Interview with Astrid Schönweger, Coordinator, International Association of Women´s Museums (IAWM)

Astrid Schönweger born in 1968 in Meran – South Tyrol /Italy and residing in Meran, married, mother of 2 sons. Acting as a publicist from 1989 to 1997; joining the Women’s Museum Meran in 1989. Termination of the study of political science with main focus on research on women in 1997, when she took over the management of the Women’s Museum in Meran until 2004.
As the director of the women’s museum she cofounded the South Tyrolean association of museums, she engaged herself strongly for the landscape of the museums and the network work in South Tyrol (particularly in the areas of culture and specific for woman) and has launched a partnership with the Senegalese women’s museum that is operating since 2000. Today she works as the coordinator of IAWM, the international network of women’s museums, became a life adviser, is active in adult education with lectures, tours and seminars; and is a writer.
International Association of Women´s Museums (IAWM)


Women’s Museum Istanbul: Why do you think Women’s Museums are necessary?

Astrid Schönweger: At the moment it is a fact, that in the traditional museums, which are buildings of power, there is mainly male history, male art, male everything on display. And the female is the exception. There are a lot of feminist museologists and others, who try to bring this female view of history – herstory – or art, or daily life, into the museums.  This is one way to make women visible. Another way is to create niches, to create entire own spaces in which we are speaking mainly about women. I think as long as we cannot find the gender aspect in every single museum worldwide, Women’s Museums are necessary.

Women’s Museum Istanbul:  How would you explain and define the interrelation of feminism and women’s museums?

Astrid Schönweger: Women’s Museums are a lot more than only museums. As the coordinator of IAWM, I can state that a lot of Women’s Museums around the world are cultural centres, act as a platform for social workers or human rights activists. What they have in common is that those people are feminists. A lot of these museums have been established by feminists, and normally a Women’s Museum has a lot of feminists contribute to it. That is because they do not only want to display things about women, but they want to spark discourse, they want to change societies, they have great aims, which are going beyond the museum work.

Women’s Museum Istanbul:  How do you plan to reach out to new audiences? Which concepts are you developing, or planning to develop?

Astrid Schönweger:  I am answering this question as the coordinator of our network.  It is very important that we have synergies in our work in Women’s Museums. I plan on developing new projects to become visible in bigger parts of the society as a group. It is normal for every museum to have a certain audience, a certain target, a certain group that is interested in the topics the museum covers. But if we are mixing a little bit more, as Women’s Museums all over the world, having conferences, but also working on projects together, I think we can reach out to a greater audience. One example: on the next International Women’s Day, March 8th 2017, we will cooperate with the Committee of Equal Opportunity of the European Parliament. They invited the UN Women and also the IAWM, to celebrate this day with them. So next March we will be in Brussels, we will have an exhibition, and there will be hundreds of people attending this event at the European Parliament – men and women – and we will show that there are diverse Women’s Museums with all their aims and goals.  Another example is an EU project. We are planning to discuss women’s culture in every part of Europe. We want to invite a lot of groups to speak out, to answer the question if there is such a thing as ‘women’s culture in Europe’, and how we can define it.

Women’s Museum Istanbul: What are the financial resources of the museums you represent? Are they supported by their government, local authorities or any other public institutions? Does this often come with certain hopes or demands regarding the work that they do?

Astrid Schönweger: This differs from museum to museum. There are many Women’ Museums in Europe that are financed by public institutions, on the local or regional or national level. We have a few state museums, such as Denmark, also in Asia, such as in Vietnam and China. And we have a lot of museums which are organised privately.

Then of course it depends on the practice of financing culture in general. In Europe there is a lot of public money, but in all the other continents, it is very common to be sponsored by private donors. I think that both the public and private sponsorships have advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of being a private museum is that you can really do what you want and work independently. You can reach out to new audiences, you can include marginalised groups, you can discuss taboos without anyone censoring your work. And then we have the great disadvantage that museums struggle with a small budget. This is the reality for most museums. If you are funded by private donors, you really have to negotiate a contract which protects your free will and sovereignty as a museum. At the moment there is an interesting discussion about the Colosseum in Rome, where a private donor will take over the restoration of the complex, but in exchange wants to have a say which events will take place in the Colosseum. The Colosseum is a very important cultural object, and I think it is very difficult to have someone pay for the restauration and afterwards decide, with his commercial interests in mind, what will further happen with the Colosseum.

I know from the women in Korea that they have the same problem. They are saying: “We want a Women’s Museum in Korea, but we are afraid that when the government funds this, we cannot tell herstory the way we want to.” I think everyone knows how the Chinese Women’s Museum handles this. They do not have much of a choice. So it is not at all important if it is a private or public donor, we will always have the problem that the money will dictate the rules. And in my opinion it is extremely important in the cultural sector, not only for Women’s Museums, to negotiate very hard on this because it is also our duty to teach democracy.

Interview: Kristina Kraemer, Gül Aydın

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