New Directions In Museum Ethics: Speaker Profiles

Joshua Gorman

Joshua Gorman recently completed a Ph.D. in American History at the University of Memphis. His research focuses on museums and the creation of heritage in the service of community and economic development. Gorman has broad experience in collections care and exhibition creation in the museums at the Universities of Memphis and Illinois. He is currently pursuing new opportunities in programming, exhibitions and collections.

Universalism and the New Museology: Impacts on the Ethics of Authority and Ownership

The emergence of the new museum studies in the late twentieth century forged a re-articulation of museum ethics with respect to the prerogative of diverse stakeholders to claim authority and ownership of museum objects. Stemming in part from indigenous claims to collections, the incipient representational critique accepted (if critically) the ethical foundations of repatriation and sharing authority. The recent Declaration of the Importance and Value of the Universal Museum augmented by philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah’s discussions of Cosmopolitanism substantively contradicts this ethic by creating a divide between the universal and the local in the ownership of cultural property and the definition of knowledge.
These ambiguities engender conflicting reactions in an author sympathetic to indigenous repatriation claims but invested in museums as didactic and preservative sites. True to the claims of the universal museum, local claims to material culture do problematize the idea of the museum, but the ethical commitments to the representation of nonwestern communities inherent to the new museum studies require it. The proposed paper examines the intellectual foundations of this contradiction and the resulting impact upon the ethical collection and display of museum objects. Within the context of the new museum studies as well as examples of local negotiation for ethical control of what constitutes knowledge about museum collections, the paper investigates the ethics of the emergent universal argument and possible avenues for negotiation of the conflict.

Jennifer Zazo

Jennifer Zazo is a Park Ranger in the Interpretive Division at the African Burial Ground National Monument. She earned a BFA from the School of Visual Arts, a certificate in the Management of Museum Collections from the Smithsonian Institute, an MS in Communications from The College of New Rochelle and an MA in Museum Studies from New York University. Ms. Zazo spent five years working as the Director of Castle Gallery in New Rochelle, NY where her work as a curator began. She has curated several exhibitions including: From Africa to America: Visual Reflections on the African Diaspora, The Black Madonna, Fifteen Years of Laura James, The Art of Magic, Byron Goto: A Retrospective, and From Venice to Vegas: Circus Memorabilia from the Collection of Earl Chaney.

Descendent Stakeholders: The African Burial Ground National Monument
And The Civic Engagement Initiative

Public history has become increasingly prevalent in the daily lives of Americans as historians, scholars, curators, and administrators identify and re-define its many uses in today’s society. Of great significance is the role that museums and historic sites are now taking to consciously contribute to the overall development of their constituent communities. While engaging the public is not a new practice for cultural institutions, the National Park Service elevated their level of commitment to the public with the implementation of the Civic Engagement Initiative, formally establishing it as the fundamental base for the development of park management plans and program structure. Inspired by the National Park System Advisory Board’s report, Re-thinking the National Parks for the 21st Century, the NPS Civic Engagement Initiative was conceived in response to the alarming number of critical challenges affecting the agency. The African Burial Ground National Monument provides an interesting case study with which to explore these issues. Beginning with its rediscovery in 1991, New York City’s African Burial Ground quickly escalated into a matter of national debate as historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and members of the African American community battled over nearly every aspect of the site’s excavation, preservation, research, management, and commemoration. As a new destination in the park system, the African Burial Ground is now actively involved in the formulation of the General Management Plan, which will ultimately guide and direct the operations of the site for years to come.
So why is community involvement so critical to the success of the African Burial Ground National Monument? How has the NPS encouraged the community to take part in the development and implementation of the site’s General Management Plan? What significance does the emerging role of descendent stakeholders hold for the future of museums, historic sites and cultural institutions? This paper explores the potential that the Civic Engagement Initiative has to foster and sustain an open and honest dialogue between NPS employees and descendent communities, while simultaneously examining issues of social agency and contemporary public administration.

