SLIDE OPEN the door, and take a journey inside. View the precious treasures, and feel their authentic aura. Guess what? We don’t even have to pay for it! So, you may wonder, exactly where is this place? Filled with cultural treasures, this is a place open to everyone. It is the museum. Everyone is welcomed here!
"A DESIRE to know." I dare say this has been the strongest driving force of the human society. The History can be characterized as a process through which “information” has spread. The emergence of museums in modern period clearly manifests such expansion of knowledge, especially in cultural terms. Now, Korean government aspires to enhance opportunities to access cultural properties for a even broader range of people. Will this attempt achieve its goal? We will have to deliberate on what the policy means first.
Kim Da-eun, Editor of Culture Div.
Free admission for national museums
Beginning in May, visitors can enter national museums for free. As part of the public pledge made by Pres. Lee Myung-bak, the policy to exempt the admission fees is intended to turn Korea into a great cultural nation, by simplifying public access to cultures. The policy covers 31 National Museums in Korea, including the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Museum of Korea, and the National Folk Museum of Korea. Although exemption from admission fees is still in the experimental stage, the policy is expected to bring several positive changes.
First of all, by increasing the cultural knowledge of Koreans, the policy hopes to raise the appreciation for culture. “The more visitors visit the museums, the more the cultural capital they accumulate,” comments Han Joon (Prof., Dept. of Sociology). Cultural capital, a term first coined by a French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, is the experience, knowledge or connections individuals have had throughout life. People rich in cultural capital tend to be more competent in terms of knowledge and experience compared to others from less diverse backgrounds. A nation’s cultural capital could develop as its citizens’ cultural level becomes elevated. The government is hoping to gain public’s attention to the national museums by providing easier access to them. “The fundamental purpose of national museums is to educate every single citizen by letting them feel cultural properties themselves. Just like other public facilities, museums are the privileges citizens should enjoy,” states Bae Ki-dong (Pres. of The Korean Museum Association).
Another positive change with the exemption of admission fees is that it increases citizens’ likelihood to visit the museum. The current admission fee for the National Museum of Korea costs ￦2,000. Some people might consider this cheap and view the policy as a minor change financially. Yet, it enables a museum to become part of our everyday life, just as other public facilities like a park or village office. For instance, when there is an admission fee, people do not often visit the museum, or feel pressured to view it in a single day. After the change, however, people can have composed attitude and have more time to look over the cultural assets. “Depending on the mood, or the situation the viewers are in, the cultural properties may look different to them. That means, viewing only once is just not enough. People should view several times in order to understand the cultural assets not as fragments, yet as a whole. Even if the object does not change, they are always changing to find out the diverse sides of object,” comments Jung Joon-mo (Director of The Goyang Cultural Foundation, Aram & Harmony Art Museum).
The most important positive impact is that underprivileged people are given a fair opportunity to enjoy cultural activities. Since the precious national treasures belong to everyone of the nation, every citizen has the right to enjoy and view the cultural assets owned by the nation. “The government should guarantee that the citizens make full use of such valuable privilege,” states Bae.
Expected negative changes
Albeit the policy for free entrance may attract many citizens, enforcement of the policy contains problems to overcome. Though the free admission fee policy seems attractive, the chances are that people might not recognize the genuine value of cultural properties due to the easy accessibility. “When something is free, people tend to take it for granted,” comments Jung. To give an example, people do not appreciate the value of freebies handed out in front of schools. In the present society, the recognition of cultural assets is not high. The current flow of the culture is following cultural populism, which values experiences of ordinary people more than experts’ evaluations. This trend includes a phenomenon in which people perceive culture as something to be enjoyed without having to pay any justifiable price. As the society has become materialized, people tend to judge everything based on economic standards rather than on mental values. Thus, before the free admission fee policy comes into action, the reputation of cultural assets should primarily be upgraded. Otherwise, the policy could cause a problem which would make its current status even worse.
Moreover, when a museum is filled with people who are simply blinded by no cost, chaos within the audience can occur. The museum has limited space and capacity to handle; yet, when the policy becomes actualized, there will be a lot of visitors compared to the past and possibly engender a chaotic atmosphere. Both the museum and the visitors themselves can suffer due to flooding visitors. Museums will want to maintain order inside the exhibition halls, and the audience would not be able to fully enjoy their time in the museum. For some visitors who want to view and enjoy cultural assets in a quiet and serene atmosphere, their right to freely look around and enjoy the museum could be violated.
The purpose of the policy to enhance the interest of the public towards museum is considered highly. However, like the two faces of a coin, this policy is ambivalent. This kind of problem can be solved through the following solutions.
First, the public needs the proper education to overcome the negative effects of cultural populism, such as people’s apathetic attitude toward cultural assets. It is important that culture becomes popular to people. Without proper education, the public would not recognize the value of cultural assets. In Korean society, education in arts and culture now has been stuck in the concept of delivering knowledge. However, education for culture and art should not merely be acquiring historical and theoretical knowledge. It needs to consider diverse aspects such as emotion, perception, etc. When viewing an exhibited cultural property, the visitor should be able to recognize and feel its significance. “The education system should teach people about how to appreciate the culture, not merely know it,” Jung emphasizes. Only cultural education which goes beyond a mere statement of facts can help people fully appreciate the values of cultural assets.
Another suggestion is to firmly establish an infrastructure for the services and manag
ement in order to ensure the success of the free admission policy. Primarily, effective security system should be set up in order to prepare for an increased number of viewers. The national museums should concentrate on safely preserving the cultural properties because they are indiscriminately exposed to a number of viewers. As the museum becomes exposed to the public, the possibility of cultural assets getting damaged or stolen becomes higher. For example, Louvre Museum of France has a security service that checks each visitor’s belongings. Korea could also adopt a similar system in order to protect national treasures. Also, increasing the number of safety guards to maintain order within the visitors and educational programs to inform them of viewing etiquettes in the museum can be helpful in establishing a desirable viewing culture.
