Vietnam's plan for new museum derided as costly, careless

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  The VND2 trillion ($96 million) Hanoi Museum opened in 2010 as part of the capital's 1,000th anniversary celebration, but recently closed and is not set to reopen until 2014 at the earliest since it drew few visitors. The government's plan to spend US$541 million on a national history museum in Hanoi has been criticized by experts and the public alike.

The government's plan to spend VND11.277 trillion (US$541 million) on a national history museum in Hanoi has been criticized by experts and the public alike, as the abundant museums currently open draw few local visitors.

Analysts said what Vietnam's museums need is not another sum of money, but improved staffs and curatorial services, while newspaper readers nationwide have cited the country's lack of schools, hospitals, roads and food for the hungry as part of their questioning of the rationale behind the investment, Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper said in a recent report.

Many people have pointed to the Hanoi Museum, which cost more than VND2 trillion ($96 million) to build, but which recently closed and is not set reopen until 2014 at the soonest, as it drew poor attendance after opening in 2010 as part of the capital's 1,000th anniversary celebration.

"Will the thousands of billions of dong bring any positive changes to Vietnam's cultural life, or will it be another waste?" Professor Phan Huy Le, chairman of Vietnam History Association, told Saigon Tiep Thi.

He said the plan needs to be rethought carefully.

The government, however, has said nothing to indicate it will amend plans for the new natural history museum.


The blueprint of the National History Museum, work on which is due to begin in November. Photo:

The Ministry of Construction said it will use tax revenues from the state budget to build the 10-hectare building which would hypothetically be completed by July 2016. But nothing more specific has been announced.

A number of cultural experts refused to be interviewed by Saigon Tiep Thi, and those who were interviewed had little to say, as the government did not consult them before announcing the project.

But they all expressed doubt that four years would be enough time to acquire the necessary human resources and fill the building with exhibits, which are slated to include an outdoor section for large relics and cultural spaces.

Dr. Nguyen Van Luc, director of the Vietnam National Museum of Nature, said the relics and curators need to be prepared along with the construction.

He said it took his museum and the Ho Chi Minh Museum, two prominent ones among Vietnam's some 150 museums, more than ten years to build.

Foreign experts are also concerned about staffing the new museum.

Christine Hemmet, a curator at the Quai Branly Museum in France, who has made various contributions to museums in Vietnam, said she has repeatedly mentioned to Vietnamese professors that the country lacks quality curators.

If Vietnam wants a unified national museum, she said, the country should merge its History Museum and the Museum of Vietnamese Revolution and make use of the best curators from both.

She said during her time in Vietnam, she found that most museum curators needed further training.


Vietnamese are ignoring its country's archaic museums

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"Vietnam does not need to add numbers and size, but must upgrade the quality of its museums," Saigon Tiep Thi quoted her as saying.

Local experts said not only employees need improvement, but the exhibits themselves need to be upgraded.

They said museums in Vietnam can be proud of their large number and diversity of relics, but there are not many original items, they are not arranged scientifically, and are rarely updated.

Dr. Nguyen Van Huy, former director of the Museum of Ethnology, said museum staffs need to become acquainted with the modern style of arrangement.

Huy said the exhibits at many museums lack proper explanations.

Phan Cam Thuong, a culture researcher, said many museums in Vietnam resemble warehouses. He said even large museums have made few innovations despite the abundance of new scientific findings.

Museum staff members must conduct regular research in order to update their exhibits and this is simply not happening in Vietnam.

"Few people have the chance to travel internationally or learn about world history, so museums are supposed to be a small version of the world and its past.

"In other words, it should be a place to learn and be entertained," Thuong was cited as saying in the report.

He said Vietnamese people do not experience that at museums at home, "so it's natural that they are against another new one."

Experts said Vietnam might not need another history museum, but could use some new ones which are connected to people's daily lives, such as one dedicated to contemporary art.

"Farmers could surely benefit from an agriculture museum, where they would learn breeding and farming techniques from history to the present," Thuong said.

Dr. Huy of the Museum of Ethnology also said museums need to do more to attract more young people, few of whom list visiting museums among their pastimes.

He said that like any form of art and entertainment, museums need to fulfill public demand.

Thus, instead of having a costly big new museum, he said, Vietnam would be better off building small regional ones that cater to the demands of small communities in each city and province.

"People will only visit museums if they feel connected."


Vietnam's masterplan for museum development in the country until 2020, signed in 2005, includes three national museums the upcoming History Museum, the Vietnam National Museum of Nature which is already in use, and the Ha Long Ecosystem Museum.

Some museums that have already been built are serving specific scientific purposes, like the Ho Chi Minh City History Museum, the Museum of Oceanography, Vietnam Geology Museum, and the Museum of Cham Sculpture.

Work is underway on the Vietnam Military History Museum, started last year and expected to finish in 2020. The museum complex, covering 39 hectares on Thang Long Boulevard in Hanoi, will also have tourism and entertainment facilities.

FPT, a leading computing and technology investment company in Hanoi, has mentioned the building of an IT museum. (SGTT)

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