Heather Hope Stephens

Heather Hope Stephens studied art history at Rutgers University (Douglass College) and Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy. In 2008, she was awarded an M.A. with distinction in Museum Professions from Seton Hall University, where she studied registration methods. Currently, Heather Hope is a second year law student at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, where she is working towards a certificate in Intellectual Property: Arts & Museum Law. Heather Hope is on the Board of the Black Law Students Association and the Intellectual Property Law Society and is on the staff of the DePaul Law Review.

Walking the Wire: Balancing Moral Rights and the Artist’s Vision after VARA

The American Association of Museums states in its Code of Ethics for Museums that “[m]useums make their unique contribution to the public by collecting, preserving, and interpreting the things of this world.” In addition to this self-imposed ethical standard, museums must meet the legal standards imposed upon them by the legislature. One of these is compliance with the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), a federal law that guarantees artists in certain situations the rights of integrity and attribution, even after transfer of ownership. However, ephemeral artworks are intended to have a finite life, with the artist instead interested in the transformation or disintegration of the artwork. This creates a problem for museums, which need to balance their ethical responsibility to collect, preserve, and interpret with their legal responsibility to comply with federal law.
This paper will examine this balancing act, especially in regards to ephemeral artworks. I will argue that (1) museums have an ethical and legal responsibility to protect artists’ moral rights under VARA; (2) instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach to VARA, museums must work collaboratively with artists to ensure that the artist’s intent regarding artworks is achieved, even if this intent goes against the goal of preservation.
Currently, many museums seek to have artists waive their VARA rights, thereby eliminating the problem of compliance with the law. However, this approach assumes that the museum community’s self-imposed ethical standards are enough to uphold the artists’ intentions in their artwork. Should this not be the case, the artist has no recourse, because he or she has waived these legal protections. By arguing for a more collaborative approach with artists, this paper will stress the ways that VARA compliance can help further the goals of collecting, preserving, and interpreting while also supporting the artistic vision.

Léontine Meijer-Van Mensch & Paula Assunçãao dos Santos

Paula Assunçãao dos Santos is Lecturer in Theory and Ethics of Heritage at the Reinwardt Academy (Amsterdam). She has worked as a lecturer in museology at the European University in Frankfurt (Oder) in Germany, and in several exhibition projects and museums in the Netherlands, Germany and Poland, for example at the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. Her main research interest concerns the usage of the past in post-transformation countries. Her Ph.D. research focuses on the development of the theory of museology in Central Europe before and after 1989.
Léontine Meijer-van Menschis a lecturer on Theory and Ethics of Heritage at the Reinwardt Academy (Amsterdam). Her main field of research is sociomuseology, dedicated to the study of the social role of museums and heritage. As a field practitioner, she is specialized in community museology and knowledge networks. Her Ph.D. research focuses on the theory of heritage and community development.

New Grounds for Analyzing and Teaching Museum Ethics in the Dutch Context

In this paper we reflect upon the implications of the new paradigm in museum ethics for museological training. In our curriculum we seek a balance between theory, practice and ethics, aiming at training reflexive practitioners. Departing from the premises that the focus in defining ethical conduct has moved from the object and museum functions to the social role and social relations of museums, the paper proposes a model of analyzing ethical dilemmas based on the combination of two aspects:

  • the idea that the ground for reflecting upon ethical conduct lies in the field where conflicts among the museum and other stakeholders’ interests are negotiated;
  • that considering social responsibility means to de-articulate it in three independent and interdependent elements; i.e. intention- result- consequences

