Consultants: Ruth Anderson Coggeshall Ward L.E. Mintz
October 7–9, 2010
The Fund for Arts and Culture was invited to present a seminar in Tirana, Albania at the invitation of the Foundation for Albanian Visual Arts Across Borders (FAVA), a dynamic non-profit organization that brings together the corporate business community with cultural institutions in Tirana to develop cultural life in Albania. Ruth Anderson Coggeshall, Director of Major Gifts at St. John’s College in Maryland, and Ward L.E. Mintz, Executive Director of The Coby Foundation in New York, traveled to Tirana, where they were hosted by Pamela Griffin, Founder and Executive Director of FAVA, and Gëzim Panariti, Art Manager of the National Gallery of Art.
Before the seminar began, Ms. Coggeshall and Mr. Mintz, along with Dr. William Coggeshall, visited Tirana’s major visual arts institutions. At the National Gallery of Art, they met its director, Mr. Rubens Shima, who toured them through the permanent collection galleries. The Gallery underwent a major facelift from 2007-2009, which was managed by Gëzim Panariti and partially funded by FAVA. After lunch with Pamela Griffin and her husband, Jeffrey Griffin, President of the Albanian American Enterprise Fund, the Coggeshalls and Mr. Mintz visited the National History Museum, where they were accompanied by a well- informed guide who toured them through its large gallery spaces. They found at the information desk a visitor satisfaction survey, in English, prepared with the help of UNESCO. They brought this to the seminar as an example of an effective survey instrument. Both national museums contained important items of the country’s cultural patrimony but had only begun to consider issues of visitor comfort and effective interpretation.
The seminar itself was held at excellent facilities: the Hotel Xheko Imperial’s conference center in downtown Tirana. About forty professionals attended from almost twenty institutions. The National Gallery of Art and National History Museum each sent teams of six and seven, respectively, and there were representatives from such cities as Shkoder, Girokaster and Korce. There was a mix of ages and responsibilities, including representatives from commercial galleries. One of the participants was Fahredin Spahija, Director of the National Gallery of Art of Kosovo. Kastriot Myftiu and his associate Eva provided simultaneous translation.
Ms. Griffin opened the seminar with a welcome, and Ms. Coggeshall made introductory remarks, noting that there is a cultural shift in museums worldwide as they seek to expand audiences by being relevant and integral to their communities, including partnering and collaborating in ways never seen before.
Ms. Coggeshall introduced the concept of an elevator speech, and asked participants to work with one another on creating one. The elevator speech discussion flowed naturally into a presentation by Mr. Mintz about mission statements. Once he made his presentation, he asked the group to divide up and create a mission statement for a fictional museum. During the afternoon session, Ms. Coggeshall discussed fundraising and how it allows a museum to implement its mission.
That evening, all the participants of the seminar were treated to a reception at the American Embassy hosted by Deborah Jones, Chargé d’Affaires, and Betsy Lewis, Public Affairs Officer.
The next day, Mr. Mintz discussed the variety of programs that museums could create in order to attract visitors and serve their various communities. He stressed the importance of programs for audiences of all ages, and he mentioned the observance of International Museum Day in other countries, including Museum Night in Serbia, where 300,000 people now participate. The seminar then broke up into groups and designed a new program for an audience a museum doesn’t currently have. Each group presented its ideas, and a panel of judges chose a winner, a proposal called Communication through Arts and Museums in the Balkans, which would involve grandparents who are traditional artists and their grandchildren.
Mr. Mintz also did a presentation on Creating Excellent Exhibitions from a Visitor-Experience Perspective, in which he discussed how visitors learn in museums, the importance of advanced organizers, and how the overall museum environment affects enjoyment and learning. He gave the example of the Detroit Institute of Arts, a museum in a poor city in the United States with few tourists, and how they succeeded in creating successful exhibitions that attract visitors. He then explained the concept of Beverly Serrell’s Excellent Judges, a way for museum professionals to evaluate and discuss the relative success of exhibitions. The participants were asked to begin their next day by visiting the permanent collection galleries of the National Gallery of Art and using Excellent Judges as an evaluation tool.
That evening, the group was invited to the opening of the Jan Dibbetts Collection at the National Gallery of Art, an impressive occasion that featured the Prime Minister, Hon. Sali Berisha, the Dutch Ambassador, and an effusive thank-you by Director Rubens Shima to Ms. Griffin and FAVA for helping to support the exhibition. Ms. Coggeshall and Mr. Mintz were surprised to learn that most exhibitions at the Gallery last for only two to three weeks. They suggested lengthening their duration to develop audiences, create a variety of programs to meet different visitor ages and needs, and to save money and staff time.
During the last day of the seminar, Mr. Mintz led the group in a discussion of the National Gallery’s permanent collection exhibition. Participants used the four criteria of Excellent Judges — comfort, engagement, reinforcement, and meaning — in a constructive way in discussing what worked and what was in need of improvement, from considering a more effective placement of the information and ticketing desk, to the emotional power of the works on view.
Ms. Coggeshall and Mr. Mintz jointly presented a session on Using the Internet to Make Friends for Your Museum, ranging from websites, to social media, and to e-mail marketing. It was surprising to discover that only about three institutions currently have websites, though everyone uses e-mail, and many of the younger participants are on Facebook.
That evening, the Coggeshalls and Mr. Mintz visited Gallery Zeta, a commercial gallery owned by Valentina Koci, one of the participants, where they were able to see a selection of first-rate contemporary art both on the walls and on the gallery’s website.
Ms. Coggeshall and Mr. Mintz were both honored and pleased to present the seminar in Albania. In their presentations, they took care to place their ideas and examples within the context of international museum practice, stressing that their colleagues in Albania are not alone as they try to develop and survive. The organization of the seminar was excellent, and The Fund thanks Ms. Griffin and Mr. Panariti for their hard work and warm welcome. FAVA was extremely generous in choosing an elegant location, and for underwriting all costs except for the lodging for out-of-town Albanian participants. There is more for The Fund to do in Albania, and we hope that additional seminars can be scheduled.