Frequently asked questions - relating to the government assignment that has been submitted
A great deal is being written about our museums in the media at present. The reason is that the agency has presented a proposal to the government - this concerns investigating the co-location of our museums in Stockholm in one place. We therefore wish to clarify a number of aspects and answer a number of questions.
The ambition of the proposal is to create one large and inspirational museum with collections from all parts of the world. By releasing funds that are currently tied up in property costs, we will have the resources to create interesting and exciting new exhibitions and more programme points, as well as the opportunity to focus on getting information about our collections out to more visitors, researchers and school classes. In brief, we hope to be able to create more activities with the money.
Will the activities of the museums be merged together?
SMVK is an agency with one, joint mission and has been so since 1999. The report submitted to the government proposes various alternative courses of action for how the present museums' activities could be co-located, so as to create resources for development.
Will the National Museums of World Culture no longer be institutions of knowledge?
They absolutely will be. The museums have been founded on a scientific basis and this will obviously continue. The ambition is to strengthen the development of knowledge within the agency by 1) safeguarding its finances so that the agency can strengthen competence in a number of subject areas through recruitment 2) establishing a research council with internal and external members 3) establishing a new role of research coordinator within the agency 4) formulating collaboration with the university and seats of learning as a strategic focus. We see no contradiction between being a scholarly institution of profound knowledge and seeking to be relevant to many. We have been tasked with being both a knowledge institution and a communicator of knowledge.
But doesn't your proposal mean that the exhibitions will become more uniform when the different perspectives that exist today are lost?
Since its establishment in 1999, the National Museums of World Culture have produced many different types of exhibitions and other offerings for the public. The wide scope of the agency's task - to work with the cultures of the world, based on the global collections that we administer - both enables and requires just such a wide scope of activities. This is something that we will continue into the future - regardless of the premises in which our activities are located.
Are your activities politically controlled?
Like all other government authorities, the agency receives its mandate from the government and the Riksdag.
Do the politicians decide what you exhibit?
No. It is obviously the agency that decides what we will exhibit.
But why should you work on sustainable development? Isn't it your collections that you should be working on?
All government agencies have been tasked with working on sustainable development and Agenda 2030, on the basis of their different circumstances. We have a great deal to contribute in this area. Because the collections give us the opportunity to make historical and geographical comparisons, we can provide knowledge about social conditions, alternative ways of using resources and the development of different societies through their contact with each other.
Will the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities and the other museums in Stockholm be closed down?
No. There is no proposal to close down any museum activities, only to investigate alternative locations. The ambition is to release funding so as to create even more activities and develop knowledge about the collections. We have submitted a proposal to the government that we will perform in-depth preliminary studies relating to our proposed alternatives. Now it is up to the government to come back to us with new instructions.
Why do you present exhibitions about norms and norm criticism?
In the debate, many people have referred to the exhibition Playground as a deterrent example of how norm criticism takes over museums. (Some of these people have not even visited the exhibition.) But Playground is an important exhibition that is based on classic ethnographic collection work. It relies on scientific knowledge and the narratives of real people. It asks important questions about how norms arise and what they mean, and illustrates how they change throughout history. Having said this, it does not mean that all the National Museums of World Culture exhibitions in the future will be about norms, as some seem to fear. It is important however to bring new perspectives of our collections and lower the thresholds, so that more people can share in what we do. Work on the Playground exhibition began in 2013 and was aimed at schools and young adults. The exhibition has been nominated for both exhibition of the year and teaching project of the year.
Can it really be cheaper to move to a big new museum located in the centre of Stockholm?
Yes, we have calculated that this will reduce our expenses for premises in the long term. Having one building that makes effective use of space should be cheaper in the long term than having three different buildings.
But according to your proposals, it would mean fewer square metres available for exhibitions. Is that right?
Yes there would be slightly less exhibition space, but at the same time the space could be better tailored to our needs. A tailor-made building would also be more suited to our purposes. The funds that would be released would also enable us to have more exhibitions, both inside the building and outside. We would also be able to devote more work to visiting activities.
But today the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities attracts a big audience - about a third of all your visitors. How can you now think about closing this popular museum?