This model is in construction at the Reinwardt Academy and is closely linked to a context of increasing democratization of museological tools and the multiplication of voices in the Netherlands. These are, however, no guarantee for equality. By means of a case study we intend to explore this analysis model. In 2007, the municipal museum of The Hague refused to show photographs portraying a Muslim gay couple by the Iranian artist Sooreh Hera because they might be offensive to visitors with a Muslim background. The art community and the media reacted strongly to what they considered to be an act of censorship. The case unfolded into more complex discussions, touching upon the tensions between museums and the established art environment in a multicultural society where different values are at work.
Other developments of the case show the importance of assessing the ideas of intention, result and consequences. Although the museum refused to exhibit the photographs, the director showed interest in acquiring them for the future, when they would not be seen as provocation, adding new layers to the debates around the social responsibility of the museum and the complexity of ethical dilemmas in the 21st Century.

Glenn Wharton

Glenn Wharton is a Conservator at the Museum of Modern Art, specializing in time-based media conservation. He is also a Research Scholar at New York University, with a joint appointment at the Institute of Fine Arts Conservation Center and the Museum Studies Program. He serves as Acting Executive Director of INCCA-NA, the North American group of the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art.

The graduate seminars he teaches at NYU include Issues in the Conservation of Modern and Contemporary Art, the Conservation of Modern Sculpture, and Museum Conservation and Contemporary Culture.

Dr. Wharton began his conservation career as an archaeological and sculpture conservator in 1981. He worked as field conservator for the Sardis Expedition, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, and the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at Polis. He held the position of Conservation Director at the Turkish Kaman-Kalehöyük excavation for the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan for thirteen seasons.

From 1986 – 1998 he ran a private practice in sculpture conservation. In 1998 his interest in public art led him to pursue a Ph.D. at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. His dissertation is titled Heritage Conservation as Culture Work: Public Negotiation of a Pacific Hero. He used the conservation of the Kamehameha I monument in North Kohala, Hawai’i, to explore cultural relationships between the multi-cultural present and the Native Hawaiian past. The research engaged local residents in researching power dynamics at play in the conservation process.

He has served on professional committees for the American Institute for Conservation (AIC), the International Council of Museums – Conservation Committee (ICOM-CC), Heritage Preservation, Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP), the American Association of Museums (AAM), and the Western Association for Art Conservation (WAAC). He served as WAAC President in 1990-1991, and is currently on the AIC’s Publication Committee.

Dr. Wharton received his M.A. in Art Conservation from the Cooperstown Graduate Programs at the State University College of New York in 1981, and his Ph.D. in Conservation from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London in 2005.

Jennine Schweighardt

Jennine Schweighardt is a graduate of Penn State University with a BS in Secondary Social Studies Education, and a MA in History from the University of Scranton. She is currently finishing her thesis which will complete her work for her MA in Museum Professions from Seton Hall University. In addition to her course work during her time at Seton Hall she served as the Graduate Assistant for the Institute of Museum Ethics, interned at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and curated the exhibition The Campaign Dialogue: Communicating a Winner at the Morris Museum as part of a capstone project for her concentration in exhibitions. She is currently looking to return to the classroom, having two years of college teaching experience in American History survey courses, or pursue a career as a museum professional working in exhibitions and/or education. She hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in history or American studies, and publish on her research on programatic trends at historical sites. She has a developing interest in ethical interests at historical sites and living history programs.

Ghostbusters at the Museum: Ethics, Transparency and Paranormal-Themed Programming at Historic Sites

In the last quarter century, in particular the last decade, there has been a marked increase in interest in American popular culture in the paranormal: the unknown or the unexplained. Television shows like the Sci-Fi Channel’s Ghost Hunters, Travel Channel’s Most Haunted, and History Channel’s Monster Quest, and books such as Historic Haunted America by Michael Norman and Beth Scott and the Ghosts of Gettysburg series by Mark Nesbitt have reflected a fascination with haunted historic sites. Many historic sites have responded by creating ghost walks/tours, and related paranormal themed programming to take advantage of this trend.
What are the ethical issues that emerge as paranormal tales and documented history become entangled at historic sites that have paranormal-themed programming? Does addressing the paranormal undermine and/or sensationalize the existing history of the site? Does a historical site have a responsibility to tell the “pseudo” or “paranormal” history as well as the documented history as part of embracing diverse viewpoints?
Using three case studies, Eastern State Penitentiary, Gettysburg National Military Park/ The Farnsworth House Inn, and Colonial Williamsburg, I will discuss how each has approached the often conflicting motives of profit, entertainment, and learning. I will also consider the role that transparency could play in helping visitors to distinguish between the two kinds of stories being told.

