A chat with Steven Engelsman… for TEDxVienna

I am thrilled that the upcoming TEDxVienna City 2.0 event will be hosted at the Weltmuseum Wien, a venue both rich in historical connections and illustrating new frontiers of all types. With its newly established brand it is a beacon for generating and embracing change in cities and reaching out to communities.

I was lucky to meet Director Steven Engelsman to talk to him about his job, his take on the museum`s mindset & outreach and experiences in his professional life.

Interview with the Director of Weltmuseum Vienna

TEDxVienna`s City 2.0 event is about change and innovation in cities and how we can adopt new forms of urbanism. Mr. Engelsman, you have been in Vienna for more than a year now since your appointment as Director of the former Museum of Ethnology, now Weltmuseum Wien. What is in your opinion the best thing about Vienna and what needs to be changed?

Of course, this is a matter of horizon. And my horizon is a very small one, and a very large one at the same time. My horizon is this museum, and for me this is the absolutely best thing in Vienna; this museum and its connection to the past with this astonishing evidence that is in our storage. We hold the evidence of Austria`s involvement with the whole world for the last 500 years. And no one has really seen it for the last thirty years!

Overcoming  outdated concepts

Still the new brand “Weltmuseum” is quite a huge promise, isn`t it?

Definitely! And we have been criticized for this name because people want the traditional name as it is written in the law because they feel threatened by losing a strong, traditional term like “Völkerkunde” (ethnology).

Another criticism that we got is that “Weltmuseum” is too general, so we have a pay-off here, but we try to be very clear: (switching to German): Worum geht`s im Weltmuseum Wien? Es geht um Menschen. (What is Weltmuseum Vienna about? It`s about people.) And we will answer this question over and over again.

And still, we are convinced that Weltmuseum is a great name. The whole concept and mindset of ethnology comes from the colonial era, where the scholar would be studying the other peoples that were far away. And this always carries the insinuation that the scholar is superior and the object of study is inferior.  There is no equal level of engagement with the other and that`s no longer acceptable.

Times have changed. The people studied by ethnologists in the past have actually moved to Austria. They have immigrated here, so Vienna, right now is a fantastic multiethnic, multicultural city. A metropolis.

More on Steven Engelsman`s career and what we talked abou can be found over at TEDxVienna.

See you at this Friday`s City 2.0 event!

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