Saturday 2 June 2012

Dearth of new projects, rehabilitation challenges haunt Museum Day

By Tajudeen Sowole
 Promotion of museum consciousness in Nigeria may have risen in the last few years, keying into the new dynamics of museum culture across the world, but the slow pace of improving the infrastructures persists

SURPRISINGLY, infrastructural deficit of museums in Nigeria remains strong three years after the Federal Government pledged N750 million-rescue fund and Ford Foundation announced a $2 million dollars intervention. 
  Perhaps, the theme of the 2012 International Museum Day (IMD) would serve as wake-up call to the nation’s museum authority for mobilizing resources within and outside of government.  
  The increasing dynamics in museum management as part of indexes of development was glaring as the International Council of Museums (ICOM) chose the theme, Museums in a Changing World: New Challenges, New Inspirations, for this year’s anniversary.
  Marked across the world on May 18, the theme, this year, stressed the growing influence of museums on countries’ economy, sometimes representing the political and historical strength of a people. 
  Since 1977, ICOM has been celebrating the IMD. For 2012, the world body noted that in line with new technology and delivering of new ideas sweeping across the world “modern museums must compete for an audible voice against the furious pace of this background.”
Inside the new gallery of the National Museum, Owerri
  ICOM argued that Museums in a Changing World recognises the fact that the “unique set of goals, interests and audiences” of each museum or country, “but the necessity to thrive in the face of these changes is something that binds all institutions, large and small.”   The council therefore stressed that the 2012 theme of IMD “is as much about museums growing and shaping their future, as it is about displaying and interpreting issues.”    
  Between 2009 and now, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) appeared to have embarked on rehabilitating some of its 34 outlets and building new ones across the country. Hope came on the horizon in 2009 when Ford Foundation in partnership with the NCMM unveiled a major step towards rehabilitation of the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos. At a ceremony in Lagos, President of Ford Foundation, Linus Ubinas announced assistance in preservation and conservation of artefacts as well as capacity building for the museum staff and improved facility, to the tune of $2 million.
  At the same event, government, through the Director of Culture in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, George Ufot disclosed that there was a vote of N750 million for museums and monuments' rehabilitation in the 2009 budget.
  Three years after, some noticeable changes, albeit quietly, have been going on at the Lagos Museum in areas of what the management described as staff training for conservation and cataloguing.
  The outgoing curator of the Lagos Museum, Mrs. Vickie Agili disclosed that over the last one year, the museum, under the Ford Foundation initiative has been sending some members of staff abroad for training in conservation and other areas of museum management.
  Also, in the last few months, there were changes in the galleries as seen during the opening of one of the permanent exhibitions titled Nigerian Art in the Cycle of Life. During the opening of the exhibition last year, representative of Ford Foundation (West Africa Office), Dr. Adhiambo Odaga disclosed that the gallery was not on the list of the intervention initiative. She explained that the need to expand the gallery space led to its urgent inclusion in the list of Ford Foundation’s assistance to the museum.
  Although observers noted that the rehabilitation of the galleries fell short of expectation, as the sizes are still not as expansive to meet the challenges of modernity, it has, however, brought a fresh ambience to the museum environment. 
   Also, NCMM, late last year opened a new gallery at National Museum, Owerri, Imo State, with an exhibition entitled: Igbo Household (Ezi na ulo Ndi-Igbo).
    Comparatively, all these still fall short of the fast pace at which museums are being uplifted and new ones built, in some other climes, even in the least expected places such as the Middle East.  
  Aside some of the well known museums such as the Louvre, in Paris, the British Museum, Tate Modern, U.K., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Art Institute of Chicago, U.S. and Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain, there have been remarkable achievements in some relatively known others, which have brought new concepts into museum culture.
  For example, three years ago, despite its economic challenges, Greece opened the New Acropolis Museum, which was built at the cost of £110m ($182m; 130m Euros).
  Less than three decades ago, art or museum was probably the last thing on the table of governments in some Arab countries. However, the Arab world are fast developing their art, culture and tourism sector as Doha, in Qatar now boasts of one of the best museums in the world.
  In fact, the country’s Museum of Islamic Art, which formally opened in 2008, was designed by one of the world’s best architects, Chinese-American I.M. Pei. 
  In the same year, another Gulf nation, Abu Dhabi started three museums projects said to have been budgeted to cost almost $2 billion.
  Also, the world’s biggest collectors of modern and contemporary art, H.E. Sheikh Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al Thani, facilitated the establishment of Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art.
  The mission statement on the website of Mathaf clearly showed how the Arabs are preparing for a possible post-oil era.     
   “Looking forward into the 21st century, we want to offer a platform for all kinds of local and international visitors, scholars, artists, collectors and enthusiasts to meet, converse and engage more closely with the art of the Arab world and beyond.” Such proactive statement would have been a taboo for the conservative Arab of the last two and half to three decades.
  Marking the IMD Day in Nigeria with the classic touring exhibition Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, Director-General of NCMM, Mallam Abdallah Yusuf Usman, argued that the government agency had not been inactive despite the challenges of funding. He listed proposed new museum projects across the country: “major gallery is being planned for National History Exhibition in Jos, Plateau State and an Islamic Art Museum is to be established in Ilorin, Kwara State, while two projects, Oil Museum and Christian Mission Museum are being planned for Olobiri, Calabar, Cross Rivers.” 

D-G NCMM, Mallam Abdallah Yusuf Usman

  Apart from the training for the staff of the National Museum Onikan, Lagos and the computer section, the conservation laboratory for which Ford Foundation donated $2 million was yet to start. A source at the museum disclosed that it could take “one year to start building, and take at least nine months to complete.”

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