Peter Brown

Pete Brown is the Head of Learning & Interpretation at the Manchester Museum, University of Manchester, UK. His museum and gallery experience dates back to 1988 at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Pete has worked in a wide range of organizations in the UK. The ‘Learning’ side of his current role involves leading a team of talented and experienced educators who develop and deliver a comprehensive program for all ages and abilities. As Head of Interpretation he provides guidance and support to colleagues working on exhibition projects and gallery redisplays, helping to ensure that the needs and interests of all our audiences are included in the interpretation process.

Lindow Man: A Bog Body Controversy

‘Experimental’ and provocative exhibition-making practice in museums is viewed by some as self-indulgent, of no benefit to visitors and a waste of public money. This paper demonstrates that taking an unconventional approach, though unpopular in some quarters, can provide an enlightening and rewarding experience for visitors and the institution.
The focus of this research is the reaction both within the Manchester Museum and from outside to a year-long temporary exhibition based on the loan of Lindow Man’s body from the British Museum. Lindow Man: A Bog Body Mystery took a different approach to the previous two presentations of the archaeology, which were more conventional, authoritative displays. This one was poly-vocal, involving a more open, constructivist type of experience. It used as its core structure interviews with seven people who have personal experience of Lindow Man.
The key goal of the exhibition was to contextualise Lindow Man in a way that encouraged respectful reflection, inviting visitors to question the interpretation of archaeological evidence and the practice of displaying human remains in museums.
The Museum exposed itself to criticism by raising issues around the ethics of collecting and displaying human remains; by its decision to depart from orthodox museum display techniques and materials, and by sharing expertise and authority, acknowledging the lack of absolute facts and incorporating multiple perspectives.
There were a number of risks in this approach: the first lay in the Museum’s decision to provoke a debate about the display and interpretation of human remains rather than simply taking an authoritative line; secondly, the exhibition team chose to present Lindow Man in a very different way from previous exhibitions, risking the wrath of the traditionalists, and finally the approach was empathic rather than forensic, creating an emotional encounter unlike the ‘objective’ tone which many visitors are used to.

Walter Lehmann

Walter G. Lehmann is managing partner of the art and entertainment law firm LEHMANN STROBEL PLC. An attorney for more than 17 years, he has focused on helping content producers, artists, museums and nonprofit organizations manage their creative and cultural assets. Lehmann’s education includes a BA in English (Williams College) and Juris Doctor cum laude (Wm. Mitchell College of Law). He is currently completing an MA in Museum Studies (George Washington University). Walter is a frequent contributor to industry publications, has participated in numerous industry conferences, and has served on the boards of a variety of arts-related nonprofit organizations.

