A museum boom?

Here's an interesting article from The Economist. It suggests that while China is investing massively in museums, these institutions cannot keep up with the destruction of historical artefacts and sites catalysed by rapid economic development. Ironically there are insufficient museum professionals to staff these new museums and the cost of running them has inflated entry costs and priced ordinary people out. So, what exactly are they for? The journalist suggests that they do not represent a new found appreciation of China's history and culture. Instead, it appears, building a brand new, state of the art museum is a status symbol. A way for local government to visually indicate that their town or city is on the up, is modern and forward-thinking. Does this suggest that museums, in China, are perceived to be symbolic agents of a capitalist economy? But are ultimately white elephants?

Before anyone accuses me of unfairly dissing China (!), let me offer another example. Don't we do the same? Think about all the financially struggling new museums and galleries created in Britain in the last decade or so. Were they ever destined to be viable entities, or merely perceived by officials as symbolic of, or even bringers of economic and social regeneration?

All of which, perhaps, creates a new facet to the debate 'what is a museum.'


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