ASEMUS General Conference, Paris, 2010

ASEMUS celebrated its 10th anniversary at a General Conference hosted by Musée Quai Branly in Paris. The main theme of the event was a new initiative to map collections, expertise and activities at Asian and European museums. During plenary presentations and working group sessions different strategies for future cooperation were discussed and developed.

At the conference a session was dedicated to ASEMUS activities so far – what have we achieved, what have we learnt and what can we do better? Over the years the ASEM-process has grown and consists now of 46 members. Thus there is a need to identify active museum partners in new membership countries. There is also a need to broaden the network to different staff categories at the participating museums. Together with old members the challenge is to carry the network forward and to implement new shared projects.

The basic principles behind a new Action Plan 2011-2014 was agreed to at the concluding session. It include a transfer of the Secretariat from the National Museums of World Culture, Sweden to the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore from January 1st 2011, a focus on the mapping of collections and a revamp of the ASEMUS website. The Action Plan will be further developed by the present Chair, the present and future Secretariat and ASEF.

The action plans are found below:

ASEMUS Action Plan for 2010-2014

Increased  Visitbility – Increased Sharing

Background

As a consequence of the asymmetry of museum-collections between Asia and Europe, there is a need for operational projects that improves the sharing of heritage resources on an equal basis.

The ASEMUS network emanates from this focused definition of rationality. Through a multilateral design, activities have been developed that are not as vulnerable and biased as is the case in many bilateral co operations. Although ASEMUS have had a rather quick growth, the network is to be seen on a qualitative more than quantitative basis. For instance, compared with the International Council of Museums (ICOM), ASEMUS is smaller, more operational and more project oriented. The aim is that the inherent confidence-building process in a network should stimulate museums to develop common projects that are truly mutual and equal in character. ASEMUS is set to be a network by museums – for museums.

Consequently, and this makes ASEMUS almost unique in the museum world, it is not a rigid organization with responsible manpower and clear mandate to do something “for” its partners in exchange for a membership fee. On the contrary, it is a loose and informal “network” of like-minded organisations that has agreed to do something together. Such reciprocal and open-minded configuration implies mutual responsibility, whereby participating museums are expected to share its resources (collections, knowledge, manpower) for the realization of mutually defined objectives. ASEMUS as a network is there to facilitate and add value to the cooperation among museums, but not to directly implement the cooperation.

Between 2001 and 2004 a series of mutual workshops identified eight concrete projects for further consideration. To coordinate content and the network as such, a website was launched in the fall 2001. The eight projects were presented for possible donors at the Museum Hopping event in Singapore, March 2004. Since then the projects has developed differently in scope and pace. Some received almost instantly initial funding from ASEF, while others had to seek financial support from other sources or rely on the will of each participating museum to go ahead.

When the network turned to a more project oriented phase, ASEMUS had to define a management structure for the projects that fitted the loose character of network as described above. The model decided was to assign two close partners, one in Asia and one in Europe, to be responsible for the coordination of a specific project and to report developments continuously to the ASEMUS secretariat (for more info, see asemus.museum).

ASEMUS has so far benefited greatly from a number of institutional partners.  In this respect, the ASEMUS process might be viewed as concentric circles grown out of some dedicated institutions who decided to work together voluntarily with a particular focus, and where more and more institutions has become involved in different fields of activity. The network is closely connected to the overall aim of increased cooperation between Asia and Europe as manifested by the Asia Europe meetings (ASEM) and its extended arm, the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF). By far, ASEF has been the most important financial contributor to the network and also most generous with support in organisational and administrative matters. The opportunity to rely on such an experienced and professional partner has been of immense value for the network.

ASEMUS now moves into a new decade. In conjunction with the 10th anniversary an evaluation of the first decade will be conducted and presented. The aim is to reflect upon the process so far and to act according to lessons learnt. Already now we know, however, that the ASEMUS process has to a large extent relied on number of very dedicated museum directors. Shall the network sustain, it must grow and deepen in order to reach also other staff categories than hitherto. In addition, the ASEM has grown from 33 members in year 2000 to 46 today. This opens up for a major opportunity of increased influx of new member institutions also to ASEMUS.

The ASEMUS anniversary will be celebrated at a General Conference where a new Action Plan for the years 2010-2014 will be discussed and adopted. The main focus for the Conference is a mapping of collections, expertise and activities of mutual interest for museums in Asia and Europe. This theme departs from the very core of ASEMUS cooperation and may be a very good vehicle for the “deepening” of the network to new staff categories. In addition, the theme constitutes a good practical rational for “new” museums to join the network. The proposed actions below aim to respond to these challenges and opportunities. The guiding principles for the following years should be increased visibility – increased sharing.

In order to harmonize with ASEF Board of Governors meetings and at the same time trying to keep the momentum, some of the suggestions need to be decided upon before the General Conference in Paris in September 2010.[1] Others, e.g. the particular structure and projects with regard to the mapping, will be thoroughly discussed at the conference. Thus specific proposals on this will have to wait.

In this draft there are no budgets for the different proposals suggested – this should be done after ASEMUS ExCom has agreed on the strategy.

Ideas discussed at the General Conference and proposals developed as a result:

  • Continued support for the Secretariat – move it to an Asian museum (after ten years at a European museum it is certainly time). During the conference, the Asian Civilization Museum has accepted to take this responsibility.
  • Establish closer links between ASEMUS website, VCM and ASEF Culture 360 portal
  • Principal decision to support and arrange two additional General conferences (one in Asia – 2012, one at the next European Chair Museum 2014)
  • Initiate the “Silk Road project” as a tool to bring VCM and ASEMUS closer to each other
  • Continued support to the Travelling Exhibition Self and Other
  • Mapping of collections: identification of “National Hubs” responsible for identifying and linking collections from Asia and Europe of mutual interest to a common ASEMUS resource ; dissemination of the results
  • Continued support for the exchange on educational programs and marketing issues within museum with particular focus on how to attract new audiences
  • Support the exchange of additional staff categories – needs identified in conjunction with GC
  • Support identification of collections (exchange of expertise between curators)

Karl Magnusson

Secretary of ASEMUS

Paris, September 2010


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