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Museum Thought Leaders Urge One-to-One Action to Support Ukraine’s Museums

Renowned museum thought leaders Elaine Heumann Gurian and Linda Norris have called upon the museum world to support Ukrainian institutions and those who work in them financially.

Speaking to MuseumNext they shared their aspiration to create a matchmaking platform to connect museum professionals in North America with their Ukrainian counterparts to encourage donations.

Their message for museum professionals is “Don’t be stuck by the overwhelmingness of this and find somebody who you trust, whose name you know, and then take it from there.”

If you’d like to know more about how to support the One-to-One initiative – contact Elaine Heumann Gurian on [email protected]

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Elaine Heumann Gurian:
So I’m Elaine Heumann Gurian. This is my colleague, Linda Norris.

Linda Norris: So we each have spent a lot of time in Ukraine, before the war and the pandemic started, sometimes together, but often apart. And we came together, once the war started to begin to think about how we can really help our Ukrainian colleagues. There are lots and lots of initiatives going on, a lot of them are focused on supplies, a lot of them are a little bureaucratic. And so because of the nature of us-

Elaine Heumann Gurian: (laughs).

Linda Norris: … right? We came up with a different way to help, we hope.

Elaine Heumann Gurian: So our… This is a non-organisation, it’s just two pals. But we call this One-to-One, and it’s also One-to-One in Ukrainian, which unfortunately I cannot pronounce. One-to-One really means that you have to think small in a chaotic and emergency situation. Because what people need, they need now, and they need it directly, and no bureaucracy is really functioning. So the, the way in which you do this is you find somebody you trust, who knows somebody they trust, and you help them.

Elaine Heumann Gurian: And for me, the hardest part was to understand that scale, me to somebody, that person to somebody is the scale that’s the most effective. That in a country of overwhelming need, in a country where they need absolutely everything and the systems have been disrupted, what you really can do is help somebody and be their lifeline. We have been in touch with our colleagues in Ukraine, because even in this disaster, both Zoom and Facebook and the telephone works. So Linda will tell you about what they’ve said about the long-term sustenance of Ukraine and the way once you find a person or an organisation or an institution that you’re gonna help directly what it is we think they probably need.

Linda Norris: So what we heard from colleagues were that there are immediate needs. And some of them are as simple as like, “How are people even getting paid now?” and, you know, on average museum salary in Ukraine is about $800 a month. So it’s not a huge amount of money. But there’s also a sense that the kind of knowledge and real progress in museums and other cultural organisations that’s been made, really, I would… since independence, but certainly since the Maidan Revolution, that’s gonna disappear as expertise disappears, as, as people are just trying to s- literally survive.

Linda Norris: And so part of this came about because we thought by, by museums outside of Ukraine, matching with Ukrainian museums, we could really h- we hope, encourage the idea about building capacity for the long-term, that there are short-term needs, but there are gonna be a lot of long-term needs, some of which are physical, right? Rebuilding those places that have been destroyed. But some of those are also just the kind of support and capacity building of institutions that all of us do, and we thought One-to-One. So say, you’re a natural history museum here in the US, and there’s a natural history museum in Ukraine, that really wants to think about how do they preserve their specimens, you know, part of what you can do is expertise.

Linda Norris: But maybe you also if you’re art museum here in the US or elsewhere, you own materials that have been catalogued as Russian, but are in fact Ukrainian. Maybe you work with colleagues in Ukraine to address that wrong. So we think we’re gonna… we’re working on an online platform that would essentially be as one of our Ukrainian colleagues said, “Oh, like Tinder.” So, (laughs), so the idea that American museums can find a Ukrainian partner, Ukrainian museums to find a Ukrainian partner, and our job is to be the platform. We are not the vetters. We are not the approvers. We are not the head of anything, (laughs).

Elaine Heumann Gurian: Nothing, nothing.

Linda Norris: Nothing. We are the head of nothing, (laughs).

Elaine Heumann Gurian: (laughs), and that’s been the story. We have a Rolodex, we have friends. Thank you, Jim, for taking this film of us. You have Rolodex, you have friends. This is an overwhelming situation where you can take your heart to somebody you will know well, and you can keep them doing their work. We know two things that will happen or have already happened. One is that a lot of their citizens have left and while they have left, Zoom still works. And if you can continue to support somebody in their relationship with the Ukrainian museum, you can slow the brain down, brain down.

Elaine Heumann Gurian: We also know that if you give a contract to an institution so they can do work for you. It is a way to bypass all the bureaucracy of what charitable giving is. Because frankly, the way in which money goes into Ukraine now is to go directly into somebody’s bank account, and that is unvettable, and that’s why we’re back to trust somebody that you know, and have them get you somewhere that they trust and stuck there.

Linda Norris: And to be clear, when it goes into someone’s bank account, we’re not talking about corruption. We’re just talking about how it has to work now. You know, Tom Friedman, this morning talked about all the people who booked Airbnbs in Ukraine, and with no intention of coming as a way of getting millions of dollars, as it turns out, and so that this system of trust, and I think there’s a kind of… Ukrainians have, have demonstrated over the last three months, I think, something we knew already a bit, but now to the world, that they understand that, that working together is the only way that they’re gonna, they’re gonna do this, you know, from everyone on down. So, I think it’s really important to say that we do this in… with tremendous admiration for our-

Elaine Heumann Gurian: Oh, absolutely.

Linda Norris: .. Ukrainian colleagues, right? For their bravery, for their heart, for their willingness to get on a (laughs) Zoom call with us when the air raid sirens are going off ’cause they believe in their work. They’re the reason we’re doing it.

Elaine Heumann Gurian: It occupies us all the time that we sit in this stable or seemingly stable or mostly stable world with enough resources so that we’re dressed, and we, Linda and I had a phone call last week, where the incoming buzzer went off on their phone to say that in 10 minutes, they would be hit by a missile. And all that meant to them was that they moved themselves away from the window and continue the phone call. So this, this, this relationship which you can have one-to-one with somebody while you are trying to ascertain your own responsibility and your own safety. We are pleading with you to think small. Don’t be stuck by the overwhelmingness of this and find somebody who you trust, whose name you know, and then take it from there.

Thanks very much.

 

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