Public cultural institutions to cease being hostages to an ineffective national policy
Authors: Dr. Tanja Miletić Oručević i Husein Oručević, Media centar OKC Abrašević (Mostar, 10 August, 2012)
Aware and well-informed about the causes of the structural crisis of funding and functioning of these 7 institutions, we wish to point to certain claims that have been, in the course of this debate, regularly axiomatically accepted, but which are, in our opinion, disputable and which, in fact, obscure the real nature of the problem.
Out of 7 institutions in question, only 2 of them can be considered beyond any doubt as cultural institutions of national importance, in the sense they are defined by cultural policies in the majority of democratic, specifically, European countries: The National Museum and the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The National Museum, as the oldest 19th century-type multidisciplinary institution (conceptually a combination of the colonial concept of registration/rationalization of colonized world and emancipating affirmation of national/local history, culture, nature, etc.), with its collections and activities in the field of research and publishing, represents a museum of narrative regarding the scientific and cultural emancipation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, therefore, obviously represents a very significant part of its identity. The National and University Library, as the central national librarian institution, has to have its place in the cultural system of every modern country, while its tragic fate of wartime destruction further increases the cultural importance of its revival and structural strengthening.
The Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina, regardless of the value of its collections and workshops, by its very nature and in comparison to similar institutions in other European countries, represents only an important depot and exhibition space for artwork. It has no conceptual identity which is necessary for a modern museum or gallery; moreover, the diachronic nature of its depot is characteristic of local and regional museums, since only in the case of space constraints, historical, economic and other circumstances, does such manner of collection and display of exhibits make sense. Visual arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina represents a term too broad to define a collection of one museum. There is a possibility that collections of the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina be administered by some other, conceptually defined institution, even a private curator – management body. We do not consider this institution to be a part of essential factors of the public cultural system of a modern country.
The Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina – former Museum of Revolution – after the ideological change in the country has had no defined content. Its depots are often arbitrary, alongside with the artifacts dating from the II World War, items relating to the siege of Sarajevo are also collected, etc. We think that valuable parts of the Historical Museum of BiH collections should be adjoined to the National Museum – as a logical continuity in one large multifunctional museum which has artifacts and departments from earlier periods of history – while the Historical Museum’s building could be used for something more contemporary and needed, for example, a museum of modern art.
The National Film Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina should archive and promote the cinematography of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which we consider, by itself, controversial, because the BH cinematography was an inseparable part of the Yugoslavian cinematography up to 1992. Therefore, the work on preserving and promoting motion picture collections should be performed in close cooperation with the Yugoslavian Film Archive in Belgrade, and the BH Film Archive, apart from focusing only on preserving national motion pictures material, should transform itself into a more modern institution for promotion of history of cinematic arts (not solely that of Bosnia and Herzegovina). That process should be helped by the Association of Filmmakers of BH, the Sarajevo Film Festival, the Academy of Performing Arts (ASU), the Sarajevo Film School, as well as film production companies in Sarajevo and other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Similarly, the Museum of Literature and Theatre Arts should be structurally linked to theatrical institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Society of Writers, PEN Club, MESS Festival and other factors in this profession, in order to carry out its projects in the closer cooperation with them.
The National Library for the Blind and Partially Sighted Persons, due to its particular field of work, ought to be embraced by the bodies which guarantee inclusion, social and cultural status of individuals with special needs. It is more reasonable for this Library to search for legal solutions and instruments at hand for the BH citizens with the purpose of inclusion, rather than to share its problems with the other above mentioned cultural institutions which are of a completely different character.
Our stance is that the responsibility for the current problems of these cultural institutions lies with the complete lack of cultural policy at the national level of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also at the lower levels of government: cultural policy is nonexistent in cities, cantons and entities just the same. There are no strategies of cultural development, visions of culture as a continuity, nor, what is specifically important, any vision of culture as a development factor, i.e. the forth pillar of sustainable development as defined by UN’s Rio +20. Public education and popularization of these ideas can lead towards the changes in the civil and political decision-making process when issues of cultural policy are concerned.
On the other hand, it seems that the aforementioned cultural institutions have neither the vision nor the strategy of their activity, beside the idea that they should be regularly financed out of the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ budget. We believe that even in the case the decision was reached in their favor, thereby ensuring the regular funding, it would not guarantee a sustainable and creative development of these institutions. These institutions do not strive – or at least we have no information in that regard – to discover other modalities of functioning other that those determined by a strict system of stable funding of „cold standby“ and regular program activities. They do not endeavor to enter partnerships with other cultural institutions or organizations whose activities are similar to their own (as we have already stated with examples of particular institutions). They seek no opportunities of cooperation between the public and civil, „national“ and nongovernmental sectors, they do not open their spaces and capacities for possible different ideas, such as volunteering, curatorial residencies, trainee programs, event organization for and in cooperation with particular groups of users, educational work, community work, etc. We believe that if these institutions were to open up in that direction, new financial resources would be found, simultaneously leading towards the revival of the social capital of their cultural potential and position they should hold in the community.
Finally, we believe that during this ongoing debate there is one aspect that ought to be promoted even further, not only for the benefit of previously mentioned endangered institutions, but all cultural institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Namely, ever since the war, there has been an accepted position amongst international foundations and sponsors of cultural activities that the nongovernmental sector is a more democratic and reliable partner for cultural investments in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Due to that stance, public institutions in government sector are still ineligible to apply for the majority of international projects and grants for cultural production. Today, nongovernmental organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina rarely have the capacity to produce relevant cultural events, not to mention the building of cultural continuity and permanent, sustainable cultural development; it is the general mission of public cultural institutions. Therefore, we advocate a general change of stance of international foundations and donors, and shifting the cultural investments – very often ephemeral and weakly or not evaluated at all – from nongovernmental sector to public, national cultural institutions, which have the spatial, technical, staff, and to a certain extent even strategic and mission capacities for real improvement of the quality of cultural life in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Precisely with the aim of helping public cultural institutions cease being hostages to an ineffective national policy, international cultural agents must start supporting them, and, primarily, make these institutions „eligible” for their funds.
Tanja Miletić – Oručević is theatre director and lecturer of drama and acting. She received education in Poland and Check Republic, and has spent the past 15 years working as an artist and an activist in Bosnia and Herzegovina, West Balkans and across Central Europe (dealing with issues such as feminism, cultural policy and pedagogical policy). Dr Miletic-Orucevic is the Director of Mostarski Teatar Mladih (Mostar Youth Theatre).
Husein Oručević is a politologist, journalist, feminist and media activist. He currently lives in Poland where he is taking a graduate course in European studies. Since 2009 he has been employed by the National Polish Radio station Polskie Radio Kielce as the commentator of the global social and political events.