Among the many powerful memories of my first visit to Sarajevo in the spring of 2013, is the front door of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The museum was closed, and had been so for quite some time already, a bold sign unmistakingly told everyone who cared to walk by. And although 40 employees of the museums didn’t receive pay, they kept coming to work to keep the museum and its collections safe from harm, prevent decay and do basic maintenance. I remember being in a bar late one night with some local museum professionals, when one of them had to leave to take the graveyard shift at the museum. Still, this commitment to cultural work stands out to me.
Late last year, after an impressive public campaign and through the work of many exceptional (museum) professionals, the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina reopened. This year, the employees have been awarded a Europa Nostra award for dedicated service for their extraordinary work, unpaid, to keep the museum accessible. A happy ending, for now, to an exceptional museum story, which may hold some relevant lessons for all museums and cultural institutions that one day may be faced with tough economic or political conditions.
The process towards the reopening of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina started when the independent cultural agency AKCIJA, together with photographer Zijah Gafić, decided to make portraits of the employees of the museum, who had the time had been working voluntarily for years to keep the public cultural infrastructure in place. Their campaign, #jasammusej or I am the museum was not meant to create sympathy for the workers, but simply to show a wider public that although the museum was closed, a lot of work was going on behind the closed doors. Continue ReadingRead More »