IC Ethics Meeting Room

Call For Moderators

Are you a museum professional interested in or dealing with an ethical dilemma? Would you like to discuss this with your colleagues? We invite you to be a moderator of our virtual open platform dicussions!
You can find all information about the IC Ethics Meeting Room and what to consider as a moderator in these documents:

French version soon available!

Upcoming (For past events see below)

Dominant political power influencing museums’ programs


Since many museums are often symbols of status, power and prestige of nations and regions, it is not uncommon that state or local politics endeavour to influence their programs. Even more so, some museums might be perceived as instruments of dominant political power. In some cases, especially those where museums serve patriotic educational purposes, nationalistic messages might be spread through their activities. That arouses many ethnical questions concerning muted voices, disregarded themes or ideologically appropriated interpretations.

Moderator: Dr. Lidija Nikočević, Board Member of IC Ethics
Introduction: tba

About the Virtual Open Platform Discussions

The ICOM International Committee on Ethical Dilemmas (IC Ethics) is an open forum on practical challenges regarding ethical dilemmas in the museum profession. The IC Ethics Meeting Rooms are digital spaces where museum professionals and others with interest in the respective topic can reflect, share and discuss ethical dilemmas, helping each other to make more informed choices. The events aim to support and unite professionals in all relevant working fields in their attempts to discuss ethical dilemmas with colleagues in a collegial and helpful environment. All participation is free of charge.

By joining the meeting, you confirm that you will follow its rules:

  • By participating, you accept Zoom’s terms of use. More information about safety precautions for this platform can be found here: https://zoom.us/security.
  • Please anonymize cases and ethical dilemmas as no sensitive information can be shared.
  • Please respect the time limits set by the moderator.
  • Disrespectful and inappropriate comments or behaviour cause immediate muting and dismissal from the meeting.
  • Please note that the introduction to the meeting will be recorded and published (the recording will not show the images or names of general participants besides moderator and speaker).
  • By continuing to follow this meeting, you commit to following these rules.

We record and publish the introductions to the meetings, but not the following discussion as the IC Ethics Meeting Room is meant to be a safe and protected space.

Working group IC Ethics Meeting Room:
Organisation: Dr. Kathrin Pabst, Dr. Lina Tahan, Dr. Valeria Pica, Søren la Cour Jensen
Communication: Dr. Katrin Hieke

Dr. Kathrin Pabst, Kathrin.Pabst@vestagdermuseet.no

Past Events

16 November 2020: Intangible Culture and its Interpretation in Museums

Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is regarded as heritage but at the same time as living traditions. That means that many communities, the holders of these traditions, are experiencing them as a vital part of their identity – sometimes even as something intimate – that serves to strengthen the ties within the community. When interpreted and made public within museums’ programs, another dimension and way of communicating of a living tradition occurs, together with ethical dilemmas about the holders’ privacy, respect for their criteria regarding choices and evaluation and many other issues that might negatively influence the interaction between museums and communities. 

Moderator: Dr. Lidija Nikočević, Board Member of IC Ethics
Panelists: Dr Marc Jacobs (Belgium), Leena Marsio (Finland), Jorijn
Neyrinck (Belgium), Tamara Nikolić Đerić (Croatia), Joanne Orr (UK)

(A short summary of the discussion will follow soon.)

8 October 2020: Ethical Challenges when Working on the Return of Heritage from Colonial Collections

Moderator: Andrea Kieskamp, Board Member of IC Ethics
Introduction: Dr. Jos van Beurden, affiliated senior researcher colonial collections and restitution issues at the Free University, Amsterdam (Netherlands)
Presentations of recent ethical dilemmas: Dr. Aimé Kantoussan, Director of Research of the Museum of Black Civilisations, Dakar (Senegal); Dr. Adriana Muñoz, Latin American curator at the National Museums of World Culture Sweden (Sweden) and Roselyne Francken MA, curator and keeper of the Asia collection at the MAS, Antwerp (Belgium)

Colonial heritage and the discussion on return is a highly sensitive issue. In recent years, the topic has moved up the agenda in European countries with a colonial past. The calls for justice from former colonies are becoming louder and louder. The discussion of this Meeting Room started by questioning paragraph 6.2 in the Code of Ethics for Museums (2004): “Museums should be prepared to initiate dialogue for the return of cultural property to a country or people of origin”. Are we not beyond the point of “prepared” sixteen years later? Shouldn’t museums be asked for a more pro-active attitude? What dilemmas – on both sides – complicate a return process? Does the diaspora have a role?

