Museums Turkey

Icom drops Turkish committee

An independent body is due to take its place

The Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Gaziantep, which opened in 2011, is among the many new museums launched in Turkey

The International Council of Museums (Icom) has ditched its Turkish committee, which is backed by the country’s ministry of culture. Julien Anfruns, the director general of Icom, which is backed by Unesco, says that the accredited Turkish arm, established in the 1960s, “has unfortunately not moved with the times, despite discussions since 2010”.

An independent association, called Icom Turkey, is set to take its place. The new body is due to be made up of museum professionals from across the country; a selection of these are former members of the now defunct Turkish committee. “The new organisation will not be politicised,” Anfruns says.

A memorandum distributed by Icom flags up the growth of the museum sector in Turkey over the past ten years, with new institutions launching countrywide—from the Cer Modern gallery in Ankara (2010) to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Gaziantep (2011) and the first private archaeological museum in Dulumpinar in the west of the country. The memorandum points out that the modernisation of the Turkish museum sector continues apace with private museums particularly mounting effective marketing and public relations campaigns.

Icom is also mindful of Turkey’s economic clout as the country’s gross domestic product increased by 8.2% in the third quarter of 2011 compared with the same quarter the previous year. But Turkey’s culture budget only increased by 0.04% as part of general government expenditure, according to the Icom memorandum. “The number of state-run museums in this country is steadily rising while the share of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in the national budget remains strikingly small. It is unlikely that the ministry [will] keep on being the sole funding body for the museums,” says the Icom document, implying that other sources of funding, such as private capital, will be sought as the country’s economy booms.

But the most stinging criticism is aimed at the red tape wrapped around the museum sector. “A centralised, bureaucratic and complex system at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism causes communication problems between the ministry and individual museums,” says the memorandum. “Within such a system, supported also by legislation, the museum managements seek decision from the central authority rather than deploying their own decision mechanisms.” The ministry of culture declined to comment.

Vasif Kortun, the director of the non-profit Salt gallery in Istanbul, prefers an independent body, but he still questions Icom's role. “I would favour a Turkish association outside Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism,” he says. “[But] I have questions about Icom's involvement in matters of museums of modern and contemporary art. It is the affiliated committees and associations, either national or international, such as CIMAM (the international committee of Icom for museums and collections of modern art), that are more active with pertinent contributions to the field of museum practice,” he says. Salt gallery is hosting a CIMAM conference in October.

Anfruns, meanwhile, has outlined Icom’s strategy for countries caught up in the Arab Spring. Icom has drawn up a “red” list of looted objects in Egypt likely to end up on the open market, while Anfruns stresses that the situation in Libya is “very complicated” as no Icom arm operates there. “Icom will set up a special international delegation for Libya in the next few months,” says Anfruns, who adds that his other priorities for 2012 include combatting the illegal trafficking of objects in West Africa.

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