In 2022, Ukrainians became more interested in their country's past. According to a survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 69% of residents have showed more interest in the history of Ukraine, including historical figures and events.
This growing interest in the past could not but affect Ukrainian cultural institutions, an important role among which is played by museums, centers of preservation and research of Ukrainian heritage. In particular, in March, a community of proactive individuals launched the "Spilnyi Spadok" (‘Common Heritage’) initiative, which aims to raise funds to replenish museum collections.
LIGA.Life decided to find out more about the project, its first results, and the market for antiquities in Ukraine with the help of the founder of Spadok Alina Bozhniuk and Viktoriia Kutsuruk, deputy director general for the accounting and preservation of museum values of the Ivan Honchar Museum.
How did the idea for the project come about?
It all started in the fall of 2022, when Alina Bozhniuk decided to donate items from her collection to Ukrainian museums. The year before, she had started to build her own collection of embroidered shirts, so she was able to accumulate many samples from different regions of Ukraine. She wanted to donate some of them to museums.
Several cultural institutions responded to the proposal, including the National Center for Folk Culture "Ivan Honchar Museum".
"I used to have an idea that the collections of all the great museums were already full. But it turned out that the Ivan Honchar Museum was interested in many items from my collection. I talked to the center's representatives, understood their approach and decided to donate my belongings," says Alina.
During the conversation, it turned out that the museum has difficulties replenishing its collections. In fact, it can only expand its collections through expeditions or gifts from patrons or employees. The state funding the institution receives does not provide for such expenses. That's why Alina Bozhniuk tried to search for antiquities on the Internet and buy them for the museum on her own.
"I started looking for something that the folk culture center would like. I donated a few things, but I still realized that I had limited financial resources. There are so many items, and the potential for buying is great. I realized that I would be able to buy much less on my own than if I joined forces with other people. That's how the idea for the Spilnyi Spadok project came about," says the founder of the initiative.
How do museums expand their collections?
The Ivan Honchar Museum responded positively to the offer of cooperation, as the acquisition of ancient items through crowdfunding creates new ways to replenish its reserve collection. According to Viktoriia Kutsuruk, Deputy Director General of the Center for the Accounting and Preservation of Museum Valuables, today a significant part of the museum's collection, which includes more than 30,000 items, is made up of donated items. Thus, the collection is based on the private collection of the museum's founder, Ukrainian artist and sculptor Ivan Honchar, as well as gifts from patrons and supporters of the center.
A significant part of the items in the current collection was purchased by the museum's director, Petro Honchar. However, there are also items acquired during expeditions that were organized annually before the Covid-19 pandemic. During these trips, researchers collected folklore and material heritage items. The main advantage of this method of replenishing the collection is the maximum preservation of information about the object, which makes it more valuable for researchers.
However, when it comes to searching for items by type or subject, state museums are often inferior to private collectors. Recently, the market has changed a lot, and a large number of interesting items are for sale on online platforms: OLX, thematic Facebook groups, etc. Under such conditions, private collectors have more financial resources and can make a quicker decision to buy an item. This is where the Spadok project came in.
"This cooperation is valuable for us because we can replenish the collection in a thematic way, not with typical items. We have a wide choice, we clearly understand what kind of object we need, and we immediately look for what we want: either by place of origin or type. This is not an alternative to the usual comprehensive expeditions, but an additional tool for replenishing the collection," explains Viktoriia Kutsuruk.
How does the project work?
The project operates on a crowdfunding system. Anyone can become a patron of Spilnyi Spadok and turn into a real patron by signing up for a monthly subscription. All the money goes to the bank account of the KOLO charitable foundation, which, upon approval, buys the item and donates it to the museum. The funds raised are spent only on the purchase and delivery of items, as well as on paying taxes.
In addition to the communication task of raising funds, Spadok is searching for items that may be of interest to the museum. To do this, project initiator Alina Bozhniuk monitors auctions, social media posts, and ads on the OLX platform, where she looks for interesting antiquities. Then she reserves them and shows them to museum representatives who make the final purchase decision:
The museum also provides the Spilnyi Spadok team with a list of items that it is primarily interested in. According to Viktoriia Kutsuruk, such a list is formed in the process of monitoring the collection, either during verification or preparation for digitization or exhibition. Based on the results of the work, the museum staff identifies regions or types of objects that are missing for a full representation of traditional culture.
The list includes:
- examples of folk painting – iconographic themes, themes related to the family ritual circle and folk crafts;
- samples of ceramics and glass – dishes, decorative sculpture and tiles;
- samples of the traditional culture of the southeastern regions – clothing, household and interior items.
