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Ulla Keding Olofsson is no longer with us

Ulla Keding Olofsson died on 5 July at her home in Stockholm, after a long illness.

She was the first non-British member of the Judging Committee of the European Museum of the Year Award, from its foundation in 1977 until 2006. From 2010-2013 she was one of the European Museum Academy’s Honorary Commissioners.



Ulla died on 5 July at her home in Stockholm, after a long illness. She was the first non-British member of the Judging Committee of the European Museum of the Year Award, from its foundation in 1977 until 2006. From 2010-2013 she was one of the European Museum Academy’s Honorary Commissioners.

Here follows an extract from a biographical article written by Kenneth Hudson in 1992:
“Ulla has nursed, encouraged, disciplined and occasionally chastised the European Museum of the Year Award since it was born 17 years ago. Without her common sense, her refusal to accept defeat, and her never-failing sense of humour, it could very well have died in infancy. But matters fortunately turned out very differently and it must have been a great satisfaction to her to see how well the child has grown up.

She would be entitled to take an equal pride in the course of her own life. Few people who visit her nowadays in her pleasant home would be likely to guess that the first years of her life were spent in appallingly crowded conditions on the other side of the city in working-class Nytorgsgatan, where she was brought up by her energetic grandmother. Their flat had two rooms and a kitchen, with no hot water, and in it lived nine people, of a wide range of ages. Ulla’s father died when she was very young and her mother found it impossible to bring up her two daughters on her wages as a café waitress. This, one should remember, was in the worst years of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, long before the Welfare State came over the Swedish horizon and at a time when Sweden was still a poor country, from which large numbers of people emigrated.

Ulla was saved by her brains, her teachers and the public library, where she read her way out of her early misery and deprivation. In 1942, when she was twelve, she was awarded the prestigious Gâlo scholarship, often referred to as ‘the Junior Nobel Prize’. It gave her 500 crowns a year, which felt like a fortune. She never looked back – an outstanding academic career, an active role in Social Democrat politics and eventually teaching, although at one time she thought of a future in journalism.

In 1967 she made what was in many ways a natural move to the newly-founded Riksutställningar – National Travelling Exhibitions – where she worked as an educational expert. Riksutställningar has been one of Europe’s great pioneering achievements, a State-funded organisation set up to plan, design, manufacture and circulate the kind of travelling exhibitions which would get people’s minds moving and not infrequently shock them. Since 1991 Ulla has been Director of Information, a job which involves looking after its international relations. Throughout her time with Riksutställningar, Ulla has maintained close contacts with the museum world. She was for a long time Chairman of the Swedish National Committee of ICOM and is now one of the three people who form ICOM’s European Group. From 1971-74 she was a member of the Executive Council of ICOM.

With this background, and with excellent German, English and French, as well as her native Swedish, Ulla Keding Olofsson has been God’s gift to the European Museum of the Year Award. If she had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent her. But we are exceedingly grateful that we were not put to this trouble and that the Lord present her to us ready-made.” Extract from EMYA News, October 1992.

“Ulla Keding Olofsson had the enormous advantage of working for a State organisation that was consciously and deliberately devoted to serving the public in imaginative ways. She combined charm with common sense, an infrequently found combination, and the [EMYA] Committee had on many occasions been grateful for her habit, or rather instinct, of introducing a welcome note of reality into the discussions.” Quoted by Kenneth Hudson, Director of the European Museum Forum, in ‘The European Museum of the Year Award 1977-1997. A mirror and a catalyst of European museum change and development’. Strasbourg: Committee on Culture and Education, Sub-Committee on Cultural Heritage, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, 1997.

“Ulla was an indefatigable judge for the European Museum of the Year awards, and as I experienced when sharing judging duties with her, she put nervous candidates at ease very quickly with her intelligence and charm as well as an authority born of her professional knowledge. She was a person of high ethical values and always interesting company – she will be missed by all who knew her.” J. Patrick Greene, Chief Executive Officer, Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

“I was saddened to learn that Ulla has died. We shall always remember her no-nonsense approach and sense of humour from the many occasions she came to Strasbourg for the EMYA conclaves. As the only ICOM member of the original EMYA team, she underlined the independence of EMYA, which was intentionally set up outside the museum establishment and in order to complement international co-operation on museum thinking by bringing the non-professional elements of media, design and the visiting public. Ulla was involved in the ground-breaking idea of travelling exhibitions. At that time relations with ICOM were very positive and it was Luis Monreal, as Director of ICOM, who secured the Miró trophy for the Council of Europe Museum Prize in 1977.” Dr Christopher Grayson, former Secretary to the Committee on Culture and Education, Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe.

“What sad news! I remember Ulla very fondly as epitomising EMF, and after our initial meeting in Samos, where I met all of you for the first time, I soon got to know her very well. She invited me on my first EMYA engagement, I made a presentation for which she had made arrangements, at the Gothenburg Book Fair. From the outset I felt part of the family as well as a very proud recipient, on behalf of the Conservation Centre in Liverpool, of the amazing EMY Award. And, of course, I met her subsequently at every EMF meeting in Strasbourg and at the ceremonies in Ljubljana, Pisa, Luxembourg, Copenhagen and Athens. For me she was, and always will be part of that group of European friends whom I value so highly and remember with a glowing in my heart.” Andrew Durham, Director, Artlab Australia, Adelaide.

“I remember Ulla with great affection. Until now, she and I were the only surviving members of the original judging committee of the European Museum of the Year Award, and my sincere hope is that during her protracted illness she was still able to remember her many experiences while judging museums throughout Europe as a judge for our competition. Contrary to popular belief, visiting museums is not a sheltered occupation, and on my many tours over the years with Ulla we have had to show resilience, resourcefulness and stamina, mixed with a good dose of laughter and wonder at the magnificent achievements of museum directors in far-flung corners of Europe. Ulla always had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, not only for the task in hand, but also for exotic food, plants and flowers. Visiting museums with her was an adventure, something to be looked forward to and enjoyed. If I may end with a quote: ‘Say not in grief that she is no more, but in thankfulness that she was’.” Ann Nicholls, currently Co-ordinator, European Museum Academy; Administrator of EMYA and EMF, 1977-2009,on behalf of all Ulla’s friends and colleagues from EMYA.

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