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