Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Day Of The Museum

Today is International Museum Day. It was established in 1977 by the International Council of Museums, and its president says that "museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, co-operation and peace among peoples", which as a statement of principle sounds rather like the one which used to be offered to explain the virtues of tourism. It's a principle which does still apply, though you would be forgiven for thinking that it no longer does. As resorts, if we are to believe the most doom-laden predictions, will some time in the near future become their own museum pieces, there will be even less cultural exchange and enrichment by those enjoying no more than the hotel branded culture of an all-inclusive. Though even resorts, abandoned by the masses and turned into museum pieces, would still have life. As the vice-president of the Council of Mallorca said in launching Mallorca's contribution to International Museum Day, "museums are living institutions". 

There are a lot of museums in Mallorca, some of them good or excellent, others less good. The good and excellent adhere to the concept of being a living institution, while others betray the occasional failing of museums, which is to attempt to drain all life from themselves. But this is the lot of museums the world over. Some are vibrant, others are moribund. In Mallorca, there is the odd example of museum which shows little sign of life (one thinks, unfortunately, of Inca's rather less than successful footwear museum), but let's not dwell on the negatives when there is much that is positive.

In fact, Inca's museum has been given some life since the appointment of a new director last September, and it is one of a number of museums which is engaged in the exchange of pieces as part of today's celebrations. Others include the Pollensa Museum and the fine Manacor History Museum. The big museum guns are also participating in International Museum Day, such as the Pilar and Joan Miró Foundation, Can Prunera in Sóller and the Es Baluard Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. And another, the History Museum at Bellver Castle, has truly embraced the modern era by making available a mobile app through which can be heard explanations of items in the museum.

Technology has been a boon to museums. It has breathed new life into many by providing interactivity, through which it can be confirmed that they are indeed living. It has also been a necessity. Wandering around some vast hall with no one breaking into more than a whisper, staring at bits of old rock, is, let's be honest, a bit passé. But it doesn't have to all be technological bells and whistles. The old and the new can combine, so long as what's on display is good, and Es Baluard is pretty damn good. It has, on the one hand, the extraordinary "Sound Resonances" of Hayden Chisholm and, on the other, artistic links to the not so distant past courtesy of artists involved with the early twentieth century Mallorcan movement, such as Santiago Rusiñol and Tito Cittadini. There are also a couple of painted works by Aligi Sassu, who was normally associated with sculptures (he did the weird "horse" on the roundabout in Alcúdia). One is "The Church of Alcúdia".

The good news is that most of Mallorca's museums aren't austere, dull places. They also make a valuable contribution to tourism. To give an indication of numbers, it was estimated that there were 735,000 museum visitors in 2009, which represented a rise of almost 5% over the previous year. This figure will almost certainly have risen more since then. Es Baluard, for example, experienced an increase of over 5% last year. And the museums can benefit in more ways than just through the numbers coming through the door. The Miró Foundation, for instance, raises around 100,000 euros a year through sales of merchandising and other products at its shop.

But these are the big museums. The numbers are, naturally enough, very much lower for smaller ones. The Yannick and Ben Jakober Foundation in Alcúdia registered 5,394 visitors in 2009, but then it isn't in the centre of Palma and it isn't an operation which is only interested in making money.

The commercial aspect isn't, though, the focus of International Museum Day. It is a celebration of museums' contribution to the island's culture. There are thirty taking part. The weather's good, but then so are the museums.

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