Friday, August 07, 2015

Museum Anthropology Leaders: Boris Wastiau, Director, Musee d'ethnographie de Geneve and Tenured Professor, Department of the History of Religions, University of Geneva, Part 2 of 3

Exclusive Museum Anthropology Blog Interview with Dr. Boris Wastiau, Director, Musee d'ethnographie de Geneve and Tenured Professor, Department of the History of Religions, University of Geneva.

This interview is the seventh installment in our series, Museum Anthropology Leaders, where blog intern Lillia McEnaney interviews various anthropological museum professionals.

This interview was conducted over written email correspondence. 

This is Part 2 of 3

5. Let’s change the focus to your current appointment. You were appointed the Director of the Musee d’ethnographie in 2009, with the specific mission of rebuilding and restructuring the institution. How did you go about doing this? 
In 2009 I engaged the museum staff to participate in the conception of a masterplan. Budgets were voted, but in 2010 we faced a referendum pro or against the museum. We won with a large majority of the people’s votes in September, closed the museum and moved away. By then many had been so incredulous that not much had been done in terms of exhibition concepts and planning. Also, many key employees had not yet been hired! One can say we did it all in just four years.
Restructuring the institution is eventually a very slow process. Changing an organigram (organisational chart) does not change people’s skills, or their behaviour. You have to bring in a concept of slow but permanent, guided change; co-create and nurture values with your staff, your public and all the partners in your networks. Networks and collaborations are so important! For a public institution, they are a vital necessity for growing and reaching out to ever larger circles. If you want to make something big in Geneva, you must make sure that everyone can agree, if not support you. Consensus is a must. 

Why was this a project you were interested in taking on? If you love art, cultures, interacting with people and if you love building things, then what better job could you wish to have? 
6. What goals do you have for the museum, post-reconstruction?
We are currently building new storage for the collections. Before we remove them, in 2018, I want to spend a couple of years on an in-depth assessment of the collections. That is a big job! 
I also am looking to raise the level of academic activity at the museum. Last year we renewed a convention with the University of Geneva on research and teaching. Curators should teach more and students should come more often to the museum. Recently, new teaching opportunities have just opened up. Several academic conferences are being lined up for 2015-2016, in collaboration with universities and scholarly societies.  

7. Could you provide the readers of the blog with a brief description of your day to day job - post-reopening - as the Director of the Musee d’ethnographie de Geneve?
The only thing that changed after the opening is that we have all been relieved from the weight of the big deadline we had all been obsessed with for years. Everyone is happy to be able to take the extra time required to do things very well. But there certainly is not less work. 
On a daily basis, my main job is to make sure that everyone has a clear picture of his or her duty, that they are properly informed and that they have everything they need to work. 

8. Do you have a favourite object in the collections of the museum? 

I have a few favourite objects in each of the five continents collections! The more you know your collections, the more you find treasures. Mine tend to be those important objects that were mislabelled sometimes for one hundred years, completely ignored because misplaced in the wrong collection, and that turn out to be historically significant objects (see history section of our permanent collection at I found out for instance that one of our False Face Society masks had been registered in 1825, making it one of the oldest known in a collection!

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