The ‘Europe’ in the European Museum of the Year Award is defined by membership of the Council of Europe, which comprises 47 countries, from Iceland to Azerbaijan. The annual conference, which precedes the Awards Ceremony, provides the best opportunity for professionals to see a wide range of the most innovative practices in museums across the continent.
In 2018 there were 40 candidate museums from 22 countries, with entries from Andorra to Turkey and from Finland to Portugal – as well as from Azerbaijan. There were museums in traditional genres – art, archaeology, science and natural history - as well as museum firsts, like the War Childhood Museum in Sarajevo. There were large national museums and art galleries, university museums and city museums, along with tiny museums devoted to very local communities. The purpose of the EMYA annual conference is to enable all candidates to express the essence of their museum, and how it relates to EMYA criteria - how a museum attracts audiences and satisfies its visitors with a unique atmosphere, imaginative interpretation and presentation, and a creative approach to education and social responsibility. How underlying values - democracy, human rights, tolerance and inter-cultural dialogue and sustainability - are realised in practice is also important.
The traditional format, dating back to the founding of EMYA in 1977, was for each museum to give a short presentation, followed by an interview, to tease out more of what the museum’s innovations have been. This format, with 40 museums following one after the other, can be difficult for the audience, so we decided to experiment with a thematic approach. This involved organising panels on subjects which still enabled the museums to articulate their special quality, but also to take part in a discussion about the wider implications of their work. Some themes – City Museums, Transport Museums, Museums and Archaeology – were relatively traditional, and reflected the specialism involved. Others – such as Storytelling in Museums and Museums & Communities – were about the museums’ approach, and many candidates could have taken part. The huge variety of museums however made grouping some museums more difficult, but the result produced interesting juxtapositions. Museums, Art Galleries & National Identity brought together the National Galleries of Ireland and Latvia with the Estonian National Museum and the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum. Museums & Politics grouped the War Childhood Museum with The Lenin Museum in Finland, the Museum of Silesian Uprisings in Świętochłowice, Poland and the Hospital in the Rock, Nuclear Bunker Museum, Hungary. And the Science Museum London, the Money Museum in Frankfurt and the Food Museum in Switzerland discussed Museums & Big Ideas.
In addition to the Candidate panels, there was a panel of previous winners of the Council of Europe Museum prize, an inspiring keynote by David Anderson, EMF Trustee and Director of the National Museum of Wales, and six interactive workshops led by museums which had previously won awards. These enrichments mean that for anyone who is planning to refurbish an existing or to create a new museum, or who just wants to see the best in contemporary museums, EMYA is an essential event.