Thu, Sep 12, 2019 - Page 13 News List

History museum to get facelift

The National Museum of History is undergoing a three-year renovation that will see its facilities and purpose modernized

By Kayleigh Madjar  /  Staff reporter

An artist rendering shows the renovated National Museum of History, expected to be completed at the end of 2021.

Photo courtesy of the National Museum of History

In its 63 years, never before has the National Museum of History undergone such a large project. Staff anxiously crowded around a truck in July last year as the museum’s director sealed its doors in the first of 25 trips to move 63,000 artifacts, the entirety of the museum’s collection.

For three years, most of the pieces will sit in storehouses across the country, safe from vibration and dust as the museum undergoes badly needed renovations and excavators carve an MRT tunnel next door. It is a long time for a museum to be closed, but could be a boon for this institution that is eager to redefine itself.

“In the past, it was very much the cultural representation of the Republic of China, but after 63 years, everything is getting old, things change, people’s cultural tastes changed,” director Liao Hsin-tien (廖新田) told the Taipei Times.

Some visitors might come away from the museum a little confused about its vision. Its past charge as Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) bastion of Chinese culture has bequeathed treasured cultural artifacts, yet also a confusion of identity.

The museum was established after World War II as part of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) “Nanhai cultural area” (南海學園), which aimed to Sinicize Taiwanese culture. Although Taiwan’s national identity has evolved, the museum is still tasked with pinning down the history its name promises, yet with largely the same collection.

The result has been disjointed, with Chinese artifacts presented separately from contemporary art exhibitions, a kind of portmanteau of the National Palace Museum and National Museum of Taiwan History in Tainan. Without having fully broken from this “Chinese Cultural Renaissance” (中華文化復興運動) past, it is slipping away from newer generations.

“We’ve found out that we can’t attract young people to our museum because of our collection, because of the way in which we express ourselves,” Liao said. “We want to connect with the young generation ... to express the message that in the future, when we open, this museum is for everyone.”

MOBILE MUSEUM

Across the country, a truck is parked near Yanfeng Elementary School in Nantou County, a cartoon face based on an ancient bronze stands smiling from the sides. Children clamber inside to solve puzzles and view 3D models of the piece that inspired the cartoon and other treasures from the museum’s collection.

The bright colors and energetic games are a departure from the image most people have of the institution, although this mobile museum and its partner have been traveling the country for 18 years, reaching 1.15 million children.

Previously a lesser known part of its programming, these trucks now represent the kind of interaction the museum hopes to foster.

“We are not a spider anymore. We are a bee,” Liao said. “We fly out and take pollen back and create honey, but a spider just waits there.”

Without its web, the museum has had to get more creative about how to spin connections.

Among other projects, it has created a mascot based on the cartoon bronze that the staff calls “Mr Cool,” and has been pushing image licensing and cultural industry collaboration in the hopes of freshening its image.

The staff is also venturing out to communicate with educators and other groups to see what they need and would actually use in order to create programming that would better serve the public.

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