ABSTRACT

These standards include clear principles for the governance and operation of museums and the preservation of their collections. They provide frameworks for mediation of conflicts concerning interpretation and ownership of cultural property. The standards also include principles of ethical behavior of employees, guiding the conduct of all people working in and for museums, which is increasingly understood as including all volunteers and supporters of museums’ programs. Ethical codes of professional practices on a national basis are much older than ICOM’s code, and go back to the early twentieth century. What makes the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums so distinctive, however, is its international, global reach. It aims to provide standards underpinning and linking all other national or more discipline-specific codes – some developed in recent years by ICOM’s own specialist International Committees – and therefore providing a unifying framework for the protection of standards in museums everywhere. ICOM Code has also been accepted as the international reference document for museum work of various countries in their own museum laws, often acknowledged in the documents of parliaments and governments at a national level. Guided by this international ethical standards framework, museums are increasingly taking an active role in protecting important parts of the global world heritage: in their collections and cooperative programs multilaterally; but also beyond museums, especially when cultural heritage is at risk – which is increasingly occurring as a result of social uprisings, armed conflicts and natural disasters. I just want to highlight here the work of ICOM’s Ethics Committee, which has met regularly since the late 1980s to deal with ethical matters of concern within and beyond ICOM, including disputes involving conflict between different parties about cultural property rights. I also want to mention ICOM’s programs developed in recent years against illicit trafficking in cultural goods – for example, the publication of the ICOM Red Lists since the year 2000, profiling significant objects at risk of being sold on the illegal market for art and antiquities. Similar efforts were carried forward with ICOM’s One Hundred Missing Objects series in the 1990s (focused on regions), while these two series of publications, jointly, have resulted in a surprising number of identifications of stolen objects and restitutions to their countries of origin. Such programs and activities further demonstrate the ethical mission guiding us all as museum professionals in our global commitment to continuing care and protection of culture and heritage. The discussion about museum values and standards within ICOM, which intensified in the late 1960s and gathered strength again in the 1980s leading to the first comprehensive ICOM Code, has never ceased. It continues today in many ICOM gatherings around the globe, including the long-standing discussion about updating the ICOM museum definition, and the continuing identification of new tasks that our institutions have today. In our fast-changing world, the challenges facing museums in the digitally driven environment of communications today are also modifying the way museums carry out their work and engage multiple audiences. Museums compete with numerous

media forces today, while themselves incorporating social media and new communications platforms in their aim to be inclusive in terms of broad content and target groups. This also means continuing to protect the public values of culture among minorities, and beyond solely market-driven forces in the arena of commercial exchange. What is the perception of museums today, and how will they change tomorrow? What will make museums attractive to visitors and online audiences in ten or twenty years’ time? What continuing and new roles will they play for local populations, for visitors and tourists, for regions, nations and international communities? For example, what kinds of programs will affirm museums as well-accepted places of dialogue and communication between disparate groups of society in the cause of social integration; in promoting reconciliation of differences after civil conflict; and in rebuilding respect and mutual understanding after armed conflicts internationally? Over the past decades museum professionals have acquired many new skills and positive experiences through visitor-oriented museum policy in exhibitions and online presentations. Museums have become more participatory and inclusive institutions, producing multi-viewpoint explanations of nature, history and culture. ICOM and museums in many areas have strengthened links between groups, communities and nations through cross-border activities and international cooperative programs. Many new directions have been included in recent years, such as participating in the formation of the Blue Shield internationally, of which ICOM forms one of the four ‘Pillar’ organizations for global protection of heritage in the face of armed conflict and natural disasters. Museums today are often among the first cultural stakeholders committing their institutions, knowledge and resources to take action when it comes to dealing with a tragic past – for example, fostering the new beginnings to be established for many nations after the end of the Cold War, or other far-reaching political changes in other continents over decades. Museums have crucial skills and resources for creating new dialogues among former enemy states or mutually estranged groups on a cultural level, as they did within the Balkans following the wars of neo-nationalist conflict and ethnic genocide during the 1990s. Even in more recent international political conflicts, museums are again renewing their best efforts and long-standing links to maintain international dialogue through their NGO networks, and to maintain cooperation around high ethical standards and heritage conservation goals binding us all to strive to overcome continuing difficulties and crisis points in international cultural relations. ICOM can take heart and strength from so many positive achievements in recent decades, through cross-border projects that help people to understand differing viewpoints and multiple currents forming the background of conflicts that have occurred, and highlighting the strong actions needed to rebuild positive links between communities divided across diversity and difference. What is different from earlier times, however – and we have to take this into sharpened consideration today – is the greater public awareness and media interest in museum work: in escalating prices for cultural objects and in governance of

museums; in exhibitions and public programs interpreting culture, social history, science and the natural world; in museum collections and their provenance histories; and in heritage ideas and multiple values carried by culture in the world around us. The communications-driven environment of daily life now accelerates all discussions exponentially and challenges museums’ work in all parts of the world. Nevertheless some things have not changed. The plumb line for future development of our work will continue to be ethical values, and the ethical responsibilities we share in our work on behalf of the natural and cultural heritage of all. Affirming this durable framework of values, we must review, extend and renew the ethical framework of museum work as an ongoing responsibility. This constant reprise and update of standards should be pursued in cooperation with all who are responsible for museums, especially governmental proprietors and leaders in the political sphere, in order to advance the cause of museums in their protection of unique, interconnected heritage collections and long cared-for resources for the ongoing understanding of human history and social development. The International Council of Museums has acted collaboratively in the past, parallel to UNESCO’s Conventions development – especially the pathfinding 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, at a time when the international museums community formulated its first shared ethical statement around the ethics of acquisition, in endeavoring to advance museums’ awareness around international standards that should govern any continuing collecting of cultural objects, especially antiquities, cultural heritage jeopardized during armed conflicts, and the cultural heritage of formerly colonized peoples. In partnership with UNESCO and others, ICOM continues to promote international guidelines and ethical standards for the work of museums in the twentyfirst century. This ICOM publication on ethics is therefore a perfect opportunity for discussions about the intercrossing paths that will ensure museums continue to advance the strong history and legacy of values and cooperative action we have inherited, while recalibrating our best endeavors in a challenging, changing world. As President of ICOM I take the opportunity to thank all ICOM members, in whatever roles they have played as supporters or in positions held as leaders, for their contributions to both ICOM and the international museums community over the past seven decades. And last but not least in these tributes, I thank the staff and the General Secretariat of ICOM in Paris, along with all who discharge honorary work for ICOM in its hundreds of committees and bodies active in program delivery every year throughout the world. ICOM also could not have been so successful during the past seventy years without the cooperation of many other international organizations and supporters – extending its own networks into a host of other networks. ICOM looks forward to extending these many efforts, networks and wider partnerships in future decades.