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Statement From the Directors of the Staatliche Museen Zu Berlin on the Structural Recommendations Made by the Wissenschaftsrat

07.08.2020

On 13 July 2020, the Wissenschaftsrat (German Council of Sciences and Humanities) presented its report to the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz. The directors of the various branches of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin recognise the urgent need for reform outlined in the report and are asking to be actively included in the restructuring process:

We wish to make our voices heard. We, the directors of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin demand prompt and effective reforms and wish to participate in drafting the plans that will reshape our future.

In recent weeks, various people have asked us if we had been surprised by the recommendations of the Wissenschaftsrat. Our answer has been yes – with respect to the clarity of the recommendations and the incisiveness of the analysis. But we were in no way surprised by the facts that it contained about the effects of the existing structures on our day-to-day work.

We are grateful for the fact that the Wissenschaftsrat repeatedly emphasised the importance of active and empowered museums for society, and that the reforms suggested have been conceived primarily with the perspective of users in mind. The restructuring of the museums which is now getting underway must be focused on strengthening the museum’s ability to respond to the social challenges that are described so incisively in the recommendations.

The authors of the report describe the collections and the research potential of the museums and institutions throughout as outstanding, and in some areas as “world-class”. Additionally, they stress the high levels of expertise, motivation and dedication of the staff. However, they stated on numerous occasions that the funding for research and exhibitions is far too low. The staffing structure is also in no way geared to tackle contemporary challenges.

These statements ought to be discussed at the outset of any debates about reform. We can discuss the name of a potential foundation at a later date. The widening gap between the demands placed on the branches of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin by society and the actual possibilities available to the institutions is a topic that needs to be discussed immediately. The funding situation is so precarious that it is impossible to make long-term plans. With the loss of major income streams in 2020 due to the pandemic, this will become even more evident. If we are to hold major, international exhibitions in the coming years, then the federal government must work together with the state of Berlin to create the foundations for this. Otherwise, the effects will be considerable for a long time to come. The crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the weaknesses of the system in an unforgiving manner.

The report recommends that the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin “restructure its internal organisation and procedures in order to create a structure that facilitates the realisation of modern exhibitions, in-depth forms of interaction between the various collections and with audiences, cooperative and international research projects, and the wide-ranging tasks involved in the process of digitalisation”. We yearn for precisely such a structure. This is indeed the heart of the problem. If the authors of the report gained the impression that a tendency towards centralisation and the concentration of responsibilities has led to inefficient structures, overly complex procedures and communication problems, then they are conveying the everyday experience of museum staff. Laborious and untransparent procedures overseen by a convoluted hierarchy impede efforts to respond promptly to contemporary issues and requests posed by audiences or to initiate new research projects. A reduction in structures in this area would lead without a doubt to an increase in our agility as an institution. This would also mean, of course, an increase in responsibility.

The elegant notion of a structure of facilitation implies a radical process of rethinking which will also place significant demands on us. We too will then be able to function more effectively as facilitators for a whole range of our visitors’ desires. Even more will become possible if – as the authors of the report expressly demand – the management of the museums and institutions are afforded the requisite agency to plan and act, and to determine the trajectory of their institutions. Currently, these conditions are almost entirely lacking.

Although the statute of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin does afford the directors a large degree of autonomy over questions of content, the freely available funding they would require in order to be able to shape the activity of their institutions and the concomitant decision-making powers do not currently exist. The situation is similar when it comes to staff planning. There is almost certainly no other comparable institution in which the decision-making powers of management are so limited as they are at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. This situation hinders initiative, thwarts staff-led activities, and hamstrings the institution from a long-term perspective. For this reason, we directors enthusiastically support the report’s objective of flattening hierarchies and moving decision-making closer to where actions are carried out.

We want to participate energetically and without taboos in the development of a new organisational form. We are aware that this process will mean a fundamental rethinking of both the overarching structures and the way the museums work with each other. The basis of this is the question of what can be sensibly planned, decided and implemented and by whom, while making effective use of the limited resources of the institution, keeping in mind that these limitations will be in place for some time to come. We are open to new structures organised around things such as thematic or location-based clusters. We are likewise willing to accept responsibility for the entirety of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in the form of collaborative leadership structures. The report of the Wissenschaftsrat recommends that a professionally assisted organisational development process take place. We believe that this is urgently needed.

For us, the questions of which overarching structure and which umbrella brand should be developed or retained is something that can only be asked at the end of the process. Particularly in the field of research, there are undoubtedly important collaborations with the other branches of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz that have been expanded in recent years which we would want to continue to explore in the future.

However, it is essential for us that the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin form a single unit. No other organisation brings together such significant and thematically diverse museums and institutions under one roof. Where else can archaeology still influence modern art, where else can the art of Asia enter into a dialogue with European sculpture? Questions that transcend epochs, disciplines and geographic regions are becoming increasingly important for research and exhibition-making. The potential of our collections is far from being exhausted.

Our expectations for the coming reform process are as follows:

The directors of the museums and institutions know very well where change is necessary. Drawing on our years of practice, we have concrete ideas and visions for new structures. For this reason, we – the people who are actually at the centre of the report – want to be actively included in the reform process and have a seat at the table when it comes to decision-making. We do not need some group going above our heads to make recommendations about how things at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin can be improved without our input. We are confident that in dialogue with the public and political spheres, and with experienced partners, we can produce workable solutions.

Structurally reforming the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz – and this is something that many public statements by various participating stakeholders have intimated – will be a laborious process, but it is absolutely worth the effort. The urgent need for reform that has been identified, however, requires immediate action for improvement. This begins with the current financial situation. We demand a reliable planning framework for the coming years. Otherwise the international cooperations that are so desired will be the first thing to suffer, and even more importantly, so will our audiences.

Thirty years after the reunification of Germany, in the interests of the community of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, we ought to spare no effort in the process of restructuring the museum, in order to ensure its success now and in the future.

Prof Dr Julien Chapuis, Deputy Director of the Gemäldegalerie, the Skulpturensammlung and the Museum für Byzantinische Kunst

Dr Jonathan Fine, Head of the Ethnologisches Museum

Raffael Gadebusch, Head of the Museum für Asiatische Kunst

Prof Dr Barbara Helwing, Director of the Vorderasiatisches Museum

Dr Joachim Jäger, Deputy Director of the Nationalgalerie

Prof Dr Lars-Christian Koch, Director of the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst

Dr Dagmar Korbacher, Director of the Kupferstichkabinett

Dr Alexis von Poser, Deputy Director of the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst

Dr Patricia Rahemipour, Director of the Institut für Museumsforschung

Prof Dr Andreas Scholl, Director of the Antikensammlung

Prof Dr Friederike Seyfried, Director of the Ägyptisches Museums and the Papyrussammlung

Prof Dr Stefan Simon, Director of the Rathgen-Forschungslabor

Prof Dr Elisabeth Tietmeyer, Director of the Museum Europäischer Kulturen

Prof Dr Sabine Thümmler, Director of the Kunstgewerbemuseum

Prof Dr Stefan Weber, Director of the Museum für Islamische Kunst

Prof Dr Bernhard Weisser, Director of the Münzkabinett

Prof Dr Matthias Wemhoff, Director of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

Dr Petra Winter, Director of the Zentralarchiv and Head of Provenance Research

Prof Dr Moritz Wullen, Director of the Kunstbibliothek