Building Bridges in the Exhibition World: The International Committee on Exhibitions and Exchanges
For over thirty years, the International Committee on Exhibitions and Exchanges (ICEE) has provided a forum for people involved in exhibition-related work to discuss their projects and share information.
Founded in 1983, the International Committee on Exhibitions and Exchanges (ICEE) is part of ICOM – the International Council of Museums, which itself has operated under UNESCO auspices since 1946. It is a global professional organization for people working in, for and with museums, and is one of ICOM’s over thirty international committees, each one devoted to a specific aspect of museum work. It has more than 250 members – exhibition professionals in museums and private companies – around the world, and has the mission of supporting high quality exhibition work in museums worldwide. The ICEE also provides a forum for exchange, whether regarding projects, partnerships or information.
The ICEE’s Origins and Membership
TEN recently caught up with Carina Jaatinen, Chairperson of the ICEE, and Head of Exhibitions, Espoo City Museum, Finland, to talk about all things ICEE and the touring exhibition world in general. To begin with, we asked her about the history of the ICEE itself, and why it was founded. “The first committees of ICOM were established mainly around a specific type of museum,” Carina says. “Hence you can find committees that are for instance about glass, costumes or historic houses. Later, the need to develop the museum profession led to new kinds of committees, which were more focused in a certain aspect of museum work, instead of the type or the mission of the museum. The creation of the ICEE was a reaction to the rising need to develop exhibition exchange between museums and to create a network of international museum professionals to address and discuss exhibition-related work.”
The creation of the ICEE was a reaction to the rising need to develop exhibition exchange between museums and to create a network of international museum professionals to address and discuss exhibition-related work.
Carina herself has been involved with the ICEE since 2007, when she attended their annual conference for the first time and was elected onto the board. “For many years I was managing the Market Place of Exhibitions and Ideas–session, and since 2013 I have had the honour to chair the committee,” Carina says. “I have been working with exhibition productions and development for about twenty years in different Finnish museums.” Her background is also both academic and practical. “When young, I first studied carpentry, which later gave me an excellent starting point for exhibition work in museums, because I could both use a circular saw and do academic research. Later, I became especially interested in questions about exhibitions as media and in interpreting heritage and history through exhibitions. Currently, I am working as the Head of Exhibitions in Espoo City Museum, having just finished a 1.5 year temporary commission on the National Board of Antiquities as the Director of Development.”
ICEE’s membership brings together a group of engaged professionals working in the area of exhibitions from around the globe.
The ICEE’s membership brings together a group of engaged professionals working in the area of exhibitions from around the globe. As Carina says, “the key people at ICEE are its membership…The diversity and knowledge of its membership makes the ICEE a tremendously useful resource and network for exhibition professionals.” ICEE’s ten board members are also key; these are each elected for a three year term, with a maximum of two consecutive terms permitted, and live in countries across the globe. “In a global organization like ICOM, it is a priority to encourage active representation from all parts of the world,” Carina says. “At the same time, it is challenging to coordinate the work of a team that is spread around different continents and time zones. I would describe our current board as a sister- or brotherhood of exhibition professionals. During the years we really do become good friends too.”
ICEE’s Annual Conference
One of the main roles of the ICEE is to build bridges within the community of exhibitions and museums; to achieve this, they organize events and conferences, including this year’s ICEE Annual Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, in co-operation with ICOM South Africa and Martin Melck House; these annual meetings feature discussions and valuable networking opportunities for museum professionals involved with exhibitions. They also provide an opportunity for people to share information and options on the practical issues of exhibition development, circulation and exchange. As Carina says, “The main activity of the committee is the annual conference. Every three years the conference is arranged in connection with the ICOM General Conference, when all the IC´s come together in one place, like next year in Milan. During my chairmanship since 2013, the ICEE has focused on developing the concept and the processes of our annual conferences and creating new partnerships. We are proud to say that the participant survey that was conducted after our last conference in September 2014 in Finland, showed a high level of satisfaction with all aspects of the conference.”
The theme of this year’s conference in South Africa is Get Connected! New Markets, Audiences, and Perspectives in Exhibition Exchange. “Our aim is hence to provide opportunities for exhibition professionals around the world to exchange ideas, challenges and best practices concerning the development of new markets, new audiences and new perspectives in the world of touring exhibitions,” Carina says. “Of course the aim is also to get to know the South African exhibition and museum scene, and encourage new partnerships between the international participants and our hosts and participants on a local and national level.” The three day conference programme features keynote speakers, conference sessions and behind the scenes tours. There is also the Market Place of Exhibitions and Ideas, a popular session in which participants are given ten minutes to present their projects – either currently touring or in development – or share new ideas, all the while fostering partnerships with other exhibition professionals. The programme will also include an optional workshop day with South African colleagues, and two exciting post-conference days.
Over the last decade, new markets have evolved around touring exhibition activities, Carina says. “In addition to the more traditional exhibitions based on museum collections, there are the big, visually impressive commercial shows touring around the world. The whole concept of exhibition production has changed and become more diverse too, in many regards thanks to the exhibition development work done in science centres. Also, the number of museums and other exhibition venues has grown significantly during the last years around the world.”
The whole concept of exhibition production has changed and become more diverse too, in many regards thanks to the exhibition development work done in science centres.
There are also challenges facing the touring exhibitions community. “I am of the opinion that the challenges are actually quite many and diverse – depending on where you look at,” Carina says. “The business environment is changing rapidly all over the world. Digitization is both posing challenges and creating possibilities for museums and for exhibition development. The financial frame for museums is tightening and the traditional public support is diminishing rapidly. On the other hand, in some parts of the world, like in Asia and the Middle East, huge investments are made to establish new museums and exhibition centres. We have also recognized that the needs and interests of the public are rapidly changing and museums have to find ways to respond to these changes in a clever way. And finally, as heritage organizations, museums have a responsibility to take part in public discussions about wider challenges, like the sustainable development of culture and societies. The question is: How can touring exhibition activities serve as a means for museums to achieve their goals.”
Carina believes that there is a strong future for touring exhibition activities, but also that, in the future, the markets will be very diverse in regard to their size, content and methods of production. “There will be more competition and the big shows will go more and more out of a museum context,” she says. “Furthermore, I believe that the museum field will continue to differentiate between the big and small, where the big consortiums are able to invest in strong touring exhibitions programmes with blockbusters, and the smaller ones, struggling with the diminishing resources, will evolve by focusing more on community oriented services and finding new participatory methods in developing their activities.”
To finish, we had just one question left: What was the most recent touring exhibition that Carina had visited? “My most recent museum visit was to Mänttä, a small paper mill city in Central-Finland where the Serlachius-museums provide visitors a splendid surprise in the form of a most modern and creative exhibition experience – both in art and cultural history. I warmly recommend it!”