Salon 12 mei 2016: Heritage professionals across borders – Introduction by Paul Ariese

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Photo: Wessel de Groot
Good evening. My name is Paul Ariese, I’m lecturer at the Reinwardt Academy and member of the board of the Salon de Muséologie. On behalf of the Salon and the Erfgoedarena – Reinwardt, I warmly welcome you to this meeting. I have a few words to share with you as an introduction.It’s twelve years ago now that I stayed for a couple of months in the Middle East’s poorest country, Yemen. One day, I came unannounced at the main gate of the National Museum in the capital Sana’a. Although the museum appeared to be closed due to renovations, the guard opened the door immediately when I explained that I had links with the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. The director and staff gave me two hours of their time, we drank tea and I was offered a private tour through the museum.

Right now, ladies and gentlemen, these colleagues are under attack. (…) Deathly international coalitions literally tear place and people apart, destroy the Old City of Sana’a – a World Heritage Site – close to the museum. And who cares?

Last November I gave training to museum staff from Afghanistan. They told me about the loss of the majority of their collections due to violence and looting. They testified of life threatening situations they repeatedly encountered. I wonder, and I’m unable to come to grip with it, what is left for a heritage professional when bombs even crush the fragments to dust? Here lies the incentive to initiate this meeting.

Tonight we welcome heritage and museum professionals with a refugee background. Dear colleagues from Syria, Eritrea, and other places: Good to see you here at the Reinwardt Academy.

Over the last months, we got in touch with you via different channels. We want to express our special thanks to VluchtelingenWerk Nederland and to Joost van der Hel from Refugee Start Force for kindly helping us in this regard.

Different parties have cooperated in organizing this meeting. As you may not be familiar with the one or the other, let me briefly explain who they are. The Salon de Muséologie, in the first place, is an informal group of museum workers, which organizes network meetings on a monthly basis. Usually these take place at ARCAM, at the Oosterdok, not far from here.

Secondly the Reinwardt Academy, which is the cultural heritage faculty of the Amsterdam University of the Arts. Seven times a year, the Reinwardt Academy hosts the Erfgoedarena, where hot topics in the heritage field are discussed. Both, the Salon and the Erfgoedarena are aimed at a broad audience, free for all to participate.

For tonight, the Salon and the Erfgoedarena – Reinwardt Academy join forces. We decided to do so because we consider the topic of this event to have relevancy for both of our networks.

What shall we discuss tonight? Over the last years, we have seen many images of endangered heritage in the Middle-East, in North-Africa and other places. We see monuments, tombs, cloisters, temples etc being threatened and destroyed, although I fear that most of what happens takes place outside our field of view. However, the impact of this all on people and communities linked to these sites is even more underexposed. We have come to realize that as part of the drama that continues to develop, many colleagues risk their lives, or even loose their lives, while they perform their jobs as museum staff members, archaeologists, researchers etc.

In the Reinwardt Academy’s international programs and also in other capacities, we have come to know many heritage professionals worldwide. Time and again we receive a warm and amicable welcome. Tonight we create an opportunity to return the favour. While the endangered sites are out of our reach, we are here tonight to encounter people associated with these places. And so we meet, not as groups from different sites, but as colleagues who have stories to share across borders. These stories tell us about treatments of heritage sites that are considered by some to represent universal values – which may sometimes be the precise reason why they are under attack. What these sites are, what fate they are undergoing and how to react – these are topics that we feel deserve to be discussed in the international setting in which we gather tonight.

Conversely, also the heritage sites in our own Low Countries deserve better than a “Dutch treat”. In an increasingly global world, what we need is a multitude of different perspectives and an open conversation in order for all to become co-owners.

Our focus tonight is on people, because we think that is where it all starts. We distance ourselves from blind opinions and quick peeks. Instead, we look for the sparkle in each other’s eyes. With this meeting on ‘heritage professionals across borders’, we aim to have a meaningful conversation with all of you about the values and intentions on which we base our various professional practices.

Though we are all in some way linked to the heritage and museum field, operating in different contexts may mean that different approaches are being applied and valued. We look forward now to discovering what we share, and we want to learn from each other regarding the things in which we may differ. I invite all, whether you are student or senior, director or debutant, to contribute tonight.

Most of all I hope the encounter of tonight will be continued, and will result in lasting relationships among you.

Marjelle van Hoorn on behalf of the Salon, and Riemer Knoop on behalf of the Erfgoedarena & Reinwardt Academy, will act as moderators of the discussion. I thank you all for your attention.

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