May 20, 2006

A new era of great museums?

Posted at 12:20 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

From the mid eighteenth century through to Victorian times was a great era for the building of museums & galleries throughout much of Western Europe. Many of the largest museums of today were formed & acquired much of their collections during this period. Other parts of the world have had their own eras of museum building at different points in history.
In recent years, it seems possible that the world might be on the verge of another new era of construction of great museums – many of them built with the intention that they wil eventually house artefacts currently held in the great museums of the west. A few key examples of this emerging trend would be the Grand Museum of Egypt, the Beijing Capital Museum and the New Acropolis Museum.
Although Beijing’s Capital Museum has been partially open for some months, it had its official opening earlier this week. Zhang Bai, deputy director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage has used the occasion to call for the upgrading of other museums in the country if they are to attract greater numbers of visitors.
For a long time, institutions such as the British Museum have used the lack of suitable facilities as a reason for not returning artefacts to their countries of origin. It would appear though that in many cases this will soon cease to be a valid argument.

Xinhuanet (China)

Beijing Capital Museum opens with call for better Chinese exhibition spaces 2006-05-18 18:02:24

BEIJING, May 18 (Xinhua) — The Capital Museum of Beijing, housing more than 200,000 antiques, was formally opened to public on Thursday with a call for more better museums in China.

More than 300,000 people have passed through its doors since its trial operation five months ago, with the highest daily attendance reaching 7,000, said curator Guo Xiaoling at the opening on International Museum Day.

The ongoing exhibition of the British Museum’s “Treasures of the World’s Cultures”, the first large international exhibition at the museum, attracted more than 80,000 visitors in its first month.

The cultural relics housed in the museum recorded the 500,000-year human history of Beijing, the city’s 3,000-year history and its eight centuries as the capital of China, said Guo.

“There is no other place like the Capital Museum of Beijing where people can see how life was in ancient times in Beijing,” Guo said.

Beijing has entered a new period of extensive construction of museums, according to a report by the municipal bureau of cultural relics. The city has 131 registered museums, topping the country in terms of quantity and quality.

Zhang Bai, deputy director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), said the number of museums in China had reached 2,300, or one museum for every 600,000 people.

Only cities like Beijing and Shanghai were comparable to developed countries which had one museum for every 100,000 to 200,000 people, Zhang said.

Only 80 percent of China’s museums were regularly open to public, and the other 20 percent were often closed because of bad facilities and exhibition conditions, said Zhang.

Nearly 10,000 exhibitions were held in China’s museums every year, attracting some 150 million visitors. “But the number of museum visitors in the United States every year is three times the population,” Zhang said.

“The social significance of museums in China is very weak,” said Zhang.

The protection of cultural relics, and the improvement of management and services of the museums were neglected, Zhang said.

About 30 percent of the cultural relics housed in the museums across China have been damaged to some degree because of poor conservation methods. Many items are stored out of sight because of a lack of exhibition space.

Museums needed to create new exhibition methods and improve the services to attract visitors, Zhang said, pointing to the growth in “digital museums” on the Internet. Enditem

Editor: Mu Xuequan

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