Museums Glasgow in Glasgow, Scotland, has established a Resource Center that allows public access for students and researchers. It is located in Nitshill, a suburb of Glasgow, and is easily accessible by train from City Centre. With the help of technicians and research associates, individuals may view the collections, research collection provenances, and will also soon be able to access a library in the facility.
The Glasgow Museums Resource Center reminds me of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian’s Cultural Resource Center in that the facility has moveable electronic shelves and maintains specific environmental conditions that preserve the collections. Both resource centers represent top-of-the-line facilities for museums, yet one museum is a national museum (the NMAI) and the other a museum owned by the city (Glasgow Museums).
Curious about how a city the size of Glasgow at less than 1 million people maintains all of its city museums, of which there are thirteen (13), I began to investigate the administrative structure of the museum. As it was explained to me, the collection is owned by the people of Glasgow and overseen by both a Board of Trustees/Board of Directors and City Council officials. Some City Council officials also appear to sit on the Board. Since 2007, when the structure changed to its present-day form, Museums Glasgow has been managed by the Department of Culture and Sport in the Glasgow city government structure. The museums are free and there is a large amount of financial support for Museums Glasgow donated annually from city residents.
So, why is this important? Knowing the decision-making structure of international institutions is important because it reveals the people that have the most influence on making a decision about repatriating. Processes and policies for repatriation may or may not be in place in these institutions, but the ultimate decision-makers sit at the top of the administrative food chain. In Glasgow, experts make recommendations to the Board and City Officials who make the ultimate decision. However, the people of Glasgow are the ones to elect their city officials and finance the museums. From what has been conveyed to me, there was overwhelming support from the people of Glasgow in 1998 and 1999 to repatriate the Ghost Dance Shirt to the Wounded Knee Survivors Association. Other communities in Scotland also assisted in the process, with the Isle of Lewis community raising money to help bring Lakota representatives to the Kelvingrove museum. Thus, the communities themselves have played an important part in the repatriation process under this administrative structure.
While the repatriation of the Ghost Dance Shirt from the Kelvingrove Museum was one of the first international repatriations of a sacred object to an indigenous community by a museum, there have been additional repatriation requests that have since been denied or are currently pending decision. Some of these include the repatriation of additional sacred objects from the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, a few of which are currently on display in the Kelvingrove Museum.
While curators are able to make recommendations to repatriate in the administrative structure of Museums Glasgow, the ultimate decisions come from City Council officials and the Board. However, I also wonder if repatriation requests would benefit from direct appeals to the Glasgow community, the residents who elect their City Council officials?
All museums have their own separate administrative structures, but some similarities do exist among the different types of museums within each country. This will have to be a study in itself, but will nevertheless provide some additional help in understanding the nuances of future international repatriation negotiations.