I recently came across this talk on the Smithsonian’s website entitled “Through the Looking Glass: Museums and Internet-Based Transparency”, given by Dr. Maxwell Anderson, the CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Take a look.
Dr. Anderson gives some great examples of how the IMA is using its website to become more accessible to its audience. Though it doesn’t deal directly with repatriation, I like that museums are taking steps towards becoming more transparent. Much of the issue with repatriation is the difficulty indigenous communities have with obtaining information. Beginning to make more information available online is going to make for easier communication between these communities and the museums.
And it’s about time museums started doing this more. During our class discussions and the reactions of museums to repatriation claims, I’ve perceived a pretty negative reputation associated with art museums. The general consensus seems to be that art museums are pretty stodgy, closed off institutions that care only about the objects in their collections and not so much about their provenance or cultural significance. You only have to look at the list of museums who signed the Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums. They are all major American or European art museums.
In case you are not familiar with the Declaration, it’s a statement made by a group of museums saying that they label themselves “universal museums” and exist to serve the whole world and contain its global heritage, and should thus be immune to repatriation claims. It has come under fire since its inception in 2002, recently when the Art Institute of Chicago held an exhibit of African art, this past summer. (Source)
So I welcome these developments coming out of the IMA. Museum websites being, for the most part, quite confusing to navigate, I hope other institutions start making better use of online resources.