mercoledì 31 agosto 2011

Museums waging war on exhibit-eating bugs

Collections of irreplaceable and valuable artefacts in many of Britain's museums and heritage properties are under threat from a growing army of insects, particularly moth and beetle larvae. Can we stop them munching away on our precious relics?

"If you have ethnographic objects from around the world which were collected maybe 200 years ago, maybe some of these people are no longer producing these objects, maybe some have even died out... you can't just go and get another one."

"Bug man" David Pinniger, an entomologist and renowned heritage site pest control consultant, knows how important it is to put an end to an infestation before the damage becomes irreversible.
He is the person Britain's biggest museums call when conservators make the terrible discovery that one of the nation's exhibits has become lunch for some bugs.

He works with all Britain's national museums, as flourishing populations of a pest called the "clothes moth" have been causing havoc in recent years.

"Virtually all the major museums now have clothes moths, and some serious problems, where 10 years ago we found very few indeed," he says.Webbing clothes moths are about 8mm long and gold-ish in colour, but Mr Pinniger explains that people should not be fooled by their size: "People find big moths and think they do lots of damage, but clothes moths are really small."
The Pitt Rivers Museum, which is home to Oxford University's collection of anthropology and world archaeology, was recently forced to call on his services.

Heather Richardson, head of conservation at Pitt Rivers, says: "We have a much higher density of objects on display than a lot of other museums do. In a fine art institution you may have five objects in one case - we have 300 in it." The museum has always had a few clothes moths, but in 2005 they took hold of one display case and despite treating the case straight away, the problem spread to other cases.
Ms Richardson says there is a key reason moths love their displays: "These cases are full of natural fibres, hairs and skins - food potentially for beetle and moth larvae."

Adrian Doyle, collections care conservator at the Museum of London, has to keep a close eye on exhibits he classes as high on the "munchability index".

"The things most munchable are things probably most valuable, like wool, silk, cotton, older fabrics," he says.

The museum is home to the Fanshawe dress, which belonged to the Lady Mayoress of the City of London in 1751.
Mr Doyle says: "It is absolutely beautiful and highly munchable - so the risks to that are extreme and we keep a very, very close eye on it indeed.

"We have an enormous costume collection here, and if we had a couple of moths in there I would be extremely worried because they multiply so quickly, and before you know it we've got an epidemic on our hands."

David Pinniger says the nooks and crannies in historic buildings provide perfect hiding places. "To get on top of pests, you need to think like an insect. If you are a clothes moth, you want it dark, undisturbed and nice and warm, and that's the place you want to be looking."

So why are the numbers of clothes moths increasing?

Mr Pinniger says: "Everyone's shouting climate change. Because we've had a lot of warmer winters, we're often running our buildings warmer inside now, but there's also the fact that we have lost some pesticides that were very effective against clothes moths and we can't use them now."

Pesticide dichlorvos, which was used in museums to kill insect pests for years, was banned after being found to be carcinogenic.

Val Blyth, the conservator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, says there was a population explosion of webbing clothes moths throughout London three to four years ago, and agrees the loss of chemicals has hampered eradication efforts.
By using moth lures, her team found moths at the V&A were living off debris that fell into a void underneath floorboards in the British Galleries' wood-panelled rooms.

Adrian Doyle has a theory about why insect numbers are up. "When I was a kid, if you went to a museum and it was cold in winter you wore a coat. Stores were cold in winter, so insects died."

But pest specialists are also using modern techniques to assess how bad an infestation is and deal with it.

At Pitt Rivers they are trying pheromone traps, using female pheromone to attract males.
Mr Pinniger explains: "There's a glue board inside which is sticky. The board contains this glue... and a pheromone equivalent to 1,000 female moths, so these poor deluded males are attracted to that pH and then get stuck in the trap."

Dee Lauder works for English Heritage Collections Conservation as its collections care manager.

