Thanks to a Jackson-Fosdick Memorial Scholarship, Teofila Cruz-Uribe, in the third and final year of her concurrent master’s degrees in Museology and International Studies at the Jackson School Ellison Center for Russian, Eastern European & Central Asian Studies (REECAS), spent summer 2017 as an intern at the Hermitage Museum’s Youth Education Center in St. Petersburg, Russia. In this first-person account, she shares her experience as the communications focal point on a high-profile human rights conference.
In summer 2017, as the fortunate recipient of both a summer Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS) and the Jackson-Fosdick Internship Scholarship in International Studies, I was able to gain professional museum experience in Russia, working at the Youth Education Center in the Hermitage Museum, thereby combining an adaptive, innovative conception of museums with Russian cultural, political, and language studies.
My graduate studies center around the unique potential of museums to foster innovation, adaptation, outreach, and diplomacy. My master’s thesis focuses on the aftermath of the Revolution of 1917 and the “revolutions” and innovations within early Soviet museology that arose as a result. But my historical research has frequently brought me back to the present state of the Russian and American museology fields. History, as well as innovation, does not occur in a vacuum and what happened in the past cannot but help inform the present. It is this reflective, adaptive institutional capability of museums that lends them their uniqueness and potential, and the Hermitage Museum served as a wonderful exemplar of this.
A main purpose of my current research is the reconceptualization of the organizational principle of
centralization. My summer experience at the Hermitage enabled me to begin compiling and analyzing contemporary professional Russian museological opinion on centralization and its historical applications within Russian museums. My time in St. Petersburg allowed me entry and insight into the Hermitage and its historical experiences regarding Soviet centralization and any centralized, centralizing vestiges that remain. I was able to work on a research paper on the topic and present some of my findings at a student conference hosted by the Youth Education Center, which was a wonderful academic and networking opportunity.
Aside from furthering my academic research, my official duties in the Youth Education Center ranged from office management tasks like reorganizing the Center’s resources for student classes, seminars, and exhibits. However, the task that made up most of my summer internship was international grant research.
Although the Hermitage is a state museum as well as the largest museum in Russia and possibly the world, the Youth Center continually seeks non-federal funding for its many activities. My research gained me insight into the difficulties that any Russian museum has in gaining access to international (especially American) funding due to political sanctions and regional bias. I also gained knowledge of the various Russian museum networks and organizations that fund art museums, education centers and programs. By the end of my stint I had compiled a list and written a report on the suitable international funding organizations and grant programs for the Hermitage Youth Education Center.
The educational and preservation functions of museums are well-known and effective, lending themselves well to the causes of propaganda and nationalism. But in dynamic societies, museums often have a difficult task in finding their place, and balancing their identity and agenda in the ever-changing cultural and political forums. The study of museums’ roles in a specific society can be extremely useful in gaining insight into the motivations and goals of that society’s systems, whether they be political, educational, or cultural.
The Bolsheviks’ use of museums as additional forums for revolutionary, socialist education, Stalin’s inculcation through museums of Socialist Realism and Communism as the dominant artistic and political forms of the day, Putin’s crackdown on N.G.O.-funded museums as ‘foreign-agents’, American museums’ re-invigorated interest in social critique and activism, and the impact shifting political relations between Russia and the West have on international museum relationships, exchanges, and exhibits are all examples of areas in which the combined study of Russian and museum studies as an interdisciplinary approach can provide research opportunities and insight.
But this is nothing compared to the experience and insight provided by an on-the-ground,
in-country professional museological experience in Russia. The interdisciplinary approach of area studies and museology that I could put to practice in my internship at the Hermitage Museum helped me better prepare for the international relations niche in museology – toward potentially applying my Russian specialization to the international grant management field, the curation of Russian exhibits, the organization of Russo-American museum collaborations and exchanges, or even a job in a Russian museum.