Hands off – this is Culture
They’re the places many enter with reluctance, more as duty than delight.
Somewhere to park the kids if it’s hot or wet outside – though there’s no guarantee of air conditioning or a leak-proof roof.
The entrance fee is unlikely to burn the wallet, but the gloom might frighten. So will the laser-eyed staff who know, with the certainty of religious zealots, that the visitors will misbehave, touch something and deserve a public reprimand.
“Museums used to be best known for being silent, dirty and cheap,” said University of Indonesia academic Kresno Yulianto. (right)
“Things are changing, but there’s still a long way to go before we can compete against other public attractions.
“Malls and sporting events entertain. The best museums entertain and educate. One of the challenges is to raise the skill levels of front-line staff; managers must ensure guides are not only enthusiastic, but also knowledgeable.
“The strategy of the National Museum in Central Jakarta is changing and will be open for events. I believe that every museum should employ a public relations person.”
Yulianto teaches multiple skills in what used to be called museum studies but is now known as museology, still a rare discipline in Indonesia. He’s been labelled a ‘museum expert’ but has the background to justify the term.
“I first became interested in historical and cultural objects when I was a child,” he said on the sidelines of the annual National Museum Conference where he was a moderator. The three-day event, which attracted 275 delegates, was held in Malang, East Java last month (May 26-28).
“My Grandmother who lived in Malang was a great collector of old objects, particularly tables. I wanted to know their history, who made them, who’d sat there, what events had occurred. Was there a story?
“However I went on to become an archaeologist. I worked on digs at sites like Borobudur and Trowulan [the heart of the 15th century Majapahit Kingdom in East Java]. I also took up philately.
“About ten years ago I moved into museology. I’ve been to all the past conferences and there’s definitely a change in thinking.
“This year the theme is A Museum of our Own. By this we mean promoting our history and identity. Some speakers have cautioned against borrowing ideas from abroad as not all may travel well. However we need to be aware of trends and get ahead.
“We have so much of interest in this country, so many eras. They go back to Solo Man [Homo erectus soloensis – a skull found in Central Java estimated to be at least 143,000 years old] through to the present with influences from India, Arabs and Europeans. What other countries have that range?”
His favorite museum overseas is the Peranakan in Singapore that celebrates the history of Chinese emigrants to Southeast Asia who developed their own culture and cuisine.
Yulianto’s top locals are the Agung Rai Museum of Art [ARMA] in Ubud, Bali and the Ullen Sentalu in Yogyakarta. The latter displays Javanese culture and art, including artefacts from the royal courts. It’s run by a former student, Daniel Haryono.
Ullen Sentalu is a private museum which charges Rp 30,000 [US$2.30] entry for locals and Rp 50,000 [US$3.8] for foreigners. At the Borobudur World Heritage Site the ticket price difference is even wider – Rp 30,000 for Indonesians and Rp 264,000 [US$20] for non citizens.
In Singapore museum prices are the same for everyone. Discounts given to local pensioners are also available to seniors from overseas.
Yulianto said the issue of discriminatory charges would be on the conference agenda. Higher fees for outsiders could be justified if they got a special service, but otherwise it could put off international visitors. Funding was always an issue and the government had to do more.
Several displays at the conference promoted regional museums and offered brochures. Few had versions in English; those that did had flawed translations: Hatta and Ahmad Soebardjo gave their througt [sic] orally. It can be seen from the scratch.
The idea that not all overseas tourists are Philistines heading to Kuta pubs and Bromo sunsets seems to have by-passed authorities who pitch historical and cultural wares only to a local market.
“The English used in our publications has to be of international standard, as it is in Singapore,” said Yulianto. “Museums are now opening shops and cafes where people can relax and have a pleasant outing.
“We are starting to rotate and exchange exhibitions, though I don’t know if this is happening with overseas museums.
“There’s a huge gap between government and private museums, in their funding and presentations. There are about 400 in Indonesia but not one is listed in the top 25 museums in Asia. [The list was compiled by users of the international travel website Tripadvisor.]
“However initiatives by the Jakarta Museum Perumusan Naskah Proklamsi [Proclamation Text Museum] are excellent because they are trying to reach young people.”
The Government-run museum has produced an animated DVD Bukti Kemerdekaan Indonesia [Indonesian Independence Facts], and high quality give-away comic book versions of the stories of lesser-known revolutionaries involved in the Proclamation.
The director Huriyati said more books would be produced this year to broaden knowledge of the event that launched the nation. One would feature Sukarni Kartodiwirjo, a member of the youth group that kidnapped Soekarno to ensure he didn’t get cold feet before claiming Independence.
Sukarni was imprisoned by the Dutch and later became Ambassador to China. He died in 1971. He was recognized as a National Hero only last year.
“Our museums are handicapped by a lack of human resources,” said Yulianto. “It’s going to take time to change attitudes. Only my university and Gadjah Mada in Yogya are teaching units in museology at a senior level.
“We want visitors to touch exhibits, play games, get a feel and smell of the past and not just look at stationary objects in glass cases. Now it’s hands on, not hands off.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 8 June 2015)