At Dover Castle, a lot of the pests are damp-related. The Kings Hall there is covered in red woollen wall hangings. She says: "The dye that they used for that, carmine, was basically made from crushed insect bodies.

"We've laid out realms of protein for the insect pests to feast upon. It's a steak house." And in gaps and cracks behind the wall hangings, insects can live without being disturbed.

She is using a moth confusion lure, called Exosex, which coats males moths in a female pheromone when they enter it, ensuring they attract other male moths once they fly back out, interrupting the breeding cycle.
But she says the simplest solution is often the most effective. "It all depends on whether it's a major infestation. In most cases a lot of it is down to good housekeeping," she says.

Val Blyth says freezing individual objects at a very cold temperature also kills bugs.

"What I do as a preventive method, or to treat an infestation as we do, is put things wrapped in our chest freezers, and take the temperature down to -30, and over a period of three days this will kill most insect pests."

When David Pinniger retires, a small group of conservators will continue working to protect Britain's museums from hungry insects. They plan to discuss their strategies at the Pest Odyssey gathering at the British Museum in October.

"To get on top of pests, you need to think like an insect”
David Pinniger Pest control consultant

Link: BBC News

lunedì 29 agosto 2011

Earthquake closes Smithsonian museums; damages Washington National Cathedral

All of the Smithsonian Institution museums on the National Mall have been closed in the wake of an earthquake centered in Virginia that shook the nation's capital.

Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough tells The Associated Press that staffers are examining the buildings for damage, and no injuries were reported.

Clough, who is an earthquake engineer, says a main concern is the Smithsonian Castle, the red, gothic-style building that was constructed in 1857.

He says he was meeting with his staff when they felt the floor move.

Clough says there are some minor cracks and broken glass in the castle. There are also reports of damage at two Smithsonian facilities in suburban Maryland that do not receive visitors.

The National Zoo is also closed.

The National Park Service says most of the monuments and memorials on the National Mall have reopened after being closed following the East Coast earthquake.

The park service says all monuments and memorials were initially evacuated and closed, including the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.

But the King memorial and several others that don't include large buildings were reopened within an hour of the 5.8-magnitude earthquake, which struck at 1:51 p.m. Visitors continued streaming through the King memorial Tuesday afternoon.

The Lincoln and Jefferson memorials were closed for several hours but reopened Tuesday evening. The Washington Monument was found to be structurally sound but it's not clear when it will reopen. The Old Post Office tower will reopen Wednesday morning.

Here is a summary of how Washington landmarks were affected by Tuesday's earthquake:

— Washington National Cathedral: Damage to three of the four pinnacles atop the main tower, and visible cracks in the church's structure. Building remains closed to visitors.

— Washington Monument: Evacuated, closed. Preliminary inspection finds it structurally sound. Grounds reopened but monument remains closed.

— U.S. Capitol: Evacuated, closed, reopened after inspection by structural engineers. House and Senate office buildings now accessible.

— White House, Old Executive Office Building, Treasury building: Nonessential employees evacuated; reopened around 4 p.m. No damage.

— Lincoln Memorial: Evacuated, closed, reopened after several hours. No damage.

— Jefferson Memorial: Evacuated, closed, reopened after several hours. No damage.

— Old Post Office tower: Evacuated, closed, no damage. Reopening Wednesday.

— Smithsonian museums: Closed Tuesday, being inspected for damage. Minor cracks, broken glass reported at 1857 Smithsonian Castle.

— MLK Memorial: Briefly closed, now open. No damage.

