How to draw more visitors to museums?

Why, by spreading rumours of course. This, at least, was what the Indonesian experience was when museum directors found out that the reason for the jump in visitors to a hominids exhibition was because bus drivers were spreading a rumour on an exhibit of a snake’s head on a man’s body. The anecdote seems to highlight a cultural reason behind why Indonesians (and arguably, Malaysians) don’t visit their museums despite the richness of artefacts artefacts contained within. I must say that Singapore’s management plan for promoting museums is in contrast quite good – while many overseas friends and colleagues have pointed out to me that Singapore has a comparable lack of depth and content, the marketing and public engagement machinery has been quite successful in inserting the museum into part of the local recreational lifestyle rather than the common school excursion niche.

Houses of history need updating
Jakarta Post, 24 July 2009

Indonesians visit museums just twice in their lives — once as schoolchildren and then again as grandparents. That is according to a survey of Indonesian museum attendance rates, says West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) museum director Joko Prayitno.

“We don’t see museums as places to learn, to research or of interest. The majority of museum visitors are school students. Museum directors across the country are looking at ways to change this,” says Joko of the cultural and historical storehouses that represent almost every ethnic and cultural group in Indonesian provinces from Aceh to Papua.

Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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