At a time when most museums across the globe are still assessing the damage caused by the pandemic, others are joining forces. An initiative by the Ionian University Museum, the Network of Ionian Islands Museums (DiMIN), which encompasses 14 not-for-profit museums, is one such example. It is a network of small and mid-sized regional museums which share a common goal of “forming a museum policy that will be beneficial not only for the institutions that are part of the network, but that will also spread and benefit local society as well as society at large.”
Stavros Vlizos, director of the Museum Collections of the Ionian University and associate professor in the Department of Archives, Library Science and Museology, tells Kathimerini that this collective effort is based on very solid foundations and that its future is also very promising.
Vlizos has a long history in the field. He began his career as an archaeologist for the Ministry of Culture before joining the Benaki Museum (2002-13) as a researcher and scientific associate to the director, Angelos Delivorrias. He believes that museums should maintain an outward-looking stance and stresses that the primary goal of a 21st century museum is to serve its community and cover any needs it may have. The Ionian University and its museum paid special attention to the practice of collaborations between cultural institutions, and particularly museums. Their goal was to create a powerful network with reputable institutions that will aid them in their efforts to highlight and manage the cultural heritage of the Ionian islands.
The planning and organization of DiMIN proceeded rapidly. After a thorough review of the positives, the vulnerabilities, the opportunities and the threats facing this newly established venture, working groups were set up. These are “Administration and Communication,” “Collection Curation,” “Advocacy and Promotion,” “Planning,” “Financial Planning” and “Research,” and have been staffed with specialist task groups. DiMIN is hoping to collaborate both with the regional administration of the Ionian islands and the Ministry of Culture.
Vlizos stated that “we are essentially entering the operational phase of our museum network. We want to create infrastructure that will aid not only with the survivability of smaller museums and institutions, but also improve their growth prospects. The pandemic highlighted the necessity of creating these foundations and forging this agreement. Perhaps this is the most interesting thing about this venture, that there is optimism amid the daily gloom.”
One might wonder how so many independent institutions found common ground. Vlizos explained that it was because “everyone agreed to the principle of inclusiveness and equal rights. Every participant has the right to interject, to speak, to dissent. The viability of this venture is ensured by several factors. Firstly, its democratic principles and procedures. Additionally, the network’s participating institutions provide it not only with advisers for its task groups but also with a number of volunteers. Finally, it has an efficient structure with all final decisions on all matters being made in plenary sessions.”
One might also consider the network’s funding and resources and their origins. Vlizos reveals that, “from the very beginning, the Financial Planning task group began assessing the possibility of receiving funds from the European Union-backed ESPA program via the Ministry for Development and the Culture Ministry. They also pinpointed local donors and patrons who will cover the initial basic costs of the network, most importantly keeping the museums operational. For our next step we are looking to create digital infrastructure for the network, a necessity for any museum these days. We are well on our way to achieving this as the regional administration has sent us an invitation to apply for the new Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-27 [known in Greece as ESPA]. We also received an invitation to apply to the Ministry of Culture for funding an expansion of our digital toolset and the ability to host digital exhibitions. Furthermore, we received an invitation to apply for an ESPA program run by the Ministry of Education that seeks to improve the digital infrastructure of cultural institutions.” If the network succeeds in any of these fundraising endeavors, it can finally enter a phase of coordinated action. Vlizos tells us that “the next step would be to create the network as a legal entity, one that has been duly constituted.”
A flurry of early planning by the network gives us much to look forward to. Firstly, the Lixouri Museum on Cephalonia will be hosting exhibitions of original and contemporary copies of memoirs written by Greeks who fought in the Greek War of Independence in 1821. These exhibitions will also display items and heirlooms from the private collection of collector and researcher Christos Katsampanis. Additionally, as part of a wider movement to highlight the importance of Cephalonia and its inhabitants during the War of Independence, alongside the exhibitions there will be numerous presentations, theatrical plays, concerts and dance recitals. The Solomos Museum on Zakynthos is organizing a digital exhibition on the heroes of the War of Independence, their history and the places and events that immortalized them. It will also include music and poetry inspired by the struggle for freedom. Other events include an educational game about 10 of the most important heroes of the Greek War of Independence organized by the Gregorios Xenopoulos Museum on Zakynthos, as well as a game called the “Conspiracy of Letters” hosted by the Ionian University Museum.
The founding members of the Network of Ionian Island Museums from Cephalonia are the central public Iacovatios Library and Museum in Lixouri, the Korgalenio Historical and Folklore Museum in Argostoli and the Folk Museum of Kaminarata. On Corfu they are the Corfu Annex of the National Gallery, the Historical Folklore Society of Corfu, the Ionian University Museum and the Kapodistrias Museum. On Lefkada, founding members include the Angelos Sikelianos Museum, the Folklore Museum in Kavalo, and the Cultural Center of Lefkada. And on Zakynthos they are the Gregorios Xenopoulos Museum, the Ugo Foscolo Museum and the Solomos Museum. Finally, the Maritime and Folklore Museum on Ithaca is also a member.