MUSEUMS offer a glimpse into a nations heritage and history. The Louvre in Paris and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are world-famous institutions and a must-visit for locals and visitors alike. The situation in Malaysia is far different; museums here are underappreciated and this is reflected in their lack of support and financial resources.
The Museums Department is calling for a change in mindset and seeking sponsorship from individuals and large corporations. Mohd Azmi says corporate bodies that donate to museums or extend sponsorship will help preserve Malaysias heritage. Its deputy director-general (Museology) Mohd Azmi Mohd Yusof pointed out that museums were a reflection of a nations civilisation.
Corporate bodies that donate to museums or extend sponsorship will be helping to preserve our countrys heritage. They should see it as a corporate social responsibility, said Mohd Azmi. He cited the Damascus Room at the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) as an example.
It is a replica of the hall in a house during the Ottoman period in the 19th century. It was sponsored by Standard Chartered Banking Group and opened by the Duke of York Prince Andrew. Museum personnel shifting a lightweight aircraft.
Due to budget constraints, even curators have to do the heavy lifting. Mohd Azmi acknowledged there was a need to look at alternative means of funding as the department had only been given a budget of RM34mil this year for the 20 museums under its purview. The lack of funds has led to the closure of the Natural History Museum in Precinct 15, Putrajaya, and Music Museum in Jalan Raja, Kuala Lumpur.
A rise in rental from RM50,000 to RM80,000 per month by the building owner Putrajaya Holdings Sdn Bhd was one of the reasons given for the closure of the Natural History Museum. The premises were not suitable to house a museum as it was designed to be an office. We have a piece of land allocated in Precinct 5 and relocation will take place as soon as we have the budget, said Mohd Azmi.
High maintenance costs were cited as the reason for closure of the Music Museum. It was housed in a colonial building so we had to preserve its original state. We also had to fix the roof which used Singgora clay tiles.
As it is a heritage building, we cannot use a substitute. The Damascus Room at the Islamic Arts Museum is sponsored by Standard Chartered. The Museum Department is hoping for similar corporate sponsorship in government museums.
We finally managed to find a source in Thailand. All these takes time and money. In the end, the building upkeep was just too costly, said Mohd Azmi.
Malaysian museums saw 3.1 million visitors in 2016 but ticket sales totalled only RM2mil. Visitors enjoy free entrance at 13 of the 20 museums managed by the department.
Entry fees are between RM2 and RM10 per person. MyKad holders automatically enjoy lower rates. IAMM charges RM14 per entry plus 6% goods and services tax.
Private sector help Mohd Azmi said the department would need to raise awareness on the crucial role played by museums in recording the progress of a nations civilisation. Funding is also needed for awareness programmes and professional training for staff and researchers. Many of these courses are conducted overseas as museology is still considered a new field in Malaysia.
A six-month course may cost up to RM100,000, including food and lodging, said Mohd Azmi who was trained in France. He said a company could choose to donate an item of historical value or sponsor a group of children to spend a night at the museum to start with. They can also consider funding research related to the museums artefacts.
This will be especially helpful as the cost for chemicals used in the process of artefact maintenance, preservation and restoration has become more expensive over the years, he said. Support for the departments quest to retrieve treasures lost during the colonial period and wartime will be appreciated too, he added. Over 60% of the artefacts found in the museums in Europe are from Asia, Mohd Azmi pointed out.
There is currently an ongoing project to return the original handwritten manuscript of the Hang Tuah saga. But topmost on the departments priority list is to ensure a comfortable environment for its visitors. So funds are also needed in the area of building maintenance.
On criticism about the lack of information on displayed artefacts, Mohd Azmi said the public could always look up the information in published works on sale at the souvenir shop. He said ownership of artefacts would remain with the department. Sponsors will enjoy tax reductions, publicity and the prestige of having contributed to the nation-building effort, he stated.