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Editorial

Strangers to our heritage

/ 10:05 PM June 22, 2012

These days when I see numerous schoolchildren from out of town being herded into the National Museum and made to walk hurriedly and aimlessly through the halls with no preparation, I know we have lost them. To make matters worse, they rush through the museum only to catch a noontime TV show live and leave sometime for shopping and merienda in a mall before returning home. That is what some Lakbay Aral is all about.”

Historian and Inquirer columnist Ambeth Ocampo wrote that lament in 2007. Has anything changed in the last five years? Sadly, no. Museum-going still hardly makes it, if at all, to the average Filipino’s laundry list of weekend enjoyments. “Between malls and museums, chances are more Filipinos would choose to go shopping than scrutinizing a tattooed Benguet mummy or other artifacts showing how Igorot ancestors caught fish or panned gold along the Agno River,” wrote Maurice Malanes in a recent Inquirer feature on the 3rd Tam-awan International Arts Festival in Baguio City.

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Kenneth Esguerra, senior curator and conservation head of the Ayala Museum, revealed in a talk during the festival that “even if the [Ayala] museum is attached to a mall, we don’t get that [many] people.” And Gemma Estolas, assistant curator of the Baguio Museum, reported that “students only come here when their teachers require them to do reports about history and culture.”

This is a truly sad state of affairs. Our museums remain among the most underappreciated—not to mention underfunded—public institutions in our midst, and this can only be to the detriment of the citizenry, the young people in particular, whose sense of history, identity and nationhood might yet find some stronger meaning from a visit to these places that celebrate the culture, spirit and aspirations of the Filipino.

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Certainly, checking out the Rizal exhibits at the National Museum is a better way of learning about the life of the national hero than memorizing trivia about him for an all-too-brief stint at Eat Bulaga’s “Pinoy Henyo.”

But perhaps it’s not solely the ordinary folk’s fault if they find museum-going a bore. Have our museums also done their part in enticing more visitors with truly engaging exhibits and displays, activities that take into account the psychology and behavior of the audiences they wish to attract, and guides who enlighten rather than merely dump rote facts on their audiences? Do our museums work with teachers and educators to train them on how best to prepare their students for a day spent among strange artifacts? Is it, at the very least, a pleasant experience to head to a museum instead of the mall on weekends?

It might surprise one to know that, in Metro Manila alone, there are some 14 major museums, collectively showcasing a staggeringly rich collection of artworks, religious images and historical artifacts, and, in the case of the newly opened The Mind Museum in Taguig City, a showcase of science and technology. Among the cultural institutions worthy of a visit are the National Museum and its star attraction, the gargantuan “Spoliarium” by Juan Luna; the Ayala Museum and the Metropolitan Museum, both holders of stunning ancestral gold objects dating to precolonial times; the San Agustin Museum and its treasure trove of ecclesiastical art; the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences, the oldest existing museum in the Philippines; the Yuchengco Museum and the Lopez Memorial Museum and their comprehensive collection of Philippine art; the Museo ng Kalinangang Pilipino at the Cultural Center of the Philippines; the Vargas Museum in UP; and Bahay Tsinoy in Intramuros.

Outside Manila, the scene is even more surprising. “As of last count, there are 85 museums in Mindanao, and the number is still increasing,” wrote anthropologist and Inquirer columnist Antonio Montalvan II two years ago. “That is overwhelming, considering that it has more museums than Manila.”

The museums are there, all right—but where are the visitors? Or, as Ocampo put it, “Our National Museum is elated when it can get about 150,000 visitors a year, the same number of people that any SM mall gets on a bad day. If museums are important in teaching us about our heritage, how come people are not breaking down doors to visit them?”

Why, indeed? The Department of Education needs to look at how encouraging museum-going among students—and teachers, too—can be given a place of importance in the curriculum. More than getting foreign visitors in, Filipinos should not end up being strangers in their own cultural temples and houses of heritage.

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TAGS: Editorial, Heritage, museums
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