By Tajudeen Sowole (Guardian NG)
As much as museums are basically about preservation of the past for the good of today and the future, the dynamics of a world on a fast lane would not allow its management to continue to remain antiquated. Perhaps, the need to keep pace with the changing world of communication informed the International Council of Museums’ (ICOM) celebration of ‘International Museum Day 2018’, which was observed world wide last Friday, May 18, 2018.
With the theme ‘Hyperconnected Museums: New Approaches, New Publics,’ this year’s focus, according to ICOM, was inspired by “Hyperconnectivity,’ a term that surfaced “in 2001 to design the multiple means of communication” in the 21st century. Highlighted then were media such as “face-to-face contact, email, instant messaging, telephone or the Internet.” For a country such as Nigeria where museum-going culture has declined in the last two to three decades, perhaps the 2018 theme of International Museum Day comes as a wake up call to reviewing the relevant government agency’s approach towards better relationship with the public.
Managed by National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Nigeria’s 50 state-owned museum facilities have nearly the same number of functioning galleries spread across the country’s six geo-political zones. Funding for the museums come solely from the Federal Government, a recurring spending that is part of the country’s huge non-revenue yearly civil service burden on the nation’s increasing infrastructure deficit.
As national cultural institutions, museums may not necessarily be a profit-making entity. But they should be self-sustaining in terms of funding as it happens in other climes. In Europe, the U.S. or other developed countries, for example, of museums that do not rely on government funding might be unfair models in analysing Nigeria’s challenge of managing cultural institutions of public interest. Right here in Africa is an ideal example in Egypt. The north African country’s Ministry of Antiquities’ affiliated museums last year were reported to have made a total revenue of $45 million with 974,400 visitors for 2016.
The report added that the museums achieved the highest revenues in December, recording EGP6.8 million with 117,000 visitors, while the lowest revenue reached was $1.7m in June with 21,800 visitors.
Nigeria’s apex, National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, would come as a measure to evaluate others in the country. The museum at Onikan, according to News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), recorded 17,656 visitors in the first quarter of 2018. Two weeks ago, the agency quoted Education Department Head, Emmanuel Omotosho, saying patronage was 403 visitors higher than the 17,253 recorded in the first quarter of 2017.
What categories of visitors did the museum record? 15,142 students, 2,310 Nigerian adults and 204 foreigners visited the Lagos museum during the period under review. However, records of visits in the last three years suggest both an increase and a decline. Omotosho recalled how the museum had 42,724 in 2015, 46,359 for 2016, and 41,826 in 2017.
ICOM, in its 2018 message, noted how new communication methods could improve visits: “Thanks to technology, museums can now reach way beyond their core audience and find new publics when approaching their collections in a different way: it can be the digitalisation of their collections, adding multimedia elements to the exhibition or something as simple as a #hashtag that allows visitors to share their experience in social media.”
As regards improving the state of the museum at Onikan to attract more visitors, governments – past and current – appear not to have done enough. While a Federal Government of Nigeria and Ford Foundation project aimed at remodeling the museum with $2 million was suspended by the foreign donor due to the inability of government to provide N500 million counterpart funding in 2010, nothing seems to have changed with the new regime.
Over two years ago, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and Lagos State Government announced a joint effort to remodel the museum. In the proposed plan, Governor Akinwinmi Ambode of Lagos State promised that his government would build a new complex to house some of the museum’s vast collections. In fact, the design of the proposed new complex was released. But it seems nothing has happened till date, as there is no sign of any new facility being erected within the Onikan Museum complex.
Like the FG-Ford Foundation botched project, which included a conservatory laboratory, the Lagos State intervention may just have hit the brick wall again as another unfulfilled promise.
ICOM established International Museum Day in 1977 to increase public awareness of the role of museums in the development of society, and it has been steadily gaining momentum ever since. Last year ICOM said the International Museum Day had “record-breaking participation with more than 36,000 museums hosting events in some 156 countries.”