Ethics of care, Cultural Management and Public Heritage: Interview with Jimena Ferreiro

This interview is part of the cycle “ART AND SUSTAINABILITY, Contemporary Interconnections II”, carried out by PAN + the Paco Urondo University Cultural Center, belonging to the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters (UBA).


By Alejandro Olivera *

© Catalina Bartolome

Jimena Ferreiro is a teacher, researcher and curator. She graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the UNLP, she did postgraduate courses at UNA and UNTREF. She has worked in different institutions, such as the Recoleta Cultural Center and the Museum of Modern Art in Buenos Aires, in addition to developing various projects as an independent curator. Currently, she works as Coordinator of Museum Planning in the National Directorate of Museums of the Ministry of Culture of the Nation.

Alejandro Olivera: Jimena, thank you very much for joining this Cycle of the PAN Community and “Paco Urondo” University Cultural Center. To begin, we suggest you share a reflection on the cultural field in this time that we have to go through, questions and views that perhaps arise almost inescapably in a context where cultural spaces and proposals are reconfigured and redefined.

Jimena Ferreiro: It seems to me that a valuable starting point to think about this time has to do with a certain ethics and politics of care in its micropolitical dimension, which points to a transformation to rethink the links and approaches that cultural spaces generate and, specifically, museums in terms of affectivity.

Let’s say that the need arises to re-establish artifacts that motivate dialogues that are not so solemn and more “familiar”. I believe in proximity, and I think that from there a beautiful game of signifiers happens that allows us to rediscover museums as spaces of care per se.

From the National Directorate of Museums, where today I have to participate as Coordinator of Museum Planning, we know that we have a very varied and dispersed reality. This is directly related to our institutional history, with spaces that managed to consolidate and others that were left adrift from a State that many times withdrew from cultural policies. Today we have to work to sustain museums and the heritage they house, and the challenge is enormous. We took over management and soon after the pandemic began, which seemed like science fiction and we did not expect it to happen with this magnitude. Now, in the face of this reality, our management turned into a much more pragmatic look, which nevertheless does not abandon the premises or the central objectives that we designed a priori. We start from a professional practice with demanding standards regarding academic production, cultural management and transformation, but we also have to permanently negotiate with this reality.

So, the frustration thresholds are also quite large and you have to know how to pace them so that they do not completely cloud what is possible. And the need to have an optimistic look appears because you cannot be pessimistic or cynical when you work in the State. We must work from the idea of ??power, from the practices of doing with a critical perspective, avoiding difficulties, which are always many.

This idea that you bring about working to link it in the framework of an “ethics / politics of care” is very interesting. I think that, in general terms, the neoliberal system tends to weaken solidarity ties, and the pandemic, in some of its facets, has deepened this dynamic. So, I return to some of the axes that you share with us: closeness, familiarity, power, and I wonder what you think that work from / with public heritage contributes in terms of community and diversity.

First of all, we have been working to build trust. We think of a careful and empowering approach with spaces and people. Also, I think we have assumed a feminist mode of action. In the Directorate we are the majority of women and, as I said, we assume ourselves in that field, and I think it shows.

We try to permanently review our practices to eradicate, as far as possible, any micro-violence that may be generated. We also address the knowledge-power relationship in working with collections. If we de-patriarchal patrimony, other practices appear, other signifiers, other powers, and not a segmentation between those who can, those who cannot; those who have the key, those who could never access “the treasures.” We try to remove that veil of mystery and work on certain dynamics that are often present in institutions.

So, in this context, “shuffling and giving again” I think allows us to think about new institutional practices, practices in which the power of care and the social bond acquires another meaning.

I think that there, if we manage to reconvert that matrix, which of course takes a long time, if there is a policy of care, we can work on empowering ourselves, taking new positions and starting other conversations. On the other hand, it is necessary to de-essentialize certain notions about heritage and understand that the universe that composes it can be questioned from our present. It is not that historical collections can only be asked “historical questions”, but there is always a question through which we can activate these objects from our here and now.

