“Rather than considering children as a passive audience, we thought this was an opportunity to actively listen to them and let them take part in these international, high-level conversations. It is their future we are discussing after all!”
AN INTERVIEW WITH PASCAL HUFSCHMID, DIRECTOR AT INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS AND RED CRESCENT MUSEUM
By Alexia Jacques-Casanova
Pascal Hufschmid from the International RedCross and RedCrescent museum shares how museums can give children a seat at the decision-making table.
Pascal Hufschmid is an art historian with a longstanding passion for international relations and humanitarian causes. After working for several art galleries and the Musée de l’Élysée, he found the perfect match with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum which he joined as Director in July 2019.
Geneva is a unique environment to live and work in. As the city with the most international organizations (including over 700 NGOs), Geneva is the world’s capital of humanitarian affairs. The numerous international civil servants, diplomats, politicians, and NGO delegates who fly in and out of the city to attend meetings rarely have the time or the opportunity to fully engage with local residents. When Hufschmid joined the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum (IRCM), he reached out to the Geneva Department of Public Education, expressing the wish to strengthen the existing partnership with the museum. Hufschmid identified the 33rd International Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference in December 2019 as a perfect opportunity for real dialogue between the Canton’s schoolchildren and the attendees of this major international event. Organised every four years, the Conference gathers Red Cross and Red Crescent leaders from 192 countries, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, along with diplomats, ministers and heads of State, and many more people — 2,500 in total coming from all over the world.
Children’s voices matter
“The idea was simple,” says Hufschmid, “in close collaboration with the Conference organisers, print 2,500 postcards representing a selection of vintage Red Cross and Red Crescent posters from the museum collections, and distribute them to 2,500 children from public schools in Geneva.” Each child gets to write a note, a question, a plea to an International Conference attendee on a postcard which is then slipped in the delegates’ welcome bags. The museum worked closely with the Conference organisers and the Department of Public Education to provide teachers with an educational kit. In the classroom, the teachers worked with children on various questions including “what is a delegate, what would you want to ask them, or say to them?”. “We had only a few months between the moment we agreed to launch the partnership and the actual International Conference kick-off,” explains Hufschmid, “we had to be very agile and go for something simple to produce, cost-effective and easily graspable, hence the postcard.”
The museum as a bridge
“It was crucial for us to involve children for real,” stresses Hufschmid. “Rather than considering them as a passive audience, we thought this was an opportunity to actively listen to them and let them take part in these international, high-level conversations. It is their future we are discussing after all!” It was equally important for Hufschmid’s team to give conference delegates an opportunity to see beyond their own bubble. “Those people are busy, they fly in and out of the city, don’t venture much outside of the conference centre; the postcards were a way to remind them of the civil society surrounding their debates, of why and for whom they have these conversations.” For Hufschmid, a museum is all about being a platform allowing different communities — in this case, schoolchildren and decision-makers — to interact in a meaningful way through cultural content and heritage.
Relevance and legitimacy
“Relevance and legitimacy are at the heart of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum strategy,” says Hufschmid.
“Humanitarian aid can often be something we witness from far away, through the news, on our TV screens. It is important to bring the conversation back around humanitarian values and how they can relate to our daily lives.” As an individual, how might I show more humanity, without yielding to either guilt or defeatism? “The museum doesn’t have ready-made answers to these questions, but it has tools visitors can seize,” argues Hufschmid. For him, knowledge is the result of a conversation between the museum expertise and the visitor’s personal journey. Hufschmid believes in the role artists can play in stimulating that conversation. “Museums should be places of opportunity; they should be springboards for artists.” He adds, “If we want to move away from the museum as a unilateral device delivering a single meaning or point of view, we need to let artists in and let them be a connector between our institutions and very diverse audiences.”
Pascal Hufschmid will be speaking at our upcoming Communicating the Arts conference in Lausanne, happening June 22-24. Join him and hundreds of arts professionals for three days of inspiring and action-oriented conference about the art of placemaking.