If Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has his way, Greece’s five largest archaeological museums will be separated from the government and given their own, independent status— the same status held by the Acropolis Museum since it opened in 2009.
The proposed status change would impact the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, the archaeological museums in Thessaloniki and Iraklio, the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens and the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki.
The move is consistent with the center right government’s vision of decentralization of state control of various functions and services and is intended to offer the museums greater financial and administrative autonomy— a structure that comes with less government support as well.
Museums, as independent entities, would need to balance their budgets by raising funds through private donations, corporate sponsorships, ticketing and special events.
Senior museum staff— currently employees of the state— are appointed by the government and enjoy the protection of government laws relating to public servants.
Under Culture Minister Lina Mendoni’s new plan, each new museum board will have a president and vice-president selected by an independent committee and this board will be responsible for all staffing decisions.
Mendoni told Parliament on February 5 that “museums…need a coordinated effort of structural change, so that they can function [without] the suffocating administrative and economic framework of the hard-core state to which they now belong.”
“The system is rotten,” Ioanna K., a Culture Ministry employee who asked we not share her last name, told The Pappas Post in an interview via WhatsApp. She explained that once people get their jobs in the museums, “they are protected as government employees and productivity and merit-based performance is stifled.” The museums are crumbling— literally and figuratively, she continued. “No one wants to take on anything more than what is required of them– the bare minimum. There is no innovation, no growth, no creativity. The system needs to change,” she continued.
Not so fast– say the Association of Greek Archaeologists, who expressed their “absolute opposition” to the plan in a harshly-worded protest letter addressed to the Greek Prime Minister.
The letter said the government’s move to make the museums independent entities free from state control would be “catastrophic” and the proposed policy would cancel the “public character” of antiquities and museums at a time when closed cultural sites are more dependent than ever on state funds.
Despina Koutsoumba, the president of the SEA called the government’s plan “very dangerous” in an interview with The Art Newspaper. It’s not about the public funding versus private funding, she said. Archaeological museums have received private sponsorship in the past for specific projects, but Koutsoumba fears the increased control that wealthy donors and new board members could exert.
“They are public museums, not museums of private companies,” she says. “The problem to us is not private funding— when we want private funding, we find it. We don’t want to depend on it.”
She also raises concerns for the survival of public services at the museums, according to The Art Newspaper interview, including existing programs that provide free entry for students and educational events for children, as well as research and conservation activities. She went on to criticize the more commercial model of the Acropolis Museum as being “only about tickets and restaurants”.
On 23 February, the SEA published a second appeal to Mitsotakis to reconsider the conversion. That letter was signed by 119 former employees of the Greek archaeological service, who served the Culture Ministry going back to the 1960s. Their letter denounces “archaeocapitalism” and refutes the idea that the five museums have “underperformed” under the present state structure.
The signatories warn that the new law will stifle the “mobility of specialised scientific knowledge” within the archaeological service and will reduce the major antiquities museums to “art exhibition spaces as market products”. The transition from a system comprising “hundreds of specialised professionals of the ministry” to governance by individual boards “will be dictated by the criterion of one, that is the respective minister”, they continue.
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