Immediate Past-President's Columns : Frits Loomeijer
2013 - Another year on - the Chicken & the Egg
In Washington DC and Newport News, at the time of the 2011 ICMM Congress, ICMM’s Executive Committee launched a vision for the future of our organisation. The message was: transform ICMM from a volunteer organisation into a professional managed network. We are now another year on, in the year of the 2013 ICMM Congress in Cascais, Portugal. It’s time for an update and it’s the appropriate moment to take stock of where we are right now.
As you know, ICMM’s membership is facing an increasingly professional, cultural and political environment. Programming and hospitality, collection management, education, financial management and fundraising, marketing & communication, have developed – or are on their way to developing – into specialised sub-disciplines of museum management. Many of us are facing quite some challenges. These are due to more than one cause. Economic recession, a changing attitude of governments towards culture and the demands and rising expectations of a mature audience, are in the top three, worldwide.
More than ever museum professionals need to be connected, to be in touch with best practices, to know what exhibitions are on the market, to learn from each other. Of course we do have an increasing number of tools to realise this individually, thanks to the internet and new media like facebook or twitter. But the maritime museum community needs more. It always has. Colleagues need to know each other personally; which is why from its earliest days ICMM has organised congresses. But between congresses there is a need for professional communication and facilitation if we are to meet and take advantage of the new challenges – and ICMM has a leadership role here, too.
ICMM’s role is founded on the participation of its members; you! But to be effective, ICMM needs to co-ordinate and organise professional services for the benefit of its members and to facilitate the effective use of those services to match the new levels of professionalism within our maritime museum sector. That has lead to the conclusion that ICMM can no longer rely solely on the spare time capability of its executive members. Professional services from ICMM will require financial expenditure in order to keep pace with the development of our own institutions.
The last General Assembly of ICMM in 2011 accepted and adopted this analysis and conclusion as sound reasoning. Its consequence leads to improved and expanded services, but with the requirement for a rising membership fee.
The ICMM professional development process has started, so far still on a donated time basis, but in 2012 it faced some hiccups. For instance it took far too long before the revamped website took over the role of ‘the good old printed newsletter’ as our prime communication tool. There are no excuses for this but the reason lies in the still voluntary nature of the present organisation, currently extremely vulnerable with regard to its executive capacity. Think about highly disturbing ‘facts of life’ like extreme challenges in one’s main job or serious illness. ICMM’s Executive Committee was struck by both in the past twelve months and that brought with it a kind of Catch 22 situation or, more kindly put, the classic Chicken and the Egg issue.
Where do we stand?
ICMM members have the opportunity on this website to see the details and time frame of the adjusted business plan for ICMM’s future, as well as information about the introduction of the new fee membership structure now in effect.
• ICMM’s new website is developing rapidly and will become an increasingly valuable membership resource.
• We are making good progress in our goal of broadening the geographic spread of our membership.
• Our first ICMM regional activity is being organised in the form of a northern European workshop.
• The International Historic & Traditional Ships Panel (IHTS) is a fact. Please read the details of its work on the website.
• Added to that, our Programme Committee and organisers are hard at work planning the ICMM Congress in Cascais, Portugal in September 2013.
What can you do?
A little over twelve months after the Washington and Newport News Congress, ICMM is on track for the future but your input and participation is needed more than ever.
• The webmaster needs news and information about new developments and new exhibitions in your museum; your pictures, your stories and your opinions. After all, it’s promoting your museum!
• The Congress Programme Committee needs your proposal for a paper to be given in September in Cascais, Portugal.
• And ICMM aims to be an umbrella for you to organise regional activities, like a group of North European colleagues have done with a workshop on exhibition innovation.
• Regional activities, based on what is happening amongst members and potential ICMM members in different regions can become an important breeding ground for input into ICMM congresses, future policy and future officers of the Executive Committee.
To all present ICMM members I would like to say, thank you for your patience and support in the past year. And to all maritime museum professionals – members and non-members - who read this: follow us in the run up to the Cascais Congress. We hope you will decide to attend. If you are not a member yet, submit your membership application to ICMM and have the chance to make the difference in the policy and activities of the only global maritime museum network.
