Neda Knežević, MA, Director of Museum of Yugoslavia: Art will be revived but in an altered reality

Museum of Yugoslavia has been actively using digital platforms for communication with the public for a long time, so it was not that challenging to adapt our programmes to the virtual environment, although we miss the direct contact with visitors

On December 2, the visiting exhibition “Alan Ford Running a Lap of Honor” was opened at the Museum of Yugoslavia, marking this year’s Museum Day. With talked with Neda Knežević, director of the Museum of Yugoslavia, about how the Museum has been working during the pandemic, financial consequences of the crisis, regional cooperation and plans for the next year.

Neda Knežević, MA, Director of Museum of Yugoslavia

The coronavirus has led to the closure of museums worldwide. Closing and reopening a museum to the public is not just as simple as closing or opening a door to it. What is the situation with the Museum of Yugoslavia like?

The most important thing was to organize supervision over the museum collections and teamwork outside the work premises, but also to keep in touch with the public through online content.

The Museum of Yugoslavia’s complex consists of four buildings: the May 25 Museum, the House of Flowers, the Old Museum, as well as a ticket office with a souvenir shop and a cafe (spanning over 5,000 square metres). If we add to that the Sculpture Park that covers an area of 2.16 hectares, it is clear that this is an extremely large and demanding system, the functioning of which at full capacity requires serious logistics, as well as a stable technical and technological base.

Following the introduction of a state of emergency, the Museum was closed to the visitors. It only took us a week to complete that process and the same amount of time to reopen it in late May, which was preceded by thorough preparations, with the adherence to all prescribed government measures to protect health and safety of visitors and employees.

“The main advantage of digital technologies is that they enable museums, even though they are physically closed to visitors, to still be able to create content”

Under regular circumstances, the Museum has a large number of visitors (130,000 a year), including foreign tourists, so we really felt this change. However, the whole situation encouraged us to contribute to the local community, so in May, we decided that in the future the entrance to the Sculpture Park will be free for everyone so that our fellow citizens can recognize this space not only as a place for cultural, artistic and educational content but also as a space for leisure, contemplation and relaxation.

How difficult was being first to organize the Museum operations and yourself during these months when anti-corona measures are being first adopted then abolished, and when movement was limited?

The Museum of Yugoslavia employees did not stop working even during the period when the Museum was closed. Most were able to work from home, and their activities were tailored to create content in a virtual environment. The main advantage of digital technologies is that they enable museums, even though they are physically closed to the visitors, to still create content and, through dialogue and audience involvement in the creation of that content, to encourage reflection on relevant topics and thus contribute to the society in such complex circumstances.

You can find an abundance of content on the Museum’s website about the Museum’s collections, as well as materials collected through exhibitions and other programmes (video interview database, conferences and other verbal programmes, recordings of guided tours through exhibitions, selection of items from the collection, the Museum’s printed publications in digital forms, etc.).

During the state of emergency, we launched two social media campaigns. #OstaniUMuzeYU focused on educational digital content, while the #YUDOM mini-project generated a completely new content relevant to the segment that the Museum covers, as a result of the active participation of not only of local but also audiences across the region.

I am very proud of the Museum’s entire team because, in July, we managed to stage the planned exhibition “TANJUG Reports – The War is Over”, which shows documentary photographs of exceptional historical value and which is open to the public until the end of this year.

This exhibition is part of a series of programmes that we realize from May to the end of the year marking the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The curators intervened on a permanent display in line with the theme, and if you cannot come to the Museum personally, you will soon be able to watch the guided tour live on our YouTube channel. This is just one of the examples of active development of digital content, and in that context, we have designed a mini-series of online conversations. The first took place in October, while the second – called “Freedom to the People!” – will take place on November 29, as part of the programme marking this year’s Day of the Museum of Yugoslavia.

To sum up… With a light slalom between virtual and physical content, we strive to actively listen, be flexible and contribute to as many communities as possible in all available ways.

The crisis is ongoing. What financial impact will this year have on the Museum and art in general?

