“To seek and protect provincial treasures…”

An overview of museums in Hungary following transformation of the county organisation structure

MúzeumCafé 37.

Last year Hungarian museums experienced a major change – so stressed Annamária Vígh, head of the Ministry of Human Resources’ Public Collection Department at the May 2013 meeting of the Association of Hungarian Provincial Museums. One year on, it is not yet possible to weigh up its effect and results – she added. Nevertheless, below we make an attempt to do just that. The former Bács-Kiskun County Museum Directorate, today the Kecskemét Katona József Museum has a ‘tailor-made’ website providing detailed information about an exhibition in the Cifrapalota (Ornamental Palace) about Kecskemét’s golden era and its mayor of the time. The display is clearly pleasing for the museum’s funding body. According to its director, considering staff numbers the Kecskemét museum is the smallest ‘county level’ town museum. The local authority contributes about half the amount of state funding, and there is also an obligation to gain receipts of a similar amount. In Baranya county the change of the funding body has not resulted in major changes for the museum (apart from the departure of the director to head the Ludwig Museum), though it’s a big task to look after the local galleries and small museums. In Békés county the change of the Munkácsy Mihály Museum’s funding authority was accompanied by a change of director and organisational structure. As for exhibitions, they want to stress local features, while forgetting, it seems, that there are prominent people connected with the town who are of national and even European significance. In Miskolc the much awaited local history exhibition opened in May. Here, too, the staff numbers have decreased, and at the same time it’s an important change that since July the Miskolc Gallery, the local arts museum, has been functioning as a member institute of the Herman Ottó Museum. The ratio of state and local authority funding is one to six. In Szeged there is a strong tendency to employ PR. However, processing of the significant collections shows basic differences. The museum’s financial situation seems good, though its components are not precisely identifiable. In Székesfehérvár there is an atmosphere of waiting, but opening of the MVMSZ (see below) touring exhibition will be a significant step. Debrecen has a new management, but after renewal the permanent exhibition is still only partly ready and the future is an open question. Nevertheless, in its structure and texts the website already reflects the new situation. Eger also has a new director, but there seems to be a certain standstill in the life of the very popular local museum. Development of the castle is significant for tourism and the events it offers are varied, as are those of the town itself. The website gives information under the heading Eger Castle now belongs to Eger. “Eger has got the historical possibility and exclusive right to reformulate its tourism and cultural strategy. At last the castle is no longer simply a town decoration, but can become a living, active element.” (Wasn’t it always? And if not, why not?) Nevertheless, the museum does not manage its finances independently and the town adds very little to state funding. Everything is fine in Szolnok and there is full confidence between the funding body and the museum. As the director put it: “The town received the museum with affection.” In Tata (Komárom-Esztergom county) in one of the country’s most beautiful castle buildings – albeit one not in the best condition – despite the difficulties, there have been strikingly good exhibitions. There’s been a change of management here, too, though the reason was that the former director retired. For the museum in Salgótarján the tasks have expanded with archaeology, involving an increase in staff. According to the director: “… state funding has created a stable situation, relations with the town are positive, though they don’t provide finance; however, they contributed to renovation of the exterior façade and there’s no withdrawal from previous practice.” From the earlier huge museum network of Pest county, unusually in national terms three former connected institutes continue to belong to the Ferenczy Museum. Its new, unique building (see MúzeumCafé 36) was inaugurated on 18 June. In Kaposvár the museum and the local authority have changed places. The town provides funding added to that of the state, though in the form of credit which will have to be repaid. Staff numbers have fallen significantly and financial matters are managed by the town’s cultural centre. State and local authority support for the Jósa András Museum in Nyíregyháza is roughly equal and there’s a fair amount of income from tenders. Local organisations have been housed in the museum’s building, reflecting adaptation to local cultural life. No basic change has occurred in Szekszárd. As the director put it, there is “peaceful coexistence” between the town and the museum. In Szombathely the new director has come from Graz, where she finished her university studies and lived for two decades. In the town there are nine institutes belonging to the museum. Thanks to the Temple of Isis, archaeological activity is important. The museum’s infrastructure is good, with new facilities including an open storage. The website about Veszprém well reflects the transformation – half is about the county and half about the town museum. Temporary exhibitions in Zalaegerszeg mostly reflect the change, but where the museum is going and relations with the local authority are yet to be determined. Interestingly, the main menu items on the webpage are given in four languages. The 19 founding members of the Association of County Museum Directorates (MMISZ), the former county museums, today the town museums with county level status, formed the Association of Hungarian Provincial Museums (MVMSZ) in August 2012. Nine new members were affiliated last February. In April 2013 a further six institutes affiliated, and thus MVMSZ with its 34 member institutes became one of the most important museum organisations in Hungary. Just to exist is not enough for the museums. The stakes are high, since the circumstances are increasingly difficult, and among increasing numbers of rivals it has to be proved that the provincial museums are worthy of their mission. Funding bodies and specialists should accept that a museum, especially in the provinces, is not primarily a business undertaking, which of course does not mean they cannot be profitable. But the task of conservation, processing, displaying an appropriate part of the national heritage is indispensable and important. It benefits the nation, as well as the local and national community in ways which are not manifested immediately or visibly, and not instantly in a calculable manner.