Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

12. Training of staff, development of local potential / human resources


Once identity became a topic in her class, Azade Koeker, sculpturer and Professor at the Architectural department of Braunschweig University, Germany linked it to location and time. She gave her students following task: prepare memory pieces for two different locations and then compare the difference. The first exhibition place was at the central office building of the German trade union (DGB) while the second place was a luxury palace in the rich suburban district of Grunewald in Berlin West. The contrast could not have been greater when it came to find out how identities were assumed, taken on or discarded by those who frequented these very different places. This became even more explicit when one student used former lockers of workers to show a difference as to what identities people have when they arrive at work, and what happens to their identities once they exchange their street with work clothes. Moreover the students became interested in what happens once those people return to normal life after a day of work? And they posed the same question quite differently when they made the same exhibition in that second place. Suddenly other items till now not noticed stood out while those who had a significance in the first exhibition place seemed irrelevant in this other context.

Such sensitivization would be needed for the staff working at a specific museum. For visitors enter, discard their mental robes, immerse themselves in the museum’s exhibition spaces and when they return to the exist, they should be able to take with them at least some new identity pieces.

As such the museum can strengthen not only local and regional identities, but also encourage people to develop further their local potential resources by enriching the very models they use daily to experience and to learn from the world.

Still, in the current world of museums, museology tends to direct people to quite other skills and this without real preparation for the work to be done in museums facing new challenges mainly due to financial constraints and the new technologies. The reduced intellectual capacity brought about a strictly managerial approach is hampered still further by over bureaucratic measures. If not corrected in time, it shall leave a qualified staff both under demanded in their expertise and at risk that the entire museum disqualifies itself in terms of its own communication process.

Going back to the organizational and functional discussion at the beginning of this study, it should be taken note that most museums suffer under one thing, namely the inability to create conditions for an own and unique ‘museum culture’ within its own space and location. Giovanni Pinna states some of the most obvious reasons why this failure to communicate has an adverse impact upon museums in his article about the intellectual organization of museums:

“An archaic conception of heritage and museums, accompanied by unbending and frustrating bureaucracy, isolates the individual intellectualities that work within museums and thus prevents (in his case in Italy) institutions from embarking on the cultural debate which elsewhere produces what I have many times called ‘museum culture’, which is what a museum must transmit to individual visitors and to society as a whole.” [1]

12.1 Professional requirements

Implementation of museum policy presupposes trained and qualified people who can not only do the job but are willing to take this training further. For without constant monitoring and evaluation, there is no learning process being sustained in a way that the museum could adjust in time to new needs.

12.2 Entry into the work process

a) Formal requirements:

“the scientific staff of museums must be highly specialized in a precise scientific-cultural area; curators must have attended a postgraduate school, and cannot merely have a general degree, such as those on the conservation of cultural heritage.” [2]

Here note should be taken that both scientific and cultural knowledge is required.

In addition there can be offered training on the job to complement the general knowledge and special skills by adapting them to the specific requirements of the museum and its collection.

b) Informal requirements

The skill of picking up information and further pieces of evidence out of simple, very informal discussions with visitors means the staff is engaged in refining the working hypothesis underlying both the collection’s key interpretation of things and how this is compatible with the museum’s overall mission.

This includes as well a refined Know how of collections and their items with a willingness of staff members to update constantly their knowledge by entering a dialogue with visitors. This has to be followed up by constant monitoring and evaluation of what has been observed, recorded, reflected upon and gone into decisions for the next exhibitions.

