi and the Historical Museum to see a mutual interest in cohabitation rather than competition? What are we protecting and from whom, when we don’t want to enter into new and sometimes initially puzzling constellations? Why don’t we proactively seek international partners? If the Contemporary Art Museum in Oslo sees its interest and the need for partnership with the museum from Copenhagen, why would then the Art Gallery of B&H not seek partnership with the Pompidou Center from Paris or the Louisiana Museum from Copenhagen? If some of the B&H institutions can make their work more relevant in a wider context, they can overcome the parochialism of its surroundings and create a stronger basis for its own existence. The international strategic partners could also bring new and different public/users from our country, as well as from the rest of the world.

In the end, I have no illusion that my modest observations could bring anything truly new to the discussion about this problem, but I hope – if nothing else– that they reaffirm some of the existing ideas, observations, and suggestions.

Adnan Harambašić is an architect from Sarajevo and the President of the BiH’s Association of Architects.

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