Taking a step forward
According to a short survey conducted by The Yonsei Annals, 60 Yonseians out of 64 replied that they rarely visit museums. Though small in scale, such survey result implies the university students’ relationship with museums. Costing \2,000, the price of this admission fee is relatively low compared to the costs of other leisure. Then, if the price is low, why aren’t people visiting museums as often as they should? The fundamental reason for a low number of university students in the museums lies in the lack of quality and programs the museums offer. Currently, the quality of the national museums does not completely satiate their expectations and needs. The result of the survey shows that 24 out of these 60 Yonseians who do not go to museums often responded they prefer other cultural facilities over museums. Thus, the museums should search for an innovative way to enhance the quality of the programs. Though the exemption policy is meaningful to promote culture, the quality of museums should be improved for its true success.
In addition, 15 out of 60 replied that they think the museum would be prosaic, with nothing fun to do. Indeed, museums need to transform their image from a “dull and boring” place to an “entertaining and attractive” place. In order to be recognized as a pleasurable center, the museums should hold cultural events such as concerts, plays, and signify itself as a cultural center open to all citizens. Giving the public a chance to enjoy the museum as a cultural place will draw more and more people. Moreover, the innovative project should not be limited to only the hosting of cultural events. What is more important is advertising the magnificent exhibitions and events. Without advertisements, the public would not be aware of the events being hold, however magnificent it may be. It is important to invite the public to enjoy the cultural atmosphere around them. For instance, a recent exhibition of Amedeo Modigliani & Jeanne Hebuterne held at Aram & Harmony Art Museum had great success, accumulating 66,000 spectators. They held various events such as Goyang citizens’ day, Couple day, a discount for the people who volunteered in Taean and so on. Also a large advertisement on the side of the bus raised people’s awareness about this exhibition. ”Having a Public Relation(PR) mind is important,” states Jung.
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The exemption of entrance fee is a public welfare service offered to every citizen who deserves the enjoyment of cultural activities. However, without the basic foundation or infrastructure to support this policy, Korea cannot step nearer to a great cultural nation. This could be compared to a woman putting on make-up; it needs to follow the right procedures. Just as she needs to put on basic make up before putting on mascara, the society needs to establish a positive reputation of museums to move on to the next level. In viewing museums, the public should not take on a biased viewpoint; however, they should be open to a variety of experiences. Simply viewing the object itself is not the sole purpose. Only when people visit and view the actual object could people grasp the aura and feeling it contains. Nowadays, many people merely search the Internet to look at cultural properties or paintings; yet, it is crucial that they recognize the fascination of the actual encounter of those cultural properties. Moreover, one should be aware of the fact that improving an individual’s cultural level contributes to the cultural capital of a nation. Enjoy the valuable cultural assets that you are offered, and also contribute in strengthening your nation culturally. In fact, you may recall this quote: Little drops of water make the mighty ocean. Why don’t you take advantage of your privileges and help the government to set up a policy that will contribute in developing a cultural nation? The museum is waiting for you!
There are about 400 museums in Korea, including both public and private. The private museums, owned by private foundations or individuals, comprise more than half of the 400. Being relatively few, the private museums owned by substantial foundations could survive independently; however, the private museums run by individuals have been struggling financially. The current government is supporting them by employing a curator or subsidizing special exhibitions. Yet, this is not enough to solve the problem that private museums are facing.
The Korean Private Museums Association(KPMA) asserts that when the free admission policy comes into practice, it would decrease the number of visitors to private museums, where the admission fees are higher. The income of private museums is largely dependent on the admission fees. “We believe that the policy may affect the survival of the private museum,” asserts Jeon Bo-sam (Pres. of KPMA).
Private museums have been showing much anxiety about the exemption of entrance fees. Though the number of the national museums is small, they have been threatening private museums in terms of size and scale. Not only is financial assistance for private museums needed, but also the change in recognition is critical. One needs to keep in mind that the private museum has its own unique color, whereas in the national museums, the displayed objects are more diverse. It is important that all cultural properties, in public and private museums alike, be valued. The government needs to think about the measures that can cover the private museum as well.
The foreign museum system
These countries set up a system to support the free entrance policy, looking over these systems we can think about a better future for our national museums.
The free entrance system of the museums in England is limited to the permanent exhibition. The public has to pay for the special exhibition. After putting this policy in practice in 2001, the number of the people visiting museum has increased to 75%. To support this policy, the government prepared a system called “Renaissance in the Region.” This is a system to form a network between the museums. There are nine hubs in nine regions to form a new museum unification system. Center city consists of one major museum and three other partner museums. They form a region network with other museums in the region and support museums to develop.
2) United States of America
The entrance fee system of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is based on a volunteering donation system. This system does not have a fixed price for the admission fee. It depends on the generosity of its visitors to pay for the valuable works. In addition, the museums under the Smithsonian institution have no entrance fee.
While writing this article, some questions came up to our minds: “Why should we have to go to boring museums, anyway?” To this question, we found out that many other Yonseians were thinking just the same. Through research and interviews, however, we came to realize actually how juvenile and biased that thought was! A museum is not a boring or dull place as we think. It keeps a lot of hidden treasures we can find. Don’t be blinded by your own indifference. Trust us! Open your mind and think of the visit as an opportunity to become a “special” you. So, how about this weekend? :)
XOXO J.M.S & C.J.H