Museum Week shines spotlight on state of Turkey's museums

Turkey has 175 private and 189 state museums under the management of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, according to the most recent figures obtained from the ministry’s website.

Museum Week shines spotlight on state of Turkey's museums

Turkey is once again celebrating its annual Museum Week, but museum experts, directors and state officials are still critical of the conditions of the country’s museums, underlining the necessity of increased efforts to change the current state they are in.

Museum Week, which is observed from May 18 to 24 in Turkey, kicks off annually on International Museum Day, with numerous museums across the country offering admission-free entrance until late hours as well as special activities.

Turkey has 175 private and 189 state museums under the management of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, according to the most recent figures obtained from the ministry’s website.

Considering the richness of Turkey’s cultural heritage and the number of museums in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, where there is an estimated 2,500 museums according to the Museum Association’s website, many people agree that Turkey still falls behind the standards of many developed countries in terms of opening and managing museums and featuring new exhibitions.

Suay Aksoy, president of the International Council of Museums’ (ICOM) International Committee for the Collections and Activities of Museums of Cities (CAMOC) and the vice president of the History Foundation of Turkey, said that it is not possible to say that Turkey is doing enough for its museums. In an email interview with Sunday’s Zaman, Aksoy said: “As work on excavations in Turkey continues, we can say that more museums and historical sites can be designed and opened. The authority on this issue is the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.” The financial means to manage museums and the number of museum officials are not sufficient, she added.

“However, there have also been developments on the issue. For example, [there is the opening of] the Gaziantep Zeugma Museum [featuring mosaics unearthed from the ancient city of Zeugma and exhibiting the world’s second-largest collection of its kind, following the Bardo Museum in Tunis]. … However, if you look at the İstanbul Archeology Museums, you’ll see that an increasing amount of archeological finds are still being kept and displayed in a building established in the time of Osman Hamdi Bey, the founder of the museum,” Aksoy added.

İstanbul Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Ahmet Emre Bilgili and Haluk Dursun, president of the Topkapı Palace Museum and former president of the Hagia Sophia Museum, also criticized the insufficient amount of work being done to improve the conditions of museums, though they said there has been a considerable amount of improvement in the issue compared to 10 years ago.

Many museums in Turkey are also facing other serious problems, including extended restoration work, an insufficient number of visitors and financial problems that prevent them from featuring new shows, but the problems of museums generally differ depending on whether they are state museums or privately owned.

Aksoy called the lack of a long-term, comprehensive cultural policy on museums the most significant problem faced by all museums.

“Among the biggest problems at state museums is the financial dissatisfaction of museum officials. … State museums are also housed in historical buildings and the extended restoration work on them leads to financial problems for the museums’ administrative bodies. I think that the most serious problem for private museums is the question of how to attract visitors,” Bilgili commented.

Part of our own identity

In an attempt to attract more visitors to museums, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism introduced the Müzekart (museum card) -- cards that allow free admittance to more that 300 state-run museums and archeological sites and discounts for some private museums for a year -- in 2008. Before the Müzekart, the high admission fee for museums, such as that of Hagia Sophia, which is currently TL 25, were among the reasons cited by Turkish people to why they do not visit museums.

Statistics compiled by the ministry last year show that a total of 28,781,300 people visited museums in Turkey, whose population is 79,279,461, according to the website of the General Directorate of Population and Citizenship Affairs. The number of museum visitors was 28,462,800 the year before and even less in previous years.

“The ministry has solved the financial aspect of the problem of the low number of visitors thanks to the Müzekart to a great extent … but the ministry has also placed limitations on the number of visits that the cards provide. … In order to attract more people to museums, it must be emphasized that visiting museums is a cultural need and [we should] help people to agree on this,” Bilgili said.

Aksoy also highlighted the importance of education and historical studies to solve the problem. “The public should be informed of the fact that the items displayed in museums are part of our own identity and history. … They are [also] parts of human history and [that of the region],” said Aksoy.

Featuring more temporary exhibitions and museum events such as conferences, movie screenings and seminars and participating in biennials and festivals are among other ways museums in Turkey can attract more visitors, which private museums are particularly more active in doing, Aksoy said.

State and private museums differ from each other in other aspects as well. While most state museums present items dating back to Ottoman times and archeological finds, private museums generally exhibit works of fine art. Even the newest shows at state museums generally feature historical works, such as Topkapı Palace Museum’s latest show, “Before and After Piri Reis: Maps in Topkapı Palace,” showcasing a variety of maps and books on geography from the Ottoman period. Some are also critical of this issue.

Aksoy explained that this subject is related to the fact that state institutions are the “owners” of archeological finds, historical artifacts -- up until the end of the 19th century -- and other exceptional items (from later periods) that are under the protection of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism as well as the buildings that witnessed the War of Independence and the founding of the Republic of Turkey, according to Law No. 2863 on the Protection of Cultural and Natural Property.

Aksoy noted that this law should be revised as people still remember the selling of a part of the collection held by the recently closed Santralİstanbul Museum of Contemporary Arts. Dursun also said that the state is expected to carry out its duty of supporting museums and managing them in a more balanced way.

Amsterdam has the Rijksmuseum, New York has the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Paris has the Louvre and Spain has the Museo del Prado, all of which are listed among the best museums of the world, but no Turkish museum appears on such lists.

Commenting on the issue, Aksoy said that we should first answer the questions of how many temporary exhibitions Turkey’s museums feature in a year, how state museums use their own collections and how many visitors they attract with new shows.


Last Mod: 19 Mayıs 2013, 10:51
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