Our museum staff shared their impressions of participating in the American experience exchange program

30 May 2023

On Wednesday, May 24, a meeting of museum staff held at the Holodomor Museum, during which employees of our institution shared their impressions and experience gained after participating in the project “Memorializing History Through Education and Museums” from the US Embassy in Ukraine. Colleagues from other museums, as well as anyone interested in this experience were invited to the meeting. It is nice that the representative of the US Embassy in Ukraine, Glen Davis, attended our event.

As a reminder, six employees of our museum visited the USA in February-March under this program. During a three-week stay in the United States, our colleagues visited six cities – Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Iowa City, Chicago – and 23 museums and 10 memorials, and they had up to 10 meetings and briefings. Places visited include the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, the Pacific Science Center and Museum of Popular Culture in Seattle, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Meskwaki Cultural Center and Museum in Iowa, The National Museum of African American History and DuSable Education Center and the Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago, the Holodomor Memorial in Washington, the Irish Hunger Memorial in New York, etc.

The representative of the US Embassy in Ukraine, Glen Davis, emphasized the importance of not just military but humanitarian support as well, which the United States provides to our country today.

“That support also includes support for Ukrainian culture and the lifeline of U.S. exchange programs that send hundreds of Ukrainians to the United States every year to learn best practices, to form partnerships. The purpose of that project was to give Ukrainian experts the opportunity to discuss with their American counterparts the development concept for the Holodomor Victims Memorial and to learn best practices for memorializing historical trauma. Not all museums are alike. Some exhibit beautiful art works or the memorabilia of famous people. Others try to accurately record the memory of a tragic historical event and ensure that it is never forgotten or repeated. Doing that in a way that is truthful, powerful, and sensitive to the reactions of visitors is difficult. The participants in this program had a chance to see how some U.S. museums address this challenge, dealing with the experiences of Jewish-Americans, Native Americans, African-Americans, and Japanese-Americans in cities across the country.” – Mr. Glen noted.

Our colleagues spoke about their impressions of American museums, the specifics of their work, and the specific experience they gained.

“Unlike Ukrainian museums, which exist mostly with state funds, museums in the USA are looking for funds for their existence themselves; they have fundraising departments, special funds, endowment,” Anna, a participant in the program, deputy general director of the Holodomor Museum, said about the peculiarities of museum financing in the USA. – ” Museums work with their visitors, communities, foundations, and public organizations to attract funds, create membership fees and programs. They receive state and private grants. Only the most important collections are supported by the state, federal government, state or city. In addition, the funds come from the activity itself: the sale of services – excursions, tickets, souvenirs, working museum cafes (or restaurants), renting out their premises for events of a completely different nature: from weddings to political debates.

According to Anna, a museum in the US is “a place of learning, leisure, recreation, a meeting place and a scientific center at the same time.”

“You can spend a whole day in the museum, because all conditions are created for this: you will have a place to talk in a friendly circle, you can have a full meal or drink coffee, there is something to entertain a child of any age, listen to a concert, listen to an interesting lecture, to visit a certain historical event with the help of virtual reality, spend money on shopping, etc. And then, in a week or a month, you will also be interested, because expositions and exhibitions change, new events are organized… Service, attractions, atmosphere – everything works for the visitor. The museum should become a place where you want to return again and again, Anna Sokyrina says. – With museums, memorials, centers that explore complex history, it is a little more difficult. Here we also have to appeal to the community. The support of Holocaust museums and centers everywhere is extremely strong, and they are in contact with each other and have significant support from various Jewish foundations and individuals around the world.”

Yana Hrynko, head of the exposition and exhibition department, shared her impressions about approaches to the formation of expositions and exhibitions in US museums. She emphasized the wide use of multimedia tools and modern technologies and the importance of feedback from the visitor, which is present in almost every museum and allows to improve the work of the museum, promptly responding to the requests and wishes of its visitors.

Yana Horodniak and Olha Vyhodovanets, the excursion and educational department staff, spoke about approaches to working with children in American museum institutions. For instance, some museums of traumatic history do not work with the youngest visitors at all – in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, for example, there is a restriction on entry for children under 14 years old. At the same time, some museum institutions pay great attention to working with children and family recreation in general. They actively carry out not only cognitive and entertaining activities but educational and informative activities as well, emphasizing the protection of human rights, prevention of all types of discrimination, etc.

Maryna Pryn, a chief custodian of the Holodomor Museum’s foundation, spoke about the peculiarities of fund work and the digitization of museum collections. According to Maryna, digitization of museum collections and 3D scanning of museum objects are actively underway in American museums. Such digitization programs will make it possible to bring museum collections into the virtual world so that they become accessible to users. After all, say, in the Smithsonian Institute (a complex of cultural, educational, and scientific institutions of the USA), only 1% of the collection is displayed simultaneously, and 99% is inaccessible to the general public. Artificial intelligence is generally actively used in museum work. Well-known companies such as Microsoft are involved in developing specific programs for museum workers.

Yulia Kotsur, head of the Holodomor oral history department, shared the peculiarities of collecting and preserving evidence about certain periods of history by American museums. Museums related to the study of traumatic history are mainly engaged in recording them. Although not only: the Museum of Pop Culture (Seattle), for example, records interviews with famous people who have contributed to popular culture.

The National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide is sincerely grateful to the US Embassy in Ukraine and the US Department of State for organizing the trip, a rich program, and the opportunity to get to know the work of American colleagues and museums. We will definitely adapt the acquired experience to Ukrainian realities and use it in our work.