This is personal summary of the Prague 2022 Conference by Christian Baars, Co-Chair of ICOM UK.
The 2022 ICOM conference, held in Prague 20 – 28 August 2022, was delivered in hybrid format for the first time. Physically in attendance were 2,500 delegates from around the world, 130 of whom had travelled from the UK. For those arriving early, there were pre-conference tours around Prague. Sunday saw an early start for committee chairs who attended the meeting of the National Committees (NC), followed by the meeting of the Advisory Council (AC).
Reports at the NC meeting included that the ICOM website had now been updated – it now contains a broader range of information for the membership. Membership figures dropped in 2021 by an average of 8%; this was caused by Covid, and the 2022 numbers indicate a good recovery in progress. ICOM’s work on heritage protection included responses following the port explosion in Beirut, the floods in Germany/Belgium, and Ukraine. The Working Group on Sustainability (WGS), established in response to the joint ICOM UK/Norway resolution at the 2019 Kyoto conference, has developed a Sustainability Action Plan. During the AC meeting, the candidates for the Executive Board were given one minute each to introduce themselves ahead of the elections.
Following the opening speeches on Monday, day 1 of the conference proper, the first keynote speech was about museums as agents of social change. In the afternoon, an WGS workshop explored how sustainable development can be embedded full in ICOM.
Hilda reminded us that the climate crisis was not caused by the global south, and didn’t hold back with criticism of colonialism, and destruction of nature and culture in the name of ‘development.’ Several members of ICOM UK contributed to the following panel discussion from the floor of the conference hall.
We were also represented on the panel of the afternoon session ‘Museums for Climate Emergency’, chaired by Caitlin Southwick. I joined the panel alongside Hilda Nakabuye and other panel members from Europe, North and South America.
At Wednesday’s Extraordinary General Assembly meeting a summary was presented of the work on the new museum definition since the Kyoto conference. This process was more inclusive and collaborative, and it culminated in a proposed definition which was voted on by the NCs and, with much applause and happiness, adopted by the ICOM membership.
The General Assembly (GA) which followed received a summary from Carol Ann Scott of the ICOM 2022-28 Strategic Plan, which our UK members will hear more about this week. The Strategic Plan enshrines Sustainability, Diversity, Leadership, Governance, Funding, and Decolonisation in equal measure, with the aim of achieving the commitments of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. The Strategic Plan also includes many of the recommendations of the External Review which had been conducted (and reported earlier this year) following the recent controversies and EB resignations. The new President (Emma Nardi) and the members of the new EB were also announced during the GA. The new Executive Board includes one of our ICOM UK members – Steph Scholten from the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow. Many congratulations to Steph!
An ICOM-CC workshop on Thursday at the National Gallery was focussed on Sustainability, specifically on how curators can contribute to sustainable development. One useful tool (not just for conservators) to use when assessing organisational priorities on sustainability questions is ICCROM’s ‘Our Collections Matter’ toolkit. Across the entire conference there was a considerable amount of discussion about the amount of energy used by mainly the large museums, and how to reduce this. The WGS which will continue its work as, we hope, a new IC, as well assisting established International Committees on their path towards becoming more sustainable.
On Thursday evening we hosted a reception at the UK embassy in a 16th century palace which was attended by 60 international guests, including representatives of the Czech Republic, the ICOM President Peter Keller, and the new EB member Steph Scholten. The embassy garden right below Prague castle was pleasantly cool, and the ambassador was so kind to give us a personal tour of the art treasures in his residence.
From an ICOM UK point of view, we had an incredibly successful conference. Six of our members had received travel grants, and our members contributed to the development of the Strategic Plan, the new museum definition, the Sustainability Action Plan, the work of numerous International Committees, and various panel discussions. We are taking the positive energy from back home and look forward to an ambitious and busy year ahead.