Employees and activists of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo

Aida Kalender

Programme Director, AKCIJA in Sarajevo

AKCIJA Sarajevo

AKCIJA Sarajevo Telali 10 71000 Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina

www.akcija.org.ba/akcije/akcija-ja-sam-muzej

www.jasam.zemaljskimuzej.ba

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards 2016

 

"I Am The Museum"- Citizens' Mobilization Around The Issue Of A Closed Museum

 

 

 

"I am the Museum"- citizensrs"'mobilization around the issue of a closed museum A civil society and media action aimed to mobilize a massive citizens' engagement to save a museum in a difficult political and economic context and finally influence policy change at a state level.

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The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina has one of the largest and most important museum collections in the Balkans. Being an institution that preserves the heritage of various ethnic and cultural groups from Bosnia and Herzegovina, in a country without a ministry of culture on a state level, in the context of ethnic divisions and politicizations, the National Museum of BiH remained in a legal vacuum with no founder, legal status or an annual budget. In the first post-Dayton years,the Museum has managed to survive on a project grants basis. In 2012, however, the management decided, in an act of despair, to close its doors to the public as the government was unable to reach an agreement regarding the financing and upkeep of the Museum. Expected reactions from the various governmental levels never arrived- the Museum was left abandoned. Without any income, the people working in the museum continued going to work everyday for three years, taking care of the Museum building and the cultural treasure of the country.

The situation with the closed Museum provoked various, mainly negative opinions in the public sphere and no political solution for the Museum was on the horizon.

Entering the Museum for the first time from the back doors in December 2015, team of independent NGO AKCIJA from Sarajevo discovered a story of the workers who have been coming to work for years and organized guard shifts in order to protect the Museum and its collections.In order to tell this fascinating story of the Museumrs"s workers to the public, Aida Kalender from NGO AKCIJA in collaboration with the photographer Zijah Gafic, started in January 2015 to documentphoto portraits of the workers and to record their stories. This material represented a base for the large media-activist campaign called ld"I am the Museumrd" (ld"JasamMuzejrd") initiated by AKCIJA seven months later.
AKCIJA is an independent cultural organisation from Sarajevo that operates at the intersection of arts and politics, perceives culture as a powerful vehicle for citizensrs" mobilization, emancipation and re-commoning of public spaces.

Being informed by the wartime experience of arts and culture being as important as other ld"basicsrd", we see artist as a political subject, a citizen, who uses her or his work to address contemporary societal and political issues. By moderating dialogue and networking among various cultural protagonist, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, AKCIJA approaches social change by means of culture and arts, facilitates collective efforts in the field of culture, and utilizes research, networking and advocacy in order to transform the culture-related governmental policy. Our advocacy campaigns explore how non-artists ndash; the ordinary citizens as cultural citizens ndash; can appropriate artistic strategies for their own empowerment.

The campaign "I am the Museum" started with the exhibition ld"The Guards of the Museum rd"that consisted of 38 photo-portraits of the Museumrs"s employees with personal stories about their dedication, love for their job and their present working conditions. The exhibition was presented in the closed Museum and the audience entered the building from the back gate. AKCIJA used this opportunity to invite citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina to join the workers of the closed Museum by making a ld"guarding shiftrd" in the Museum as an act of support and solidarity. In the following 45 days of the campaign, during August and September 2015, more than five thousand people from the whole country, as well from the neighbouring countries, came to do a guarding shift and to support the Museum. AKCIJA documented these shifts, among others, with a series of YouTube videos. To keep up with all the rapid developments, we also moved our offices to the Museum.

The campaign was conceived as a part of larger AKCIJA project supported by USAID. Later, the campaign was additionally supported by the Open Society Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). All engaged staff members have been paid as well as all services by third parties (security, web-site, sound system, catering, etc..), but the fees have been symbolic. During the campaign, numerous business organisations offered financial and in kind support for the Museum (a telecom company has created free wireless internet for the Museum, tech companies donated computers, money, etc.).

The campaign, which had enormous media coverage, both in new and ld"oldrd" media, also included a cultural programme donated as a gift to the Museum by other cultural organisations and individuals, literary works about the Museum from notable Bosnian-Herzegovinian and regional writers, an invitation to citizens to get involved by sending letters to the addresses of the responsible ministers of culture, or donating equipment, adopting or restoring objects in the Museum. The campaign has been realized by the AKCIJA team, consisting of ten people, in collaboration with Museumrs"s curators and staff.

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This well-executed campaign, together with simultaneous political and diplomatic efforts, resulted in the re-opening of the Museum on 15th of September 2015 and a guaranteed public fund until 2018.

"I am the Museum""represented a unique collaboration between the civil and public sectors, citizens and the media. It was also an example of professional solidarity among institutions and operators within a cultural sector as large. The philosophy behind the project was that the Museum is our common good and the whole of society needs to act together in order to save it. AKCIJA has created a platform for easy, simple and fun engagement, both online and in the closed Museum, and offered it to the public. The response was immense. AKCIJA offered the simple human stories behind complex political problems. Stories of Museum's workers represented as heroes resonated with the citizens on an individual level and empowered them to act. The campaign has galvanized positive energy and emphasized individual agencies in desperate times. "I am the Museum" was marked by many commentators as "possibly the most successful civil society initiative in post-war BiH. Objective, execution, and completion. Inspiring."

However, there were also numerous technical and political problems related to the execution of such a large-scale-campaign. We have acutely lacked staff on the ground, had to prevent co-opting of the campaign by various right-wing groups, had to balance the interests of diverse stakeholders involved in the campaign- international donors, politicians, citizens, media. Lessons learned from this experience include that we need to have more people available to jump in and make a shift of the exhausted staff, keeping in mind that the persistence is one of the most important elements for the success of any civic action. AKCIJA has decided not to give up until the Museum is open- our campaign has luckily lasted one and a half months, but could be extendedto many months if the decision makers haven't been ready to move forward and find a solution for the Museum.

Today the National Museum, not only works, but because of the impressive victory for civil engagement in cultural heritage, the Museum and the ld"I am the Museumrd" campaign received the Europa Nostra Grand Prix award in 2016. The strongest message that they sent through this common act, was that ld"people are the Museumrd".