© Fina Estampa, 2021. Cartel realizado en el marco de un taller para adolescentes usuarixs del sistema de salud mental, coordinado por Johanna Palmeyro, museóloga y gestora cultural (Movimiento Justicia Museal), Inclusión Salud Mental y Fina Estampa, taller de arte Impreso y grabados, Se propuso una reflexión sobre el vínculo entre cuidados y cultura a partir del contexto sanitario vigente.

In terms of community, these good practices have to do with assuming ourselves as a network, since we are twenty-three museums, among which there may be synergy and complementarity, and above all, making existing information accessible and available. Also think about the typologies of the spaces, to debate, retrace or get out of those boxes if it is convenient.

On the other hand, it seems central to us to think about ourselves from a true federal perspective and in a transversal way. This implies maintaining respect for the communities and localities, not entering and leaving, not generating those schemes of institutional violence so often frequent. And it also supposes to bank the distances, the disagreements, the delays, because that also happens.

© Museos y Patrimonio Nación. En julio de 2021 se presentó en el Museo Casa Histórica de la Independencia (San Miguel de Tucumán) el Tomo 1 de La fotografía en los museos nacionales. Guía para su difusión y acceso (Secretaría de Patrimonio Cultural del Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación, 2020), publicación dirigida por María Isabel Baldasarre y Luciana Delfabro que condensa y describe las colecciones fotográficas de los museos nacionales. De izquierda a derecha, de abajo a arriba: Viviana Usubiaga, Valeria González, Julio Pantoja, Jimena Ferreiro, Paola Rosso Ponce, Vicky Salías, María Isabel Baldasarre y Cecilia Guerra Orozco.

That there is a space for meeting and dialogue helps to bring positions closer together, understand the diversity of forms and temporalities, that is, work from differences.

Something that I think is good in this context is trying to give dignity to people’s work. Work to equip them in the best possible way and accompany their daily work, avoiding the existence of a “central” and a “marginal” position. Giving dignity to work is political and is a form of empowerment.

To summarize, there is something linked to the power of the care policy that a look at heritage and the need for the question from the present can provide at this time. And this present is super challenging. If we do not manage to accompany with a certain thought what happens to us, it will be very frustrating, painful and traumatic, and without a doubt something more than this is what we have to be left with.

The possibility of undertaking work towards personal and collective empowerment of the teams that work in museums and heritage sites seems very powerful to me. Another idea that you mention also catches my attention, that of accessibility. I think that a State with an effective federal perspective can generate instances of empowerment and access to spaces and information, but perhaps complementary actions are required that motivate the effective participation of communities so that they approach and inhabit their heritage, and I believe this occurs rather at a local, microphysical and subjective level: could you help us to analyze some of these aspects?

Yes, first there is a level that is macro and that has to do with resources, with the possibility of not being so financially asphyxiated and that there is a redistribution as equitable as possible. Then there are tools that are more specific, such as accessibility programs that, for example and more at this time, can be aimed at increasing technological access. Currently, we are working to improve the web pages of the spaces, so that they can contain the unique records of their collections and allow people, from anywhere, to navigate and learn about the national heritage. Then we have to mention physical accessibility, from now on: ramps, LSA language, where it has to be.

On the other hand, there is a key element that has to do with working on empathy, being in the room and talking. Our national museums were never a “boom”, so there is a qualitative approach that has become even more necessary with the recent reopening, where the capacity is small and allow a different dynamic to develop, which has to do with proximity. Talking in a friendly way, asking people where they come from, is already a lot. Many times I have been at the door of museums waving, inviting people, saying: “Do you want to come in? inside they will find this or that thing … “.

For that you only need to make yourself available for others, for others, for conversation and listening. I think that is also making it accessible: that someone can feel part of it, that that museum or that piece moves them into something. For me that is always a beautiful jump, and it happens. Museums can generate that, they generate it many times.

© Museos y Patrimonio Nación. Programa educativo “El museo en la escuela” (junio 2021). Museo Regional de Pintura “José Antonio Terry”, uno de los museos nacionales, ubicado en la localidad de Juella, Departamento de Tilcara (Jujuy).