Link: artdaily

giovedì 25 agosto 2011

Plans to Demolish the Uganda Museum

Open Letter to President Yoweri Museveni, Republic of Uganda
22 February, 2011
His Excellency Yoweri Museveni
President of the Republic of Uganda
State House
Kampala, Uganda


I am writing to you in my capacity as President of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA) to express this Society’s concern with regard to the news that a 60-storied Trade Centre is planned to be erected on the grounds where the Uganda Museum now stands. The planned demolition of the Museum to give way to a trade centre will effectively end the 102-year history of one the oldest cultural institutions in Uganda. In the 1970s, the Ugandan government, then under General Idi Amin Dada, presided over the destruction of the old Museum at Lugard’s Fort. This act was decried by many Ugandans and was indeed viewed as a government culturally devastating act against its people. I implore you to reconsider this imminent act, which will be seen by Ugandans and around the world in very much the same vein, especially give the unfortunate destruction of the Kasubi tombs--Kampala’s only World Heritage site--last March.
Founded in 1908, the Uganda Museum is the principal repository of the material culture of the people of Uganda. The Museum holds the original "charms' donated by Baganda chiefs in 1908/9. Some of the charms and ethnographic objects in the Museum have ties with shrines that today serve as the nerve center of what being a Muganda, Mugika, Munyoro, Munyankole, Mlugbara etc., means. Collectively, these collections illustrate to past, present, and future generations of Ugandans, the essence of being Ugandan. They illustrate the poignant and proud history of the Pearl of Africa.
A large percentage of these collections are rare, fragile, and can never again be collected. Even if the resources were available to acquire them, the knowledgeable men and women who created them are long gone leaving the people of Uganda—their descendants—this material culture that bears witness to a once illustrious and glorious history of the peoples and cultures that make up this beautiful, rich, and rising country.
I understand from very reliable sources that a two-storey section of the trade centre will be given to the Museum. My concern is that the fragility and irreplaceable nature of many of the ethnographic and some archaeological artifacts will most assuredly ensure that these items will virtually self-destruct. Some of the collections in the Museum still have not been catalogued. The highly informative and readable catalogue Tribal Crafts of Uganda, produced by curators Margaret Trowell and Klauss Wachsmann, still remains one of the few in use. Large highly valuable collections in the Museum have yet to be fully inventoried. The archaeological material has been growing, thanks to the sustained research by the British Institute in Eastern Africa its students, and Uganda colleagues. This collection constitutes the heartbeat of Uganda. We urge the government to protect this heritage by avoiding any further deterioration of the collections though the proposed relocation for temporary storage and return to a small space in a Trade rather than Cultural Centre.
Moving the collection to another site, during the time of construction of the Trade Centre, will expose the collection to a number of problems. First, many of the collections are fragile would be subject to deterioration due to traumatic movements. Second, a vast majority of the collections in storage are poorly labeled and their provenience will be lost making them irrelevant. Third, the collections, particularly the royal regalia, arts and crafts from the many precolonial and colonial chiefdoms and kingdoms, will most assuredly fall prey to vandals, looters, petty thieves and art collectors. Witness the recent Baghdad and Egyptian Museum traumas. The Ugandan people, and indeed the African and international community, will hold your government responsible for the destruction of the heritage of the people of Uganda. The gains made during the last eighty years may be severely eroded.
Museums in Africa and elsewhere exhibit, nurture, celebrate, and promote culture. The Uganda Museum has recently been playing a leadership role in promoting regional and national unity and consciousness amongst East Africans and Ugandans. The Society of Africanists Archaeologists whose membership is global implores you to intervene to save the Uganda Museum from destruction.
As a national heritage institution, the Uganda Museum promotes Uganda’s cultural and national heritage through research on the cultural, social, technological, and political achievements of Ugandans, protects all movable and immovable antiquities and monuments within national boundaries, and fosters national unity and pride through exhibitions and displays. The nine-acre plot currently allocated to the Museum is not adequate to serve the needs of a modern Museum. To confine it to a two storey section within the trade centre sends a clear message that the government is not interested in preserving and indeed fostering the cultural heritage of Uganda. This will be tantamount to reducing a national heritage institution into a gallery where the business community and tourists might visit to view the ‘savage’ past of Uganda. How will school children, who constitute more than 60 percent of the current museum visitors be accommodated? How will they learn to be proud Ugandans, when their past is placed in a trade centre built and financed by foreign interests?
The members of SAfA are acutely aware of the challenges and dilemmas that Uganda faces in its tasks to reconstruct itself and its economy. Nevertheless, the national and global significance of the Museum, its value to scholarship, and its unique characteristics, compel this organization to urge that an alternative location be found for the Trade Centre. Destroying the Uganda Museum very likely will lead to an irretrievable loss of the pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial cultural heritage of the nation. Great nations are those that safeguard and promote homegrown political, economic, social, technological, as well as cultural institutions. We believe that Uganda belongs to those nations that have proud histories and take pride in safeguarding that heritage.
Therefore, we urge the Government of Uganda to develop a plan directed towards preventing any interference with the Museum and to include plans that will prevent any possible encroachment of the undeveloped Museum land and the immediate surroundings. As part of this action, we would recommend that information about the Museum, its national, regional, and global, significance be made widely available to local communities and discussed in local schools. We further urge the Government to consult with AFRICOM (headquartered in Nairobi), UNESCO, Commonwealth Association of Museums, and other heritage agencies and specialists to find a lasting solution that will allow the Government to achieve its goal in providing space for the proposed Trade Centre.
We respectfully thank you for your consideration of this request.
Yours sincerely

