The Yomiuri ShimbunIngenuity is required to revitalize the museum sector so that the nation’s irreplaceable cultural heritage can be preserved, passed on and utilized for the future.
Kyoto hosted the latest conference of the International Council of Museums, at which museum officials from around the world gathered. Conference participants, of which there were 4,500 from about 120 countries, discussed some of the challenges museums face today, such as provisions against natural disasters, passing down the stories of such calamities to the next generation, and contributions to local communities.
The discussion of various case studies rooted in the circumstances of each country would have been a great resource for Japanese participants. They must make use of the knowledge gained through the meetings at the domestic institutions where they are based.
The number of visitors to museums in Japan has been on the rise — a record high was posted in fiscal 2017. The number of visitors to historical museums alone reached 29 million. The increase is considered to have been due to such factors as a rise in the number of foreigners visiting Japan.
On the other hand, not a few museums are experiencing difficulties. According to a private research organization, as many as 40 percent of museums in Japan have annual revenues from business operations totaling less than ¥1 million. Also conspicuous are those small museums that are struggling because of staff shortages.
In order for museums to continue operating stably and play a role in society, efforts to showcase their collections are crucial.
Boost visitor numbers
Attempts must be made to increase visitor numbers by promoting the value of items in museum collections and linking the funds earned through such efforts to research and produce appealing exhibitions. Bringing about such a virtuous circle is crucial.
Competent individuals who can plan and produce outstanding exhibitions and special events and plainly transmit the value of cultural properties and artworks are needed.
The government should join hands with museums to come up with ways to secure and nurture such human resources, as well as implement measures that will combine the charms of museums with tourism.
The Hagi Museum in Yamaguchi Prefecture, which exhibits materials related to the developments in the closing days of the Tokugawa shogunate and those of the Meiji Restoration, has enlisted the help of a local nonprofit organization to carry out various operations, including the collection of and research on materials, as well as tasks such as manning reception desks and cleaning the facilities. There have also been such instances as museum assistants who have gone on to independently plan exhibitions themselves.
Some museums have made admission free of charge during specific periods of the day with the support of corporate sponsors, while others have employed design specialists to help produce high-quality souvenirs that have led to a boost in revenue.
Cost-effective measures include the provision of multilingual guides for foreign visitors and the use of social media to publicize information. It may also be beneficial for facilities to offer the option of visiting more than one museum within a limited amount of time, by joining hands with neighboring facilities.
The Cultural Affairs Agency will shortly establish a museums division within the Council for Cultural Affairs. By discussing various tasks related to the running of facilities, such as management and budget, the agency intends to reinforce the functions of museums.
Japanese museums are urged to tackle the challenges they are facing by widely publicizing and sharing pioneering ideas and success stories.