None of our proposals are about closing museums. They are about releasing funding for development. By making funds available, we could do even more things like those at the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities - more exhibitions and presenting even more of our fantastic collections from the Mediterranean area. Doing nothing would mean even less funding for our activities: fewer exhibitions and in the long term fewer visitors.
But the Museum of World Culture is your most expensive building. Why not close this or make it more efficient?
Over the last few years the Museum of World Culture has been undergoing a transformation into a model of sustainable activity on offer to the public. The museum used to have only temporary exhibitions on all three floors. Now two floors have a permanent exhibition based on our collections, while we have temporary exhibitions on one floor.
In 2017 we will also begin to lease out one of the two floors of office space.
But it would cost hundreds of millions to build a new museum. How can that be cheaper?
We can see that it would be cheaper in the long term when the costs are spread over a number of years. Our calculations are based partly on market rents in central Stockholm and partly on the estimated cost of building new exhibition space and carrying out the move.
What happens to the staff if you move?
Our proposals are about developing - not running down - our activities. The ambition is that we will have more activities, which will probably mean that we will need more employees.
Will the Far Eastern collections be dispersed?
No, there is no such proposal. The purpose of our proposals is to create even better conditions for conserving the collections. And at a lower cost.
I read that you will have no room for knowledge about Asia. Is that right?
No. We will be able to do more to present the unique collections that we manage. Our proposals mean that we will release resources to look after them even better and develop more public activities involving them and other contemporary issues.
But there is nobody with knowledge about these collections in management positions.
The heads of departments are recruited to manage the work and create the right conditions for our employees to develop our activities. Our employees have great expertise in their specialist areas and do not need a manager with the same knowledge. The heads of departments have been recruited for their managerial abilities. There are four curators who specialise in Asia in our organisation. Obviously, they will continue to work with these important collections. If we can release resources, we can further develop our knowledge about these collections - and the others.
But a number of your curators have left and have not been replaced. Is it not a problem that you lack staff with knowledge about the collections?
It is the agency's ambition to recruit new expertise very soon. This is necessary so as to enable us to develop our activities. We would also like to point out that the agency has a tremendous resource in the existing staff. We have had a new organisation in place since 1 June and the new departments are now looking at what additional expertise they need. In order to be able to develop activities and knowledge about the collections, we must have our finances in balance.
Why are the National Museums of World Culture establishing a Kids Advisory Board?
The agency is looking to establish a number of external advisory functions in order to strengthen our activities. Our mandate includes working to reach a young audience for our activities - exactly as for most museums. Setting up the Kids Advisory Board is one way of increasing the agency's competence in and understanding of the expectations that children and young people have for us. This could be compared with working with various reference groups, which is an entirely normal concept in modern museum practice.
I read that the focus on cost cutting and optimising income is putting the collections in danger.
No, quite the opposite. We intend to create better conditions for conservation.
Our proposals do not include any dilution of cultural heritage. The care of and knowledge about the artefacts are extremely important considerations. During our review we have identified a number of areas that can be developed and improved so as to increase both the security of and access to the collections.
Our artefact archives are currently spread over a number of locations. Not all are equally suitable for the storage of such items and there is a risk of fire, water leaks etc. All our proposals involve an improvement in the care of the artefacts. Our proposals also include releasing resources that will enable us to focus even more on developing our knowledge of them.
Is it true that donations to the museums can be reclaimed?
Since 1999 it has been the agency's responsibility to use donations that have been made to specific museums to conserve and develop knowledge. As far as we are aware, no donors have made donations to buildings, but rather to the activities.
But some external researchers are expressing concern that your collections will be dispersed or become inaccessible. Is that not the case?
No, it is not? The collections that we manage are not threatened. The purpose of all the proposals that we have presented to the government is to be able to take even better care of them and make them more accessible. In accordance with the new organisation that came into force on 1 June, a research council is being set up with both internal and external members. The purpose is to increase interest in our collections and thus develop knowledge about them.
There is international concern about what you are proposing and for the artefacts. May there not be increasing demands for repatriation as a result of this?
All our proposals are about developing our activities, not running them down. This is also the case for our international relations. There is much to be done in developing relations with the indigenous peoples and countries whose cultural heritage we are caring for. Our ambition is that by releasing resources we shall be able to even better attend to and communicate knowledge about these artefacts. The security of our collections is something from which we will never be budged.