Dr. Chapurukha M. Kusimba
President, Society of Africanists Archaeologists
Professor of Anthropology, University of Illinois-Chicago
Curator of African Archaeology and Ethnology, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago USA.

venerdì 19 agosto 2011

VII Conferenza Nazionale dei Musei.

Il Presidente di ICOM Italia, Alberto Garlandini, nel corso dell’ultima assemblea nazionale, svoltasi a Palermo il 5 e 6 giugno scorsi, tra le varie proposte ha annunciato le date della prossima Conferenza nazionale dei musei d’Italia che si svolgerà a Milano, presso la Fondazione Stelline, il prossimo 21 novembre.  In un momento di particolare malessere per la cultura italiana che lamenta enormi difficoltà a causa della crisi globale che ha coinvolto anche il nostro Paese, tale Conferenza si fa portavoce delle esigenze e delle urgenti necessità del mondo museale. Essa deve essere, citando le parole di Garlandini “il perno di una strategia coalizionale dei professionisti del patrimonio culturale”. La prossima VII Conferenza avrà come tema: Musei d’Italia. L’Italia dei musei. 150 anni di storia e di storie. Si parlerà della storia dei musei dall’Unità ad oggi ma anche del futuro. In particolare, uno dei temi su cui si confronteranno i professionisti museali sarà: Passato, presente, futuro.  2025: quali istituti della cultura e quali professioni del patrimonio culturale negli scenari del futuro?  Obiettivo dell’Icom è far diventare la pubblicazione degli Atti di questa Conferenza, che saranno editi dal Ministero, una vera e propria pietra miliare della storia della museologia italiana. Ciò in previsione della più lontana Conferenza del 2012 alla quale pure si guarda fin da ora perché potrebbe avere, secondo Garlandini, carattere di Stati Generali degli istituti e del patrimonio culturale e nella quale si intende coinvolgere anche i professionisti delle biblioteche, degli archivi e del patrimonio culturale in genere, per una riflessione comune.
(articolo di Caterina Pisu pubblicato su ArcheoNews, luglio 2011)

Nasce il primo Istituto di Museologia egiziano

Sorgerà al centro del Cairo e sarà realizzato grazie alla collaborazione internazionale