12.3 Responsiveness to visitors

Training the entire staff to be attentive to visitors is a special and ongoing task within any museum and has to be defined apart from formal learning and training courses in a more refined way, in order to allow for a meaningful interaction with visitors. Many new concepts have been tried out by museums e.g. guides not taking visitors through the entire exhibtion, but stepping in when certain discussions develop in front of a specific item being exhibited. Other efforts include visitors to participate in setting up exhibitions by letting them contribute to the collection e.g. the City museum of Leipzig asked from citizens of the city to donate one item which stands out for a certain time period, and thus one Jewish man donated his suitcase for the period 1933-45. When preparing a collection, a lot of thought has to go into how to present the items and therefore care has to be taken not to over alienate the visitors with all kinds of gadgets, when the artefact should really be able to speak for itself as prime source of the experience to be made in the museum. Here then is the major stumbling bloc, namely how to trains the staff so as to enhance visitors to make their experiences in such a way that they are prepared after the visit to go online and to enhance the experience they made while visiting that exhibitions. Thus much focus when training staff has to be on how to link the various medial worlds without becoming over dependent upon technology to tell the story.

12.4 Entry and sustaining the interpretative process

More than just taking a glance at an object and treating it on face value, it would be exciting if museums would engage the visitors in interpretative discussions.

A good example is the discussion organised in 2009 by Roger Simon in Toronto, Canada when he invited people to come into a gallery space to discuss there videos uploaded onto You Tube by Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan. The entire discussion bears the title" "war at a distance". Linked to that is the crucial question whether war and its instruments belong even inside a museum.

12.5 Sustaining museum work over time

Prime focus: communication skills – but what overt mistakes can be made if the museum steers its staff towards image creating public relation exercises only and this at the expense of deepening competence and recognition as to what substantial museum work needs to be done to retain the museum’s professional standards and high reputation.

Secondary focus: training volunteers and an extended audience which appreciates then what the museum attempts to do over the years as this long term focus means also sustaining an audience for the museum itself. This will require in turn a staff trained to know how the local community can identify through cultural heritage with its own cultural background, history and innovative capacity in order to retain identity and continuity over time. Here the National Museum of New Zealand can be taken as an example when setting forth its priorities but also how programming is done to embed temporary exhibitions in the overall context as defined by the permanent exhibitions and collections. Timing of actual themes can reinforce interactions with permanent collections as they illuminate special features and allow the visitor to interact in a more competent way with the museum’s overall collection and display as form of cultural articulation. By raising the cultural literacy through ongoing events it will also sustain communication in the community about vital issues to the community. A staff needs to be responsive to such direct and indirect communication needs.

Tertiary focus: signs and symbols used as much as concepts brought into circulation through this communication about permanent and temporary exhibitions will touch upon a changing approach to ‘intangible heritage’ and as thus require the entire intellectual organization of the museum to be comprehended by the entire staff. If the staff is not trained to work together, then the cohesive whole of the museum will not be articulated. It will reflect itself above all in the quality of research and publications done by the museum. Already the quality of guidebooks, online exhibitions and design used is vital for the museum to uphold a high aesthetical standard and thereby go beyond merely neutralizing culture into a dead artifact even before the visitor has come into the contact with various components of cultural heritage of the past, present and future.

12.6 Maintaining archives - the special case of archives of living poets, writers, artists and other personalities contributing to the ‘culture of the museum’

Since the late nineties, early twenties it has become a key concept to revitalize archives to include living poets, writers, artists and other personalities, so that at any one point in time their creative process can be traced.

Practically memory works according to S. Freud on a short- and long-term basis while the recovery of both aspects of memory can be expressed by a special philosophy on how to remember things i.e. by which names, with what characteristics and above all with what implicit and explicit meaning. The memory base for the long term is the archive; the short-term can be represented by temporary exhibitions and collections. The interplay between what people know on a day-by-day basis and what the museum has in its archives is like a path of permanent discovery based on new questions and interpretations as to how past, present and future projections are connected.

All this should be reflected in the ‘culture of the museum’, a concept Giovanni Pinna stresses is of vital importance and reflects itself not merely in the communication process the museum enters but as to what it gives recognition to as adding to its collections, its value and importance.