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2012: Intriguing and relevant stories
Take Tangier for example, one of those strategic and highly fascinating maritime places in the world. Over 1600 years old, this African port city opposite Europe has been a centre of commerce, clashing cultures and powers, political and military interests. After – as we all know – Jupiter’s son Hercules (Heracles) formed the Strait of Gibraltar by splitting the mountain of Calpa (Gibraltar) and Abyla (Ceuta), Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs and Berbers, Portuguese, English and to some extend, French, Spanish and Americans have occupied and governed the city or at least influenced the history of Tangier.
The United States dedicated its first consulate in Tangier during the George Washington administration and in the twentieth century the city became ‘international territory’ (1923). In this way the main political and maritime powers of the time, including the UK, USA, the Netherlands, France and the young Soviet Union, tried to keep the Mediterranean open to all nations.
In the same period Tangier attracted numerous artists from Europe and the US who were drawn by the exotic African-oriental atmosphere. Delacroix was there and so were Matisse, James Mc Bey, George Aperley and Francis Bacon. The American composer-novelist Paul Bowles, best known for his ominous novel ‘The Sheltering Sky’, lived there for 52 years. Needless to say, Tangier, like Casablanca, was an international spy nest during World War II.
But there were other reasons too why the international city attracted many ‘westerners’. Where did Sebastian Flyte, one of the two leading characters in Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’ (1945) go to, tormented as he was by family relations, a puzzled sexual identity and alcohol? Right. Tangier. There existed a forbidden, hidden, but well known gay scene, and kif, the traditional drug from the Rif area, was available in abundance. Another two decades later pot smoking rockers like the Rolling Stones and many others landed in Tangier on their way to Marrakesh.
Mette Marie B
For many years I knew Tangier only by literature and by an old photo of an interesting three masted motor schooner with the lines of a drifter and a very Scandinavian wheelhouse. I have been fascinated by these workhorses of the coastal trade since the 1970s when I became involved in tracing and preserving them and in converting some of them to the fine sailing vessels they once were.
My primary interest then was in the vessel and not in the background of the picture. Nowadays I would like to know what Alice Bryld, the Danish owner of the ship, did in Tangier, only five years after World War II. And why had the ship a ‘G’ in her funnel? In 1950 postbox companies for tax reasons hardly existed. Vessels like Mette Marie B usually worked in the Baltic and North Sea area. When they had became out of date technically and economically they were sold to the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, but that process first started in the 1970s.
I surmise an interesting story. A maritime story in origin, but probably much broader, given Tangier’s international status, business opportunities and multicultural climate.
That kind of interest is the core business of the German magazine Mare (www.mare.de). For over ten years now this monthly glossy is publishing very well researched and illustrated articles about ‘everything connected to the sea’, varying from hard core historical items to literature, maritime art, navy, beach culture, architecture, anthropology, marine biology and so on. Unfortunately this magazine with a global maritime scope is published only in German, but the versatility and quality of its articles make me jealous. Jealous because a magazine can tell other, and perhaps more, stories than a museum can. Many interesting maritime topics can be told by photo, written text, film, radio even, but they are, by lack of three dimensional objects, less appropriate to be communicated through an exhibition. I know, the internet has broadened our possibilities, but still. . .
Broaden our scope
Nevertheless, finding new intriguing stories which are relevant to our present and future audience, has more to do with our own scope and drive to find them, then with our means of communication. In this respect globalisation helps us. The Tangier example I mention proves that. Tangier, in its maritime aspects, is directly relevant for at least more than a handful of countries in Africa, Europe and The Middle East. In a broader cultural perspective a few dozen countries, from the US to the former Soviet Union and from Turkey to Scandinavia had, and have, their special ties with this maritime city.
And this is where ICMM and its new website comes in. There are more ‘Tangier’s’ in the world and it is up to us as maritime museum professionals to detect them; to make them known to our colleagues and to our audience. This is an invitation to broaden your own scope and to help your fellow curators, directors, educators to broaden theirs.
And please, who can tell me what Alice Bryld did in Tangier in 1950?