"In our museum, as well as in other ethnographic museums and private collections, the southeastern regions are very poorly represented. And of course, when we come across traditional cultural items from these regions, we are happy to include them in the collection," says Viktoriia Kutsuruk.
The procedure for buying an item on OLX is more complicated than if an average person were to do it. After all, the stages of reservation, communication with the seller, purchase, and delivery are accompanied by the approval of the museum and the execution of an official contract, which takes some time. However, Alina Bozhniuk notes that most sellers respond reasonably to all procedures because they want to be involved in the preservation of culture.
So far, the project has managed to raise $550 and purchase two antique items for the museum: a first-half of 20th-century tsurkanka (women's shoulder garment) and an album with drawings, photographs, and notes by the daughter of a Ukrainian Sich Rifleman. At the same time, there were cases when people learned about the Spadok project and donated antiques to the museum for free. In this way, they received an embroidered towel from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and a shirt from Ternopil Oblast, embroidered around the 1940s. All these items are registered, digitized, and published on the website and social media.
How is the antiquities market in Ukraine formed?
Antiquities enter the market in different ways. Someone sells a family heirloom, while others travel to villages, buy antiquities in bulk, and then put them up for sale. The shorter the journey of an object, the more likely it is to preserve valuable information about it.
"Some sellers go on small expeditions themselves. There are those who collect antiques in the neighborhoods where they live. And this is probably the best way, because the history of things is preserved," explains Alina Bozhniuk, founder of Spilnyi Spadok.
When buying antiquities, the project team and museum staff establish
- the period of creation;
- the technique of execution and materials;
- place of creation and use;
- authorship and legend (who owned the item, information about the item's use and history, etc.)
If an object is valuable enough and this information is not available, the museum tries to make an attribution by analogy. According to Viktoriia Kutsuruk, deputy director general of the Ivan Honchar Museum, museum staff can establish the regional affiliation of an object if there are similar examples in the collection. For example, the cut of the garment, color scheme, and ornamentation can indicate the place of origin.
However, there are regions where very few antiques have survived. This automatically increases their value on the market. The initiator of Spilnyi Spadok Alina Bozhniuk notes that depending on the decoration and region, the cost of one embroidered shirt can range from UAH 1,000 ($27) to several thousand dollars.
"The price is formed without any normal regulation. The seller takes into account how well the shirt is decorated, how rare it is, and somehow determines the price. At the same time, uncertainty about the value of items works both ways: an item can be either overvalued or undervalued," explains Alina.
As for other buyers, museums compete with private collectors and ordinary people for antiquities. The former have more money and are quicker to buy, while the latter can simply come across an item and buy it.
"Collectors have a desire to find something for themselves, they are constantly in touch. That's why some things are bought out in minutes. If it is something rare and unique, the museum actually loses the opportunity to preserve this object and pass on knowledge about it to future generations," adds Alina Bozhniuk.
How is cultural heritage preserved and shared?
In the future, the project plans to engage more museums in cooperation and reach a level where sellers will first offer ancient items to Spilnyi Spadok at cost or with a minimal markup, and only then put them up for public sale. According to the founder of the initiative, keeping an object in a museum is the best thing that can happen to it.
"An item can end up in a private collection or in the use of an ordinary person. But there are other cases. The worst thing that can happen to antiquities is when they are bought and taken abroad. In such cases, the object is simply deprived of its context, bought only as a beautiful blouse or dress. And it turns out that masterpieces that should definitely be kept in museums are taken abroad," explains Alina Bozhniuk.
Another threat to antiquities is alteration and upcycling, when an item is turned into a decorative element for modern clothing and objects. Today, this is being abused by Ukrainian brands that, in the pursuit of "restoring traditions," cut embroidered towels and shirts to create jackets, sneakers, or notebooks. According to the initiator of the Spilnyi Spadok project, such actions completely deprive an antique of any value and are a deliberate destruction of cultural heritage.
At the same time, in a museum, an antique is not just stored, cataloged, and digitized for future generations; it is researched by scientists and reproduced by craftsmen. This, in particular, helps contemporary artists who are inspired by folk art to develop.
"A private collector cannot do this. He digitizes antiquities, catalogs them, enters them into a database, and can even organize an exhibition. But it's still not as systematic as the work done in a museum. Therefore, getting into a museum is probably the best fate for an antique," concludes Alina Bozhniuk.