In his introduction, Jos van Beurden formulated three benchmarks for dealing with claims and urges for return: trust, equality and justice. The participants supported the basic principle but stressed that they need to be further elaborated. Various complexities were then discussed.
Important dilemmas were raised, among others related to questions to whom and how to return the objects. To a source community or to a national government? And who decides about the priorities in provenance research? The ideal situation was described as a process in which all parties work together right from the start, and one participant stated that the process of joint provenance research was even more important than the actual return of objects. This is especially important when museums have no proper documentation about objects from former colonies. Again, mutual exchange of knowledge between museums and local communities is essential here, as museums have to approach knowledge in another and new way and to take into account intangible heritage connected to the objects.

25 August 2020: Who gets to decide in the end? Sponsors and museum professionalism

Moderator: Dr. Kathrin Pabst, Chair of IC Ethics
Introduction: Prof. Dr. Sally Yerkovich, Chair of ETHCOM

Museums often depend on the cooperation with private sponsors when in need of more money to fulfill working tasks in the way they wish to. In many countries, financially strong companies are willing to help with generous financial contributions, and private investors may give or lend parts of their collections. However, major ethical challenges can arise, when this transfer of resources is linked to certain demands on how the museum has to use the money or objects. This can jeopardize the high level of professional and institutional integrity as well as autonomy of museums as stated in Principle 1.10 of ICOM Code of Ethics. Challenges can also arise when a sponsor’s reputation is called into question. Is there anything a museum can do to protect itself from this kind of controversy?

Twenty-two participants, mainly from the U.S. and Europe, joined this IC Ethics Meeting Room to discuss ethical dilemmas related to sponsors and museum professionals. Among the issues discussed, after the introduction by Sally Yerkovich, was the question to which degree a focus should be placed on the way sponsors earn their money. Also, it was pointed out that there are several levels of frameworks which are important when working together with sponsors, as for example national laws, professional codes of ethics or institutional codes of ethics. Institutional fundraising policies, based on all important laws and frameworks, were mentioned as extremely important, and they have to be known among all employees of the museums, the communities and potential sponsors. As a cooperation with sponsors will most likely increase in the future, the wish for sharing good contracts among museum institutions and professionals was expressed. IC Ethics will share examples when sent to them. ETHCOM is aiming to publish guidelines on fundraising policies by the end of this year, and also share examples of contracts on the ICOM membership space.

29 July 2020: The Ethics of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI) Work in the Museum Sector (Special Meeting Room/Webinar)

Moderator: Armando Perla, Board Member of IC Ethics
Panelists: Thiané Diop (Canada), Patty Arteaga (USA), Michael Jacobs (South Africa), Craig Middleton (Australia), Megan Sue-Chue-Lam (Canada), Julián Zapata Rincón (Colombia)

What does it mean to do DEAI work in Museums? What are some of the ethical challenges and consequences faced by institutions that overlook DEAI work? How do these challenges affect museum professionals working in these areas?
In this special event organized and hosted by IC Ethics, participants had the opportunity to hear and engage with museum professionals who utilize different strategies to advance DEAI work in their institutions. They also shared practical examples of how they have helped those institutions address some of those ethical challenges arising from overlooking this necessary work.

IC Ethics hosted a special meeting room to learn how museum professionals from around the world are working to redress the unequal distribution of power and foster the meaningful participation of historically excluded communities in museum institutions. Panelists discussed their own experiences working in this area, the absence of ethical guidelines for museum professionals working with vulnerable groups, different ethical dilemmas they have faced and strategies they have developed to overcome them. Topics ranged from Black, Indigenous and People of Colour led mobilization campaigns against racism in museums and university museum studies programs in North America to collaborative work with queer youth in Australia. From a national museum in the United States collecting and preserving the material culture of mobilizations led by undocumented migrants to curatorial work engaging the sex worker, trans and BDSM communities in the way an art museum in Colombia is opening its doors to become more attuned to the needs of its neighbours.