All'inizio di giugno, il Ministero di Stato per le Antichità egiziane (MSA) ha annunciato la nascita del primo Istituto di Museologia in Egitto. “We've been talking to USAID for a year and a half about opening a museology school in Cairo,” states Ramadan Hussein, a senior archaeological supervisor at the MSA.I finanziamenti arriveranno da USAID (United States Agency for International Development), l'istituzione governativa statunitense che coordina i programmi internazionali di assistenza umanitaria e che ha deciso di sostenere il progetto poiché l’Egitto, nonostante il gran numero di musei - almeno uno per ogni governatorato - difetta di personale qualificato e di manager esperti nel settore culturale; ciò si riflette spesso in una non ottimale gestione delle risorse e nel bisogno frequente di ricorrere ad esperti stranieri. Despite the large number of museums that the country enjoys, Egypt's museums suffer from a shortage of qualified personnel at the senior management level.In attempt to reinvigorate the museums' lackluster condition, the MSA Institute of Museology plans to provide a two-year intensive training program on museum curating, exhibition design and antiquity collection management, including proper documentation of exhibits, as well as fundraising and on-site business managemePer miglioPer migliorare la situazione dei musei egiziani, l'Istituto di Museologia inizierà la sua attività con un programma biennale di formazione intensiva incentrata sui principali temi della disciplina: dalla curatela del museo alle tecniche dell’allestimento, dalla gestione delle collezioni museali all’organizzazione delle mostre, dalla raccolta di fondi ai principi fondamentali di gestione aziendale. The museums are envisioned to ultimately function as independent cultural institutions rather than publically funded ones. L’Istituto formerà un curriculum che dovrà soddisfare i requisiti di accreditamento che saranno fissati dal Ministero egiziano dell'Istruzione superiore due anni dopo la fondazione della scuola. Saranno istituiti il Master e il dottorato di ricerca in Museologia e in gestione del patrimonio. Ampio spazio sarà dato anche alla didattica museale: si insegnerà a sviluppare progetti e laboratori per i bambini e per adulti affinché i musei riescano a richiamare un pubblico sempre più ampio, soprattutto quelle fasce di potenziali fruitori solitamente non abituati a frequentare i musei. La determinazione con cui il Governo egiziano intende attuare i programmi formativi attraverso il nuovo Istituto di Museologia è dimostrata dalla decisione di rendere obbligatori i corsi per gli stessi funzionari museali attualmente in carica, i quali dovranno  necessariamente aderire alle nuove disposizioni in materia di formazione e di aggiornamento, a meno di rinunciare alla propria posizione dirigenziale. Il Ministero per le Antichità Egiziane in questo particolare momento storico di rinnovamento e di ricostruzione, seguito alla drammatica rivoluzione dello scorso febbraio che causò ingenti danni anche al patrimonio culturale, intende soprattutto consolidare i musei esistenti, prestando molta attenzione alle risorse umane. L’obiettivo è far sì che i musei siano istituzioni culturali indipendenti anche dal punto di vista economico. Non appena arriverà il finanziamento USAID – il Ministro Zahi Hawass* ha parlato di una cifra pari a cinque milioni di dollari - la scuola avvierà immediatamente i suoi corsi presso una struttura del Ministero del Cairo, ma contemporaneamente si lavorerà anche alla ristrutturazione del Casdagli Palace, situato nel centro della capitale, e che diventerà la sede ufficiale dell’Istituto. La scelta è strategica: il Casdagli Palace si trova a pochi metri dal Museo Egizio, situato a Tahrir Square, e a breve distanza da altri musei importanti: il Museo copto, il Museo islamico e il Museo Nazionale della Civiltà egiziana. The central location of this villa will facilitate the students' travels between the school and these museums for on-site training. La posizione centrale di questa sede faciliterà gli spostamenti degli studenti tra la scuola e questi musei dove si svolgerà una parte della formazione. Per garantire l’eccellenza dell’offerta formativa e l’aderenza agli standard internazionali in materia di musei, si cercherà la collaborazione di altre organizzazioni internazionali, Once funding is provided by USAID, the school will commence immediately at one of the ministry's various facilities in CaThe scope of the programs, however, remains speculative as the ministry is still seeking the collaboration of professional organizations, such as the American Research Centre in Egypt, for curricula development. come l'American Research Centre, l’ICOM egiziana e altri enti. Chi gestirà l’Istituto dovrà avere una conoscenza approfondita delle carenze del vecchio sistema e dovrà essere deciso a introdurre cambiamenti radicali al fine di aprire una nuova pagina nella gestione del patrimonio culturale di questo Paese.
(articolo di Caterina Pisu pubblicato su ArcheoNews, luglio 2011)
* l'articolo è uscito prima dell'allontanamento di Zahi Hawass dai suoi incarichi di governo.

martedì 2 agosto 2011

Development as a Destroyer of Culture: Demolition of Uganda National Museum

By Mike van Graan

The Government of Uganda has decided that the Uganda National Museum - the country’s only national museum - will be demolished to make way for a 60-storey East Africa Trade Centre.

