What is mediation?

Mediation might mean different things in different contexts. In jurisprudence, diplomacy, and world politics, it means conflict resolution or mitigation. In many professional contexts, it implies translation from one language of human experience to another. It might mean bridge-building in intercultural dialogue. In some contexts of art therapy, it refers to safe space and support for self-help and transformation. In civic engagement, urban planning, and public programming, mediators facilitate participation. 

Art and culture mediation are considerably new concepts. They embrace all forms of how institutions rethink their relations with audiences. It means that institutions engage in dialogue and are ready to change themselves based on the meaningful feedback from the public. It is generally related to fostering inclusivity and making assets of art and culture more accessible. 

Institutionally or personally, mediation is a process of building equal relationships. It opposes the idea of guiding people to prefabricated meanings or ready-made knowledge. Mediation suggests treating each person as an expert in their own experience and culture.

In practice, art mediation often resembles facilitated dialogue based on a piece of art or culture phenomenon. But it can take many forms, creative and sometimes nonverbal. The core idea is that inclusive communication enriches all its participants, regardless of their backgrounds and knowledge. It allows more people to gain meaningful social experience from encounters with art, culture, people, and their stories. Mediation might be a short-term experience that still changes attitudes and common sense, thus promoting social change.

Daria Agapova

MeM’s curator of education and mediation. She is a museum educator, diversity agent, and ICOM member. She is a co-founder and curator of the “Children’s Days in St Petersburg” festival, a co-editor of the ICOM collection “Migrations: Revealing the Personal. Museum practices and recommendations for working on Migration, Mobility, and Diversity” (2020) and editor of “Participatory Culture: Museum as a Forum for Dialogue and Collaboration” (2015). She organized School for Museum Freelancers and School of Art Mediation and co-curated a partnership of Cultura Foundation with the Finnish Heritage Agency as a part of CultureLabs: Recipes for Social Innovation (2019-20).

Mediation, its comprehension, and practice were the focus of the educational course as well as the summer camp that took place in August 2021. As opposed to the educational course, the camp was more practice-oriented. The participants met artists and museum educators, discussed specific methods of working with the audience, and could try, test, and practice different ideas and approaches in real life. Here are some of the revelations about mediation the participants made based on the activities of the summer camp:

Mediation can take different forms, it is a ”transformer”

Mediator creates the process of understanding the meaning which can be very individual. The mediator does not add anything.

Mediation is a process of interaction, exchange of energy in a way that it does not get lost, and in the end, it comes out, and the story is born.

Mediation is like a closure of gestalt, a chance to understand yourself better – in the childhood and the present moment, to remember one’s parents, understand them in a different way.

Mediation is like a fountain – circulating, pumping the water in different directions, and circulating again. Or like a river that makes the wheel of a mill move

On the 1st of June, project participants from the Finnish team hold a mediation session at Chaika – a meeting place for Russian-speaking people of the “elegant” age in Helsinki. The mediation was built around Kytköksissä/Connected exhibition that deals with the notion of home, identity, and experiences of Russian-speaking people living in Finland.

 

The mediation session was a great learning opportunity and rewarding experience for Nadezhda Gretskaya, Jana Dubovskaja, and Ed Petroff. Mediators shared their impressions from the session with us:

Jana Dubovskaja

Mediation for me is communication. Together with the participants, in a cozy atmosphere over a cup of tea, we discussed the online exhibition, listened to many interesting stories, and most importantly, shared our emotions and feelings.

Nadezhda Gretskaya

Since art mediation is a fairly new approach to working with audiences, we experienced some excitement during the preparation stage and the event itself. But, thanks to the rich and well-planned educational program of MeM, as well as the incredibly warm and involved audience from Chaika club, I can say with a high degree of certainty that our first art mediation was a success.

 

During the mediation on the topics of home, belonging, language, and its role in shaping one’s identity, I was struck by the diverse range of emotions the participants had: from genuine tears to joyful revelations. And, even though we were dealing with the feelings of participants very carefully, the topics discussed in the session revealed the common painful experiences of the Russian speakers who moved to Finland at different times.

 

The most difficult thing for me in terms of the practical arrangements was time management. I tried to follow the timeline, at the same time making sure each participant has an equal opportunity to share and allocating the necessary time for all the stages of art mediation, including the final reflection at the end of the discussion. Also, I realized that I still need to develop my active listening skills, as well as be ready for the emotional outbursts of the participants during the discussion.

 

Even though it was our first experience of art mediation and we were feeling a bit anxious,  we received positive feedback from the participants. Many of them highlighted the importance and necessity of this particular experience, especially in such a difficult time for everyone.

Ed Petroff

This experience left such a strong imprint on me. The audience was incredibly involved and grateful. The emotions that mediation evoked in the participants were worth all the preparations. Tears, laughter – we had it all. This was truly amazing!