A new ICOM International Committee on ethical issues?
In everyday museum work, we often face ethical questions and challenges. These issues can present themselves in many ways and situations. In our contact with guests, informants and colleagues; in the handling of artefacts, presentations and exhibitions. Also in the dealings with officials or questions about economic issues the museum ethics might be challenged. These issues are shared by all museums and most museum professionals. A forum dedicated to these everyday ethical questions and challenges could be a new and inspiring forum for sharing and discussing these issues – a new international committee on ethical issues. Not least the museums’ new social engagement – exemplified by this year’s theme for the International Museums Day «Museums and contested histories: Saying the unspeakable in museums» - illustrates the need for a permanent open-for-all forum for reflection and exchanges about museums’ relation to the society they are part of.
We need both ETHCOM and an International Committee
Making rules regulating ethical conduct has for decades been and is the task of ICOMs Standing Committee on Ethics (ETHCOM) and the resulting ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums is the recognised worldwide reference for ethical conduct.
But while ETHCOM makes rules and deals with cases bordering on legal considerations, has a limited number of politically appointed members and is reporting to the ICOM President/Executive Board, ethics is a topic so diverse and important that we also need a forum open to ICOM’s members for the exchange and development of professional insight on ethical challenges, a forum that is self-recruiting and self-governed, so that all members of ICOM have equal access to the discussions.
ETHCOM and an International Committee about ethics will have different functions and be complementary. The International Committee shall not make rules or judgements or formal statements about right or wrong. This should be stated specifically in the rules for an eventual International Committee about ethics.
The establishment of a new International Committee requires the support of at least 50 ICOM members from 10 countries in 2 continents. The decision about establishment or not is finally made by the Executive Board.
The initiative for establishing an International Committee about ethics is taken by
Kathrin Pabst (b. 1971), Head of the Department for Research, Collection management and Visitor experience at the Vest-Agder- museum in Kristiansand, Norway. She holds a Ph.D. in professional ethics, concentrating on moral challenges museum employees face when working with sensitive topics involving external cooperation. Member of the Norwegian ICOM board.
Søren la Cour Jensen (b. 1972), Senior Curator at the Industrial Museum of Frederiks Vaerk and The House of Knud Rasmussen. Manager of The House of Knud Rasmussen and Head of Archives. Chair Blue Shield Denmark 2011, Board member ICOM Denmark 2014-, Chair of ICOM Denmark 2015-, Member of ICOM DRTF (Disaster Relief Task Force, technical committee) 2014-16, Member of ICOM Disaster Risk Management Committee (standing committee) 2017-
Per B. Rekdal (b. 1945), Retired, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo; written about museums and cultural diversity, museums and difficult issues, tourist art; etc. Various positions in ICOM, like chair ICOM Norway 1996-98, ICME 1998-2004, member of Executive Council 2004-2010, chair of Working Group on Governance 2013-2017.
At the conference, a roll up will inform about the idea and the initiators look forward to many stimulating discussions!