Cultural democracy is at the heart of Emya 2020

David Anderson, Issue 120/03, 04.03.2020
The annual conference and award ceremony of the European Museum of the Year Awards (Emya) will be hosted by National Museum Cardiff from 29 April to 2 May. This is the first time in Emya’s 43-year history that Europe’s oldest and most socially focused museum competition has come to Wales.

The theme for Emya 2020 is Museum Innovation and Cultural Democracy, and it takes place soon after the UK has left the EU. The conference reminds us that we are still part of Europe through the Council of Europe, which has supported Emya from the beginning. Its founding commitments – democracy, human rights and the rule of law – are also the founding principles of Emya and underpin its work.

We are all aware that this is a time of unprecedented political instability in the four nations of the UK and in Europe as a whole. Now, more than ever, we need partners that promote civic values of tolerance, inclusion and exchange across national boundaries at a time when these values are under attack from global corporates, state agencies and dark money.

The awards recognise excellence and encourage innovation in museums in all countries that are members of the Council of Europe, from Russia in the east to Iberia in the west, from Finland in the north to Azerbaijan in the south. Sixty museums will take the stage to present their work this year.

Over recent years some of the nominated museums have been from countries – such as Poland and Hungary – where governments are now actively attempting to undermine the independence of media and cultural organisations. Museums that persist in presenting uncomfortable truths through their evidence and their interpretations of the past can come under intense pressure.

In some of these museums, staff have shown exceptional courage and tenacity in sticking to democratic principles. Emya gives these staff an opportunity to share their work with fellow workers in museums across Europe, and to know that they are not alone or forgotten.

A defining trait of the awards is the ability to identify professional quality and creativity between museums across the vast differences of scale, funding, and political and cultural contexts. Recent winners include Polin Museum of the History of the Polish Jews, Warsaw (2016); the War Childhood Museum, Sarajevo (2017); the Design Museum, London (2018); and the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, Leiden (2019).

If you are planning a new development at your museum, or wish to learn more about putting cultural democracy into practice, then come to Emya 2020 in Cardiff this year.

David Anderson is the director general of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

The European Museum of the Year conference and awards ceremony is in Cardiff on 29 April–2 May. The host institution is Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales). The event will take place at National Museum Cardiff. For more information and to book a place, visit museum.wales/emya2020

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