Contributory Infringement? The Law and Ethics of Acquiring Appropriation Art

Incorporating the work of others into a new work is central to the post-modern art form known as appropriation art. Appropriation art borrows images from popular culture, advertising, mass media, other artists and elsewhere, and incorporates them into new works of art. Where the borrowed image is protected by copyright or other intellectual property laws, the act of appropriation may infringe on the rights of others. Artists often perceive legal restraints on borrowing as a threat to artistic freedom — at least until their own rights are infringed. The law, however, does not give artists any special privilege to use protected material without permission.
Works like Shepard Fairey’s campaign poster of candidate Barack Obama, recently acquired by the National Portrait Gallery and now on public display, may violate the intellectual property rights of others. In fact, Fairey’s work is still the subject of litigation over the unauthorized use of a photograph as the source of the image.
Acquisitions of works of appropriation art such as Fairey’s raise both legal and ethical questions for museums. When the legal rights of others in a work of art are in dispute, what are the museum’s legal and ethical responsibilities? Is the acquisition of appropriation art which may violate the intellectual property rights of others any different from the acquisition and display of other works with disputed provenance – Nazi-era works, illegally-acquired antiquities, or works of cultural heritage? Is it proper for a museum to facilitate and encourage the illegal use of legally protected images? Does the museum’s role in acquiring such works sanction infringement and weaken intellectual property laws? What are the implications for other intellectual property rights – privacy laws such as defamation and libel, for example?

Chelsea Haines

Chelsea Haines is a visual arts professional and independent curator based in Brooklyn, New York. A Pittsburgh native, she studied art history and English literature at Duquesne University before obtaining an M.A. in Visual Culture Theory from New York University. Interested in exploring the idea of revitalized models of exhibition practice and sustainable visual arts communities, she wrote her Master’s thesis on the intersection of public art and reconstruction efforts in Post-Katrina New Orleans.

A New State of the Arts: Developing the Biennial Model as Ethical and Sustainable Art Practice in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Compelled to act by delayed and negligent government response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and uneven rebuilding efforts taking place, artists and other arts professionals have flocked New Orleans since 2005. This migration has culminated in an international biennial that took place in the city last fall under the supervision of veteran curator Dan Cameron. Prospect.1 New Orleans exhibited the works of 81 artists in over two-dozen venues, including about 15 public projects. With a modest budget and big ideas Prospect.1 managed to forge small public spaces of dialogue, reflection, and entertainment that demonstrated a self-reflexive capacity to refashion the biennial model in the wake of catastrophe.
This paper will examine Prospect.1 as a paradigm shift, both as a biennial model and as the development of a new perspective on the ethical roles and responsibilities of artists and arts institutions. Unlike other biennials, Prospect.1 took on a decidedly anti-spectacular and do-it-yourself approach to the display and location of the exhibition, bending rules and working both inside and outside established institutions in order to better serve diverse publics and the city itself. As a free exhibition throughout the entire city, from the New Orleans Museum of Art to an abandoned church in the Lower 9th Ward, the biennial leveraged itself as a way for visitors to explore neighborhoods and provide new ways of seeing the city to inhabitants and outsiders alike. Recognizing the need for defined discursive spaces in a city that has lost many of its public sites, the exhibition, including works by both international and local artists, lent itself to public utility for
the nurturing of socio-political and cultural dialogue. Employing New Orleans as an exceptional case study, this paper will explore the complex role of the refashioned biennial model as an ethical and sustainable arts practice.

Elizabeth Reilly-Brown & Marisa Day

Elizabeth Reilly-Brown earned a BA from the University of Florida in art history. She is currently a second year graduate student in the curatorial studies track of the art history M.A. program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her research interests are in the area of early twentieth century American art and photography, museum education, and curatorial studies. In addition to serving the department as a graduate teaching assistant, she is an officer in the art history graduate student association and assists as an intern to the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Marisa Day graduated with a BA in history from the University of Mary Washington. After graduation she moved to Washington, DC where she interned at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, followed by two years working at the Corcoran College of Art + Design. Her interest in museums and education led her to pursue an MA in Art History and Museum Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. She currently works as a graduate assistant with the VCU Honors College and interns at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where she also serves as a member of the College Advisory Board.