The proposed “ultramodern” building – which politicians suggest will take 3-5 years to complete but which will take closer to 30 years according to civil society activists and commentators familiar with such Ugandan projects - will house the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry, commercial retail outlets and office space. Oh, and two floors will be allocated to a new national museum.

Established in 1908, the Museum is more than one-hundred years old and is thus itself a heritage site.

This is a classic case of “development” versus “culture”, in much the same way as “development” has often destroyed the natural environment in the name of economic growth and social progress. For those who advocate “culture as a vector of development”, this particular case presents a major challenge, both philosophically and strategically.

Increasingly, “culture as a vector of development” has come to mean the catalysing and support of the creative industries as economic drivers, as job-creation mechanisms, as generators of the financial resources that will be used to address major social and human development needs in the areas of health, education and the eradication of poverty, all important in the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals.

This is particularly relevant to Uganda whose per capita income is a mere $460 and which is ranked a lowly 143 on the Human Development Index.

What the Ugandan government is saying is that the Ugandan National Museum – a national heritage site and the primary repository of the nation’s historical artefacts - is not a vector of development in that it is poorly attended by locals and tourists; it does not generate income; it serves no real economic purpose, and, if anything, it consumes limited public resources.

From their point of view then, it is a no-brainer to demolish the museum in favour of a building that will generate substantial income through more commercially viable uses, and which could then very well contribute to economic, social and human development in Uganda.

By the same logic, the Ugandan government can next make a move on the National Theatre. Why bother to have a National Theatre – even if it is better used than the National Museum – when the economy can benefit more from a shopping mall or prestigious office block or apartment building in its place?

Therein lies the philosophical challenge to the “culture as a vector of development” proponents i.e. by making the case for the arts primarily on the basis of their economic contribution, the corollary is that where cultural institutions or the arts do not make an economic contribution or make an economic contribution that is substantially less than another option, then politicians and bureaucrats feel justified in destroying culture in favour of a better “development” option.

And yet, the proposed 60-storey building does not simply represent the destruction of culture in the form of the possible demolition of the National Museum; in truth, it represents a culture that is different, even foreign to the one represented by the Museum. The 60-storey building represents a culture of materialism, an elitist culture of ostentation, a globalised culture with a building and the values that it represents that could be in any major city of the world.

The National Museum on the other hand – the one destined for destruction – is about Ugandan identity; unique Ugandan history; values, traditions and worldviews that are peculiar to Uganda, a building and content that celebrates cultural diversity as envisaged by UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

Uganda is not a signatory to the Convention. Not yet anyway.

And herein lies the strategic challenge to proponents of “culture as a vector of development”: to mobilise an international movement to prevent the destruction of the National Ugandan Museum, thus preserving cultural diversity in a globalised world, and contributing to a richer understanding of the relationship between culture and social, human and economic development.

Mike van Graan is the Secretary General of Arterial Network, a continent-wide network of artists, activists and creative enterprises active in the African creative sector and its contribution to development, human rights and democracy on the continent. He is also the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute (AFAI), a South African NGO based in Cape Town that harnesses expertise, resources and markets in the service of Africa’s creative sector. He is considered to be one of his country’s leading contemporary playwrights.
For further information, see:

Continua la mobilitazione internazionale per salvare il Museo Nazionale dell'Uganda. Questo articolo è tratto da African Colours, la guida all'Arte africana contemporanea.