Totally. and I stop at your mention about the technological threshold. I believe that today more than ever we are aware that digital technologies are here to stay. We know that we have to appropriate them to promote certain processes and practices, but we still don’t know how. Just as the pandemic raised new questions in educational, family and subjective terms, it also did so in institutional and infrastructural terms. In this framework, and in museum and heritage terms: what tensions and opportunities do you think ICTs inaugurate at this particular time?

For me there is something that came to the fore, something that even traditional museology tried to make invisible, which is to think of museums as communication devices, and not just as reservoirs of objects. So, since they are not “treasure” spaces, but rather centers for the production of knowledge, and above all for dissemination, mediation is required. And this mediation found in technologies an instrument at its disposal. But the technologies are still very disparate, with very dissimilar connectivities and uses. So, everything in this time was somewhat “reckless”, and logically, those who already came with a more strategic look, came out more graceful. For our part, we massively turn to the networks to say: “Hello, here we are”, because except for well-established museums, which have web pages with a lot of flow, the potential went through making the best use of the networks.

There were very diverse experiences. We, for example, create Museums and Heritage, which is our network on Facebook and Instagram. It works well and we make it grow progressively. We think of this as a space to share content, production where possible original, and that it is not just a “loudspeaker”, but let’s think a little more about this device. Sometimes we succeeded, other times not so much, but we were able to propose a communication and develop some campaigns with thematic axes agreed with the whole team.

In general, and thinking optimistically, I think the good thing was understanding the free use of files. There was a burst of generosity in which everyone started releasing their PDFs and those “classified” records, and I think that’s great. It is not the copyleft culture, they are not so radical, because they also take care of their interests and their investments; and there I think more about the “tank museums”, but it is not a small thing to begin to make these records accessible. For me it was amazing because I love institutional history, so that they begin to make available photos of exhibitions, memories of montages from decades ago …

There’s a mind-blowing visual culture clue that’s just one click away. Considering, of course, that I already have a computer, I have the training, I have the searches, understanding that all these uses I can give them according to my performativity of digital culture. And there is a gulf over the levels of access. For this reason, the class continues to be central to thinking about culture. At this point, I still have a materialistic reading of history.

I agree that the museum is a communication device. Museums or heritage sites are often identified with something airtight, as if it were something “from the past”, but in reality they are institutions that have a human, cultural relationship, and for this certain instruments are needed. It is promising, on the other hand, that the content that they have been thinking to communicate in their networks adds value to social knowledge, since these platforms often motivate more fragmentary or superficial discourses. I think we are going through a particular moment in this sense, because, on the one hand, the spaces are being greatly affected at a physical and financial level, both those of the State and the community, and even some private ones; but, on the other hand, there is a virtual proliferation of pedagogies, knowledge, debates going around, it is really impressive what emerged with the pandemic in digital terms.

Yes, I agree. Likewise, for my part, I think that we are still very “university”. Every time I talk to the communication teams, I feel that we are doing well, but for us, us. Now we are going to start doing some tests with Tik-Tok, because it starts a very nice program called “Generation Museums”, in which we will be working with adolescents, but without the formal educational system through, they are not school visits, if not, the idea is to go to the young people. Our proposal will be to work it through community networks, militancies, student centers, to return to a certain mobilization from that side, that is not the most traditional excursion, if not to give it a tour to connect with these audiences.

How interesting, because some years ago childhood and youth have been gaining relevance in the agenda of public and cultural policies, what challenges appear more strongly thinking about these populations?

Yes, it is clear that before the focus was not on childhood and adolescence, as well as on older adults. We understood that the public implies an enormous segmentation, that that mass that was previously read from a totality is made up of thousands of subjectivities and experiences.

