Fri, Sep 09, 2005 - Page 14 News List

National Museum of History enjoys

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

The National Museum of History is still looking good after all these years, but it does have its problems.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NATIONAL MUSEUM OF HISTORY

Established half a century ago, the National Museum of History may well have been the nation's very first public museum, but over the years its status has waned.

Yet while the museum is trying to put on a brave face and celebrate its 50th anniversary with contests, special exhibitions and other events, celebrations have been overshadowed, in part, by more pressing issues.

The museum was originally called the Museum of Cultural Artifacts and Fine Arts, and ironically the long-winded moniker was rather misleading. During the museum's first year none of the "artifacts" on exhibit were genuine.

Instead the museum was forced to display replicas and models of the genuine articles. The museum and its fake contents were jokingly referred to by many as `The Vacuumed Museum.'

Renamed The National Museum of History by order of then president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) in 1957, the museum has since amassed a collection of 55,496 genuine artifacts that includes calligraphy and textiles. But, it remains a partial vacuum even today.

The annual budget continues to be slashed on a yearly basis and since the former head of the museum Huang Kuang-nan (黃光男) was appointed president of the National Taiwan University of Arts two years ago, the institute has been without a full-time director. Criticism has also been levelled at the museum for what some perceive as its focus on China.

"Like every public institute our budget gets cut every year, which means that we can do less and less," said museum public affairs officer, Joy Hsin (辛治寧). "We haven't had a full-time director for two years and organizing permanent Taiwan related exhibitions and other exhibits has been hindered because of both of these issues."

Critics may be silenced later this year when the museum opens its first permanent Taiwan-related exhibit titled Oceanic Taiwan, but speculation persists on whether a a full-time director will be appointed.

As if all this wasn't bad enough a long-running battle with the Ministry of Agriculture -- the owner of the land on which the museum stands -- over the use of the now abandoned National Science Museum looks set to continue regardless of the fact that a survey carried out by the Executive Yuan stated that the building should be turned over to the National Museum of History.

"There's a lot we'd like to do, but can't, simply because of a lack of space. The building has been empty for two years and we've been trying to use it for the last 10 years," said Hsin. "Even though the Executive Yuan has said we should be able to use it, the Ministry of Agriculture has yet to give us permission to move in."

To boost its decreasing budget, that this year stood at NT$180 million, 50 percent of which goes towards administrative costs alone, the museum has taken to securing outside sponsorship deals from multi-nationals such as China Airlines and private donors.

Although such deals have enabled the museum to undertake more research projects and host several large-scale exhibitions, very little is still available for promotional purposes, be it from the museum's annual budget or sponsorship deals. Because of this the average annual attendance figure stands at a mere 300,000, of which only 2 percent are foreign nationals.

"We'd like to be able to promote the museum and advertise, but the budget just doesn't allow for it," said Hsin.

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