Educational Resource or Commodity? Safeguarding University Art Museum Collections from Deaccession

Art museums are expected to hold works in the public’s trust. Therefore, when an institution deaccessions objects from its collection, it must be able to justify the resolution as a responsible choice for the future of the organization and community. As an examination of the ethical component to managing a museum collection, this paper will contribute to the debate surrounding decisions made by university art museums to deaccession objects for the purpose of generating revenue during periods of financial instability and change.
The Anderson Gallery, the art museum at Virginia Commonwealth University, is planning to move to a new facility, which is currently in the design stage and being constructed for the purpose of increasing space while also meeting the American Association of Museum’s standards. Recent discussions about the objectives of the new facility have led to reviews of institutional policies, and as a result, VCU will clarify and refine the museum’s mission and function. Currently, the long-term mission of the museum is twofold. The Anderson states that it is an educational resource through the holding of a permanent collection, yet it primarily serves as a contemporary art exhibition venue. If the Anderson’s primary purpose becomes that of a contemporary art space, the collection might be considered inconsequential and become vulnerable to deaccessioning.
This paper argues that university art museums should serve first and foremost as educational resources for the academic community. Therefore, in redefining its mission, the Anderson Gallery should shape itself after a teaching museum and should preserve its collection. Utilizing the Anderson Gallery as an example, this paper will argue for the educational potential of university art museums and against the deaccessioning of collections.

Lydie Diakhaté

Lydie Diakhaté is an independent producer and art critic specializing in the arts and cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora. She is the founder of K’a Yelema Productions in Paris and is co-founder and co-director of the Real Life Documentary Festival in Accra. Her recent works on art programs include: African Screens: New Perspectives in African Cinema, March and April 2009 in Lisbon, Portugal; The Essential Art of African Textiles: Design Without End at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (September 31, 2008 – March 29, 2009); and the parallel exhibition The Poetics of Cloth: African Textiles/Recent Art, at the Grey Art Gallery of New York University (September 16 – December 6, 2008. She received her diploma from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris (Visual Anthropology Department) and her MA (Museum Studies), from The Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University.

When a Voice is Missing, the Example of the Maison Tropicale

For years Africa has been expropriated of the treasures that framed its history and the marks reflecting its role as supplier of modernity. At the same time, in the African urban landscape, colonial realizations are not always considered to have a direct impact on the evolution of the concept of urbanities and the construction of new societies.
Following the story of the prefabricated Maison Tropicale created by the famous French designer Jean Prouvé in the late 40’s and sent to Niger and Congo in Africa, I will look at the ethical challenges in the field of the post-colonial heritage and the interpretation of historic space in shaping modern identities. I will discuss how museums can play a key role in the cultural politics that influence the re-use and valorization of architectural patrimony.

Amelia Wong

Amelia Wong is a doctoral candidate in the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland. Her dissertation is titled “Museums, Social Media, and the Rhetoric of Community: Materializing Modern Publics in the Early 21st Century.” She holds a B.A. in History/Art History from UCLA and was the inaugural Field Visiting Scholar at the National Building Museum in 2008. Currently, she works full-time at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as the production coordinator in the division of Outreach Technology.

Finding our Balance: Social Media at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The introduction of social media – online media that enables and encourages cross-communication and the building of networks – into modern museum practice creates opportunities and challenges. As it appears to have the potential to democratize information, foster greater civic engagement, and unleash creativity, many museums have adopted it to appeal to audiences in new ways and to attract new audiences. Yet, it poses a number of ethical challenges for museums around matters of accessibility, respect for constituencies, institutional integrity, and transparency. This paper will explore these issues using examples from my experience coordinating social media projects at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The mission of the Museum is to “[stimulate] leaders and citizens to confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.” While striving for this mission in a cultural climate of growing expectations of transparency, the Museum considers how to use social media platforms and conventions to most effectively balance multiple goals that are some times at odds with each other. My paper will thus explicate the Museum’s efforts in the following areas: making its collections accessible on the web and open to comment while still meeting audience expectations for reliable and well-researched knowledge; increasing access as more of the world’s population uses mobile devices to connect to the web; portraying openness at the same time it tries to protect vulnerable constituencies; and, fostering dialogue about contentious and sensitive subjects.


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