Even now, museums dare to say: “Well, I don’t have to talk to everyone”. Out there, that principle of totality, which is an abstraction, ends up being pure intention, and if you don’t really deploy a range of resources to effectively reach everyone, it is the same as nothing. On the other hand, if that work intention contains a focus in some communities, it can be crossed with specific management programs, where you work with specific objectives, and there you have profiles such as the Palais de Glace or the Manzana de las Luces, for example, who are working on diversity, or the Terry Museum with its deaf community accessibility program. We say that the National Museum of Fine Arts and the National Historical Museum are the only ones that cannot not speak to everyone, given their magnitude. They are the only ones from the 19th century and they respond to that great tradition: encyclopedic museum, “European model”. But the rest can perform their own communities, that seems to me to be very interesting. In the diversity of this ecosystem of museums, a diverse mass is made up. Thinking about this, for me the first challenge is for the museum to try to get out of the school system, because that’s what the school is for, which of course produces knowledge and educates, but here we talk about another device and another mediation, closely linked to the experience of the space, now that we reopen space is all.

I am one of those who believe that everything that can be done in the rooms has to be done in the rooms. That the collections are there, think with those objects, experiment, for a reason the museum space is that and not another.

Trying to get rid of the school, of many mechanisms that we have very studied and for which it is good to look for alternatives and complements. We can invent other things.

How do you think, then, these spaces for participation, training and exchange and what do they add up in terms of citizenship and creativity? Could you tell us about any experience that you are developing and that you consider valuable in this regard?

We call this cross-sectional area “Public programs”. I would even dare to say that it is also an area of ??cultural mediation. Because just as we offer a battery of more or less conventional activities, such as meetings, workshops or the wrongly called “guided tours”, we also do research, curation and cultural animation. That is why it is important to think of it as a cross-sectional area that audiences think, although the audience system brings me very close to the North American museum model, and I prefer to run away from those highly formatted and institutional experiences, and think in more community terms .

On the other hand, already beginning to move from virtual to face-to-face, we are facing two programs. One is for winter holidays, which is called “My house, a museum”, dedicated to children and families. The other is a few more niche days, as a result of the sixty years of the creation of the New Figuration, the collective of Luis “Yuyo” Noé, Jorge de la Vega, Ernesto Deira and Rómulo Macció. It is an excuse to think about different itineraries in the city. Within that decade, in addition to being so fetishized, we are also doing archive rescues. We also have the participation of actors to develop certain levels of theatricalization, we are thinking about productions of small audiovisual spots, and also in a call for texts for cultural workers or anyone who has any reflection on the influence of this group.

At the same time, we are now with a fairly important deployment in Salta, as a result of an exhibition that allowed us to generate an investment plan.

© Museos y Patrimonio Nación. Feria de randeras de Monteros en el marco de la exposición Randa testigo, curada por Alejandra Mizrahi en el Museo Casa Histórica de la Independencia, San Miguel de Tucumán, julio 2021.

The last thing you mention is true. I have two small nephews and I am very struck by how they establish another type of sensitivity with respect to language, spaces and affections. I feel that they are part of another possible paradigm, different from the one we were able to develop, it is very interesting and exciting to see.

Yes, and it also crosses the genre as well. There is a stereotypical idea about ways of life, which are based on a patriarchal model and has a lot to do with extractivism, with squeezing everything to bursting, with that violence towards people and towards the physical environment.

Getting out of these patriarchal logics, which is why I was talking about feminism, or one of the existing feminist models, has to do with being less arrogant. We have to be pragmatic, but always have vigilance, a kind of internal audit so as not to go overboard, because institutional power can lead us into unacceptable superb ways. Precisely, we are now launching a mandatory masculinities workshop and we are sure that this will also have an impact on content production.

We are a very contentious management team, we are very interested in what is thought, what is produced and said, and under what standards. We think about what instances of transposition we have to generate to make everything accessible, because in no way do we want to propose hermetic experiences, but on the contrary, the objective is always to share and contribute to the appropriation of culture from the public sphere.

* Alejandro Olivera has a degree and Professor of Arts from the University of Buenos Aires. The diploma in Cultural Management and Production in Cultural Spaces (UBA-FFyL-CCUPU). Educator and Cultural Manager. Director of Revista Molecular. Art, Culture and Politics.

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