12.7 Training of staff

A ‘culture of the museum’ does exist “if each member of the museum’s scientific staff has their own culture, has formed their own scientific identity in relation to the collections in their charge and the pertinent disciplines.” [3]

The consequence of that is that such “staff …cannot but be highly specialized and must have a solid background in the discipline relevant to the collections that they must safeguard, study and communicate.” [4]

Giovanni Pinna believes despite this crucial importance of being specialized the training and education of staff of museums in Italy “is deeply wrong and should be reversed. The general degree courses now available, such as those on cultural heritage, should be postgraduate courses to be undertaken after a degree on a single subject. In short, I feel it makes more sense to specialize in the management of archaeological, history of art, zoological or architectural heritage rather than give a smattering of all these disciplines to students fresh out of secondary school and hope that they will subsequently develop scientific competence individually.”   [5]

12.8 Development of local potential / human resources

Museums create employment opportunities in various ways e.g. guides for the museum of Delphi become at the same time a part of the local community serving altogether the visitors and tourists coming to Delphi to visit the site.

Volunteers can work as guides for city museums e.g. Chicago Architectural Foundation engages over 400 volunteers for conducting their tours on boats and buses.

Of interest is when the intermeshing of being a museum guide with the wife running a kiosk while the son operates a hotel goes through the entire family involved in this work for and around the museum and archaeological site. Any late comer will be directed by the mother to the son who will in turn reflect upon the experiences of his father when narrating to visitors some of the local and specific features. This means over the generations certain or key experiences will be transmitted while the ongoing changes in the museum as well as in the tourist industry will be keenly followed. The well-being can be established on a year by year basis insofar as a comparison between the years can tell if one is doing better or things are not faring so well because of lack of tourists coming to the country.

A further look at what Phil Cooke has called ‘culture of excellence’ can be reflected on hand of the values upheld in everyday practices. This means services ranging from cooking to building hotels, in the final end it does matter whether or not the development shows that details were and are taken care of or whether a sort of careless attitude allows the glossing over e.g. broken tile in the bathroom, shower not working properly, breakfast not worthy to speak of.

Development will by-pass local potential if the human resources available are not trained and do not enter really a cultural path. Foreign visitors will judge a locality whether or not it takes care of its environment while neglect thereof means in reality the various types of transportations all by-pass the question why heavy trucks are allowed to go through the sensitive Delphi area and why hotels to the main street are shunned by tourists due to noise and air pollution. It is interesting that main business interests have so far blocked decisions to allow the construction of a by-pass road so that heavy traffic would not go through the town. There is this irrational fear of loosing business if people are not forced to drive through the centre of the town. Such a transport concept can hinder rather than encourage the development of local potentialities and force human resources to squander time and energy in order to deal with all the negative, often hidden side effects.

This means especially in terms of reputation the hidden dimension is among other things also a political matter not often dealt with in any adequate term since squandering of resources and a false development concept will not allow local potentialities be exploited in any positive way. Moreover, there will not be an easy access to human resources. Rather things will develop in a wrong direction.



[1] Giovanni Pinna, The intellectual organisation of museums (2005) (unpublished), p. 2

[2] Giovanni Pinna, The intellectual organisation of museums (2005) (unpublished), p. 1

[3] Giovanni Pinna, The intellectual organisation of museums, (2005) (unpublished), p. 3

[4] Op.cit.

[5] Giovanni Pinna, The intellectual organisation of museums, (2005) (unpublished), p. 3

[6] Organised by the Fitzcarraldo Foundation in close cooperation with the Regione Piemonte, Holden Art and ENCATC.  This event is co-funded by the European Commission, Leonardo da Vinci programme. For further information contact

Alberto Gulli Coordinatore  Formazione
Fondazione Fitzcarraldo
corso Mediterraneo, 94 -10129 Torino - I
Tel. +39.011.5683365 Fax +39.011.503361
e-mail alberto.gulli@fitzcarraldo.it



[7] H-Net Network for Museums and Museum Studies

E-Mail: h-museum@h-net.msu.edu

WWW: http://www.h-museum.net


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