At the roots of near-all cultural museums
Aside from the very oldest institutions, the structure of Norway's museum landscape has for the greatest part been determined by local initiatives. This has meant in many cases that engaged individuals and small associations has created quite large collections of artifacts and antiquarian buildings, many of these museums are very impressive. Well over 250 museums received public moneys in 1999, but given this structure, government oversight has not been a high priority. Or one could say that the government has been an inspired patron and have facilitated the creation of new museums since the 1970s. It was the combination of enthusiastic volunteers in the local history movement and public funding that created the diverse and nearly ls"localistic' museum landscape.
Most museums had - often given an enthusiastic group of volunteers in the beginning - very few paid staff, quite often fewer than two full-time professionals. They were frequently mired down in daily chores and had limited time to focus on development. Many activities were frequently however, carried on the back of the local-history movement whose goals were to preserve the community's historical legacy. During the 1990s, the removal of important unemploymentprograms that had paid for temporary workers undercut the museums further.
Government reform means consolidation, a summary
By the turn of the century economic problems were one main impetus for the politics of reform. To be brief: The solution was larger museums and consolidation to build organizations that would have enough staff to spread tasks around and allow for development. In addition, government oversight was expected to become a factor and cooperation within the museum- community was expected to become formalized within networks.
Weaving roots and making something new?
The short-term effects of reform have been profound in terms of staffing, mostly because the finances improved when economic-incentives to consolidate were put in place. Central-Troms Museum won a prize for museum of the year in part because of amicable and effective consolidation and a strong effort in developing new projects, but the culture surrounding the conjoined local museums are developing. Specifi- cally: The effects of geographically larger units on the volunteers are unclear.
A few words about what we are trying to do at Central Troms Museum. We are trying to combine a traditional focus on cultural history with natural history. It is an old requirement for public museums to integrate natural- and cultural history, and while several of the older state- museums focus predominantly on natural history, it is not so common for the smaller regional museums to develop a strong focus on natural history. Scientific projects include biodiversity assessment of the region, generic revisions of various spider genera, revision of spider material in other museums, work on the official Norwegian Red List for spiders and laying the foundation for an entomological/arachnological collection representative of the region. However, these are projects that are quite different from the local history movement's traditional focus, and while we receive professional recognition the popular demand is not so great.
The region is as varied as the national museum landscape, with a lot of local differences. The former local museum in one particular municipality served no more than 2000 people. Today we are serving at least seven municipalities or more than 25,000 people. Hence, it is a new day in terms of scale and geography but also personal relationships - aspects that influence how people relate to the museum. In the past the local conservator was expected to act quickly on input from volunteers, today the organization of Central-Troms Museum should weigh in and, at any rate, we will have to balance activities across several municipalities. Therefore, part of the new situation is to balance the needs of enthusiastic volunteers (sometimes immediately!) with our own demanding projects. While this is not a new challenge - conscious museum workers enjoy informed input from the public - it has become a more complex challenge because we now have a tiered organization.
From the volunteers' perspective: Some historical societies closely associated with the museum are experiencing difficulty. The societies in our district - there are at least five - are at very different places in their development, and the oldest is struggling to the point where it could disappear altogether. The result is that there are changes in terms of what kind of groups that are maintaining a close relationship with the museum. Village associations, the handicraft society and even local churches may fit better as partners, not because of an agenda of historical preservation, but because they are more active. Where an understanding for historical preservation is clearly understood, this is not a problem; it is a bigger challenge when local groups have a poor understanding of our ideology. The case with most organizations is that they have their day, their very own peaks and lows, before they pass from the scene in their original shape. The local historical society was on-board and supportive of the regional consolidation - albeit with some trepidation - and remains intact, it does suffer from a lack of generational change and recruitment though, and has been of late quite inactive.
While it is obvious that our museum landscape has changed quite a bit and that conditions for several of the regional museums has improved, it is unclear however whether regionalism will do enough for the extremely important enthusiastic volunteer or if the localhistory movement is passing through a down-phase.
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