What is ICOM?

Created in 1946 as a non-governmental organisation, the International Council of Museums (ICOM)  was initially founded by a few museums professionals – archaeologists, art historians, museologists, conservators etc…- who were concerned about the future of the world’s cultural heritage after the disasters of the Second World War.

UNESCO decided from the beginning to support ICOM by giving it shelter in its Headquarters in Paris. In 1951, they started together the programme “Crusades of the Museums” that contributed significantly to the recognition of the educational role of Museums. Following similar preoccupations, in 1977, the 18th of May started being celebrated as the International Museum Day.

The main concern of ICOM is the notification and the confrontation of the problems related to museums and museum professionals, as well as the development of the field of Museology. To achieve that the above-mentioned goal, 30 international committees have been created, each devoted to the study of a particular type of museum or to a specific museum-related discipline, such as the architecture of museums, conservation, country museums, education etc; they are composed of ICOM members who request membership. These committees have contributed to the compilation of essential manuals like, for instance, the Code of Ethics that was adopted in 1986.

ICOM publishes for its members the ICOM Newsletter (Nouvelles de l’ICOM) and the Cahiers d’etude, as well as the journal MUSEUM International for the general public – published in cooperation with UNESCO in English and French and accessible on the internet.

ICOM places particular emphasis on the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property and publishes special issues on the seizures of antiquities and works of art around the world. Its main objective is the harmonious coexistence of museums with the societies they serve. Thus, from a very early stage, it turned its attention to major social problems and combined its activities with more general initiatives taken on these issues at international level. Examples include ICOM’s involvement in the fight against racism (1961), the World Year for the Rights of the Child (1979), the United Nations World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-1997) and the problems of people with disabilities (1992).

ICOM was particularly concerned about the destruction of cultural property in the sites of wars (Lebanon, Persian Gulf, former Yugoslavia, Iraq, etc.). Together with five other non-governmental organisations (CCAAA, ICA, ICOM, ICOM, ICOMOS, IFLA), it contributed to the creation, in 1996, of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS), which is responsible for protecting the world’s cultural heritage from warfare or natural disasters. ICOM has also been providing scientific and technical assistance to museums in developing countries since the 1960s. Today, ICOM has around 22,000 members worldwide and is active in 145 countries.