This morning I gave a talk to arts professional of Addis Ababa. About 50 museum directors and curators, theatre, music and other arts professionals and professors attended to participate in my workshop, Sustaining Visual Arts organizations – Engaging Audiences, Resources and Professional Practice. They were interested in professional standards, in marketing and resource development. What became immediately apparent was they this was something of a first in all coming together as a community.
Working with the accreditation guidelines of the American Association of Museums, I presented a case study on how the Norman Rockwell Museum operates. Of special interest were the marketing concepts related to the creative economy – collaboration, alliances, joint marketing, and organizing the arts community to work together with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Addis Ababa University, and other partners, in Ethiopia and internationally, to shine a spotlight on the Ethiopian art scene.
I learned just before leaving on my trip that my friend and colleague, Rebecca Martin Nagy, director of the Samuel P. Harn Museum in Gainesville, Florida, had organized an exhibition of contemporary Ethiopian art in 2007 which was presented at the Harn and at another North Carolina venue. She asked me to pass along greetings to numerous colleagues she had worked with, and many of them were in attendance at my lecture and welcome dinner.
Mamitu Yilma, director of the National Museum of Ethiopia, and Bekele Mekonnen joined me and Embassy cultural leaders, Allyson L. Grunder, Public Affairs Officer, Jason Martin, Cultural Affairs Officer, and Yohannes Birhanu, Cultural Affairs Specialist, and Anita Booth, wife of Ambassador Donald Booth for a welcome dinner with arts leaders in Addis Ababa. It was especially interesting to learn that Yohannes Birhanu had been taught English by a Peace Corps volunteer 50 years ago.
About a dozen of us enjoyed getting to know one another. Several gallerists were present, and some young leaders of small museums and one museum dedicated to the Ethiopian Artist Gebre Kristo Desta. Ethiopian-American artist, Wosene Worke Kosrof, whose work, widely collected in America by museums and collectors, was showing as a retrospective of contemporary art at the National Museum of Ethiopia. This is a first for the museum. The work was in a gallery completely renovated personally by Wosene, (Ethiopians address each other by their first names,) including refurbishment and waxing of the parquet floor, painting the white walls, and installation of new gallery lighting, funded in part by a grant by the US Embassy.
I learned that evening that, according to these arts leaders, there is not a strong culture of investment in contemporary art and artists in Addis Ababa and Ethiopia. The nation is commendably dedicated to historic preservation of its monuments and archeological collections of its superb visual arts past. These arts leaders, many of whom are expatriate leaders who have spent time in America, are hoping to create a vibrant culture of contemporary art in Ethiopia. They have passion, the vision, and the professional experience from their time in the States. The artists are present. The work is strong. They need resources, collectors, corporate and government support to organize and align forces.
I hope I was able to share some ideas from our creative economy work and arts collaboration in the Berkshires and our museum professional standards. It is easy to fall in love with this arts community – the passion, the vibrancy and aliveness of the art, and the conviction of these artists that their voice is important – that indeed, art can change the world.