Vietnam plans for a half-a-billion-dollar museum: Is it worth the cost?

Thursday, 2017-09-21 12:58:23
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3D design of the national history museum (Photo: VNA)
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NDO – When life becomes stressful, I often visit museums to seek a moment of tranquillity in life. The Vietnam National Museum of History is one of these places. In each country, treasures that represent the typical cultural values and techniques, or that mark a turning point in the national development process, are considered as the demonstrating the country’s culture.

The Vietnam National Museum of History houses the largest number of characteristic national treasures in the country, including Ngoc Lu and Hoang Ha bronze drums – the most symbolic traces of the Dong Son civilisation, a blue and white ceramic vase decorated with an elegant swan motif – a typical product of the world-recognised Chu Dau pottery village, and golden seals dating back to the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945).

In such quiet place, I can get a sense of the glory of the past, as well as the messages passed down from the aged-old artefacts. However, I am saddened at the same time as I realise the fact that these treasured objects have yet to receive much interest from the public. Despite being located in a favourable location and housing many artworks and artefacts featuring long-standing tradition of Vietnam, the museum receives only a hundred visitors every day.

Approximately 130 museums have been established across the country. Almost all of the sectors and localities have their own museum, which brings gives the sense that Vietnam may have too many museums. However, only a few of them – less than ten - are able to welcome several hundred visitors every year.

The entry ticket prices to museums have yet to be mentioned. There is no where in the world that the ticket price to museums is cheaper than in Vietnam. The entrance fee is equivalent to just one bowl of ‘pho’ (Vietnamese noodle) or even a pack of sticky rice for breakfast. Entrance for the Hanoi Museum is free. However, the museums have seen a very low number of visitors.

Therefore, it is not strange that a project on spending VND 11 trillion (US$ 484 million) for the Vietnam National History Museum has received such disapproval from the public. According to the recent announcement of the Ministry of Construction, the project will be implemented in 2021 at the earliest. The information received disputed opinions as cultural researchers want to step up the project, while the decision was approved by the public.

They argued that it is not recommended to invest that much money in a museum as society is in need of more practical projects. They have also voiced their concerns over the spending to maintain the operation and pay for workers of such an extravagant museum.

However, we should take a different approach on the issue by looking at the world around us. There has been a mind-set that if one wants to explore the culture and civilisation of a country, just go to visit the museums and libraries there.

It is not by chance that the Louvre Museum is the pride of France. The museum welcomes around eight million visitors annually, with the figure at 7.4 million in 2016. The visitors have to wait in a long queue for hours before gaining access to the museum to admire its collection of artworks. None of them complain about waiting. The museum is so big that visitors have to look at a map to ensure that they will not get lost.

Many other museums in Europe, the US, the Republic of Korea, and Japan also serve millions of visitors every year. The more developed the country is, the more museums it has. There is up to 140 museums in the capital city of Paris alone, more than the total number of museums in the whole of Vietnam.

While in Vietnam, people worry that it is costly to build and maintain a museum, museums in developed countries can generate a lot of income. Museums in foreign countries are set up to provide visitors with more than stories about their culture, education or science. In addition, the entrance ticket to museums in European countries and the US is not cheap, being priced between US$ 15 and US$ 20. By multiplying the entrance fee with the number of visitors, it can be seen that the revenues from ticket is remarkable. The revenue is also contributed to by incomes from bookstores, restaurants, souvenir shops and cafeterias, which are set up as part of the museums.

So is it cheap or expensive to spend half a billion dollars on building a museum? It is expensive to invest an additional billions Vietnamese dong to museums if we retain our working and thinking mind set. But even spending trillions of Vietnamese dong is cheap for investing in museums if it is done correctly.

It is never a waste to invest in culture. The key is the way we think about it and the way we execute it. We must work out solutions to attract people’s interest in museums. If they are not interested, museums will remain very quiet places no matter how cheap the entrance ticket is.