November 30, 2017
Dr. Manginis, dear guests, it is a great pleasure to be back at this beautiful Benaki facility and to be here with so many representatives of some of the top museums and cultural institutions here in Greece.
This is the seventh annual Museum Conference that we have organized along with our partners at the Benaki, the British Council and the British Embassy. It is one of the flagship programs of our Cultural Office, and it offers a fantastic opportunity for exchanging best practices and for discussions among leading cultural institutions.
I have had the privilege over the past year and a half here in Greece to see some of the fantastic cultural treasures that this country possesses but also to get an appreciation of the very high quality of the museum system here.
And this year’s conference touches on the special social role that museums can play. As repositories of our collective history and knowledge, museums are tasked with making sure that our cultural heritage reaches a broad swath of the public, and that all visitors regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, class, ability or language feel welcome.
As the socioeconomic environment and the demographics are constantly changing, museums in the U.S., in Greece, and around the world have been looking for ways to increase diversity and invite full participation from minority and marginalized communities. Education has always been the number one gateway for marginalized groups to have a presence in museums. Creating museums without barriers to learning so everyone may experience what the exhibitions have to offer, the collections, and programs is a priority in the field and will be part of the discussion later in the day.
Earlier this year as part of Documenta 14, the U.S. Embassy supported the work of American artist Rick Lowe who collaborated with Maria Papadimitriou, a Greek artist who’s speaking to you this afternoon, on the Victoria Square Project. Rick Lowe is known for his work focusing on the convergence of community and art, which he brought to Athens through the establishment of a community center and pop-up art space on Elpidos Street. The Victoria Square Project truly has become a place that serves its community and acts as a catalyst for collaboration and integration for the diverse cultures among the Kypseli neighborhood.
Technology is another central tool to achieve accessibility and inclusion — for visitors with sight and hearing issues, or mobility issues, but also for communities and people that are far away from the actual museum. Museums are also exploring diversity, accessibility and inclusion in all aspects of their structure sand programming ─ in their exhibitions and programs but also in their staff and their leadership positions.
Cultural heritage organizations, from public libraries and small house museums to globally recognized art and science museums, are in a unique position to foster social change in their own communities. And we see time and again that social value generates economic value – when museums become gateways for understanding, they can increase prosperity and enhance quality of life for society as a whole.
One small example of how social value and economic value go hand in hand is establishing accessibility programs in some of the best known archaeological sites of Greece. Such programs would allow more Greeks to experience their own cultural heritage; but they would also drive additional tourism flows from people with disabilities from all over the world that would be interested in the rich cultural history of Greece.
I want to thank our generous partners in this conference: our host here, the Benaki Museum; our partners at the British Council and the British Embassy. I also want to thank the Athens Municipality and the Athens Culture Network for their auspices and support. And, of course, I want to offer special thanks to our American guests, Georgia Krantz and Nicole Ivy, who have come a long way to be here with you today, as well as all of the speakers and participants today for their presence and cooperation.
I wish you all great success with the conference and continuing success in the important work that cultural institutions perform toward creating a more equitable and diverse world. Ευχαριστώ πολύ.