1 June 2020: Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property

Moderator: Dr. Lina G. Tahan, Board Member of IC Ethics
Introduction: Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies

Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property addresses many serious ethical dilemmas that all museum professionals can face when acquiring artefacts to enrich their collections. Questioning the provenance of the object before acquiring it and doing the due diligence are two important issues to consider in the profession. In the past few years, the trade in illegal artefacts coming from war-torn countries became so serious that ICOM, Interpol and UNESCO became the main actors that played a role in fighting this reprehensible phenomenon. We will be introducing the topic and discuss the scourge of this trade.

Twenty-eight participants from different parts of the world joined our IC Ethics Meeting Room to discuss this problem and the ethical dilemmas that they face as museum professionals. Among the points discussed were the need to look at archives and examine the provenance of how the artefacts entered the museum collection and the need to report to the authorities all wrongdoing, talk to the press and to the experts. This was pointed out as our due diligence for working in line with the ICOM Code of Ethics. Other ethical challenges discussed were related to the lack of academic ethics when publishing an artefact in scientific journals or books knowing that they are stolen objects. Several legal tools and instruments that museum professionals should use when they face this ethical dilemma in their line of work, were mentioned, as well as the need to work actively to ensure that countries sign the UNESCO Convention of 1970, the UNIDROIT Convention of 1995, etc. Last but not least questions regarding repatriation came up, and the fact that there are not enough ethical guidelines about these cases yet.

18 May 2020: Ethical dilemmas related when working for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion

Moderator: Dr. Valeria Pica, Board Member of IC Ethics
Introduction: Cristina Da Milano, Board Member of Culture Action Europe

Equality in museum professions has been deeply affected during the lockdown due to the pandemic and many museum professionals – especially educators and free lancers – are experiencing difficult times. Probably, many of them won’t get back to their job position and this prospect makes many questions rise about possible disparities in cultural institutions activities in the months to come.

IC Ethics celebrated the International Museum Day 2020 by giving voice to museum professionals who are experiencing unequal working conditions due to the pandemic lockdown all around the world, oriented towards educators and freelancers. Their jobs have been on the line because of how they have been furloughed, and they are the one group who have suffered the most because of the sudden closure of museums. Cristina Da Milano focused in her introduction on working conditions such as social protection, lack of visibility, and sustainability, on the importance of human capital and the recognition of the social value of education in museum institutions. Ethical dilemmas discussed afterwards were related to the professional skills that will be lost after the pandemic’s end if many free lancers and educators won’t get back to their job positions, and to the narratives museums will draft about this period.

23 April 2020: Launch of the IC Ethics Meeting Room

Moderator: Dr. Kathrin Pabst, Chair of IC Ethics

The very first IC Ethics Meeting Room has taken place on Thursday the 23 rd of April 2020, with more than 50 participants from approximately 20 different countries, including Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Cyprus, France, Great Britain, Scotland, Italy, Albania, Slovenia, Portugal, Canada, Japan, Guatemala, India and Australia!

Thanks to all the 50 participants who made this first meeting a fruitful, productive and encouraging experience for IC Ethics!

The meeting aimed to test the platform and to collect topics of common interest and to examine which ethical dilemmas ICOM members regard as the most relevant and urgent. Among others, these topics have been mentioned:

  • Illicit trafficking of artefacts,
  • Restitution and repatriation of colonial or holy artefacts,
  • Political interference in professional reviews,
  • Working in conflict zones,
  • The museums´ and the museum professionals´ role as active contributors in situations of crisis (e.g. poverty, refugees),
  • Relations between public actors and museum professionals, including sponsorship,
  • COVID-19 and its impact on museums as public spaces and working places,
  • Diversity, equality, inclusion in museums, among the staff and with communities/the public,
  • Exhibitions and the use of language as political statements,
  • Openness and transparency in museum organisations.