The number of visitors to the Museum of Yugoslavia has dropped significantly compared to the numbers we are used to. Own revenues have stopped and have declined by 80%. We are ending this year without serious consequences on regular expenses, part-time associates and programmes, but come next year, we will have to reorganize our work a lot in accordance with the reduced funds.

The period since the Museum of Yugoslavia was founded in 1996 to date has been marked by an identity crisis. What are your plans in terms of creating a brand out of the Museum?

That’s right. The Museum of Yugoslavia had a turbulent history that greatly reflected on the identity of the institution. It is located on the site of the former residential area where Josip Broz Tito lived, which after his death became the Josip Broz Tito Memorial Centre. Precisely because of that, even today, part of the audience perceives the Museum primarily as Tito’s mausoleum. However, apart from that, the Museum of Yugoslavia is, above all, a public institution that promotes social memory and culture of remembrance related to the Yugoslav heritage. We plan to continue in this direction and for our programmes and activities to reflect an open institution that, through a modern interpretation of the past, invites various actors to actively look at the present.

The guest exhibition “Alan Ford Running a Lap of Honor”, which was one of the most popular Slovenian cultural events in 2019, was opened at the Museum on December 2. Can you tell us more about the exhibition?

We are very glad to have hosted this popular exhibition. Alan Ford is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable phenomena that characterize the Yugoslav heritage and experience.

The exhibition shows 152 original boards from the early period, when the famous Italian duo of illustrators, Magnus-Bunker, did this comic book. There are also three cover drawings by Paolo Piffarerio. With this exhibition, as well as numerous regular programs, the Museum of Yugoslavia marks this year’s Museum Day.

“International cooperation in terms of hosting large exhibitions will happen again because although we will be more present in the virtual world, personal experiences remain indispensable”

We have staged this exhibition together with the Institute of Culture and Education from Ljubljana, in cooperation with the National Gallery of Slovenia, the Italian Institute of Culture in Belgrade and the Yugoslav Film Archive. We are proud that, despite the pandemic, we have managed to raise funds with the help of our collaborators, donors and sponsors to be able to present this exhibition to the public. Erste Bank, S-Leasing, Vip Mobile, Montprojekt, Traco-invest, Triglav Osiguranje and Soko Inženjering also helped us to stage the exhibition and I would like to use this opportunity to thank them all.

Are you optimistic about being able to stage exhibitions abroad? When will the world come alive again in terms of arts?

I firmly believe that the art world will be revived again but in a slightly altered reality. International cooperation in terms of hosting large exhibitions will happen again because, although we will be more present in the virtual world, personal experiences remain indispensable.

What are the Museum’s plans for the next year? Will there be enough funds to realize these plans, given the crisis?

We create the Museum’s annual programme in a way that it is relevant both for the museum itself and for the local community, so we always choose one umbrella theme that joins together most of our activities for that year.

This year, as I mentioned, the strategic theme rests on the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Next year, it will be an industrial legacy. This means that one part of the curatorial team will work on redoing the permanent exhibition, which they will continuously refresh and improve. In that way, our audience will always have a fresh reason to visit the Museum. New items are added to the collection, but also there are new types of interpretation of the existing collection, which is reinterpreted through the new topics. In addition to working on the permanent exhibition, the main theme is always illustrated with a large thematic exhibition. This time, the exhibition will be the result of cooperation with the Museum of Science and Technology. The two museums decided to cooperate to cover the industry in its complexity: both as a production process, but also as a complex form of association of people.

Also, we are trying to be versatile and cover many different topics in the broad corpus of the Yugoslav heritage, as well as contemporary trends in the development of museum visitors. To that end, we always have stimulating programmes for the local community such as a family day, a rich music and film programme, various gatherings, conversations, and educational programmes.

An important partner in the region

How important is regional cooperation?

It is very important because, as a significant place of remembrance, the Museum of Yugoslavia gathers in one place different memories of people throughout the region, as well as of those who temporarily or permanently left this part of the world. With its approach in the interpretation and presentation of heritage, the Museum is locally and regionally recognized as an institution that applies modern and develops innovative museum practices. Hence, in the regional context, it is recognized as an important and relevant partner to various institutions, organizations and individuals in the processes of (re)interpreting the Yugoslav heritage and developing new institutional policies and methodological approaches

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