Last week, the National Palace Museum opened two new exhibition spaces that are a marked departure from convention. One is the Museum of Tomorrow (未來博物館) located in the Departure Lounge at Terminal Two of the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, and the other is the Children’s Gallery (兒童學藝中心) located on the B1 level of the museum’s main building opposite the gift shop. Both are products of the strenuous efforts by director Lin Man-li (林曼麗) to bring the museum’s massive collection to a broader audience.
For decades, the National Palace Museum has been content with possessing one of the biggest and most valuable collections of Chinese art in the world. With such treasures to display, there seemed little need to do much more to ensure a steady stream of visitors. What was neglected was the local audience. At the opening of the Children’s Gallery last Thursday, educationalist Su Chen-ming (蘇振明) said that though 85 percent of all Taiwanese primary and secondary school students have visited the National Palace Museum, most, in his experience, remembered virtually nothing of what they had seen. Speaking of the challenges faced as one of a number of consultants brought in to advise the museum on creating an educational yet joyful environment in which children could become acquainted with its collection, he said it was important to find a new language of explanation and experience for children.
Aimed at children aged between 7 and 12, the Children’s Gallery has been nearly two years in the making. Lin said the idea of building bridges to make the National Palace Museum accessible to children had been one of her priorities ever since taking up her position as director. While little is startling innovative, there is certainly plenty of appeal, and school children who had been invited to the opening seemed to be having genuine fun working out some aspects of bridge construction using hard cushions and wooden rods, doing simple movable-type printing of well-known poems and looking at displays that draw connections between the activities depicted in famous paintings and daily activities of life today.
According to project manager Liu Chia-lun (劉家倫), a key point in the design of the gallery was to present aspects of the National Palace Museum’s permanent collection so that children could experience the same highlights that their parents did, though through a slightly different medium, and importantly for the “little friends” (小朋友), in display cases positioned for those around one meter in height. “In the museum the display cases are positioned for adults and the notes are intended for adults, and this is not readily accessible for kids. Here we have a more playful atmosphere but we can also show off some of the great works stored in the [museum]” Liu said. “Through technologies such as multimedia and animation, we can speak more directly to young children. This can also supplement those aspects of the display that cannot be adequately conveyed through conventional means,” she said
Another crucial aspect of the gallery is its team of more than 40 volunteers, some of them retired teachers, others members of the museum’s cadre of multilingual guides with an interest in working with children. Despite all the video screens and other high-tech gadgetry, a cursory look at the museum in action suggested their efforts more than anything else will determine the success or failure of this venture.