Expand registration system to support wider range of museums

Museums will be the crux of efforts to preserve and utilize precious works from Japan and abroad. The system for evaluating and supporting their various activities needs to be strengthened.

The Cultural Affairs Agency’s Council for Cultural Affairs has compiled proposals calling for expansion of the museum registration system, which supports museums and art galleries that meet certain standards, and for the establishment of new registration criteria that take facilities’ activities into account.

Museums cover a wide range of subjects, including history, art and science. They are responsible for collecting and exhibiting materials and conducting research, serving as a base for cultural activities.

In recent years, they have also been expected to contribute to tourism and regional development by holding appealing exhibitions; enhancing their communication abilities, including distributing information online; and providing places for learning. Their significance can be said to have increased.

Enacted in 1951, the Museum Law certifies facilities as registered museums if they meet certain standards, such as the number of days they are open per year and the assignment of curators. The law supports registered facilities in terms of subsidies and taxation. Of the about 5,700 museums nationwide, only about 900 are registered under the law.

Because the registration system is limited to facilities such as those operated by local governments and foundations, it has not been able to deal with the diversification of facilities established by other entities, such as privately owned corporations. It is reasonable to aim to broaden the scope of support by expanding the number of eligible entities.

Under the council’s proposals, the boards of education of prefectural governments and of major cities designated by the central government would examine the activities of each facility, using those activities as a guideline for registration, and also incorporate the opinions of experts.

To prevent differences in how facilities’ activities are examined, it is desirable to specify evaluation criteria in advance, such as the status of exhibitions and educational activities, and the results of facilities’ communications with external parties.

Damage to museum materials due to natural disasters and the closure of museums because of the novel coronavirus pandemic have highlighted the need to digitize collections and create an environment for online exhibitions, among other steps.

Although efforts by individual facilities are also important, many small museums cannot manage alone, because they cannot assign curators or lack sufficient funding.

The council’s proposals call for promoting the creation of a network of museums in the same prefecture, and strengthening cooperation among facilities with common exhibition areas. Small museums in regional areas will have a harder time financially, mainly due to the declining population. A system of cooperation centered on large museums will be increasingly necessary.

There are examples that can be used as a reference, including the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo lending out its exhibits and holding training sessions for local museum curators, among other activities. It is hoped that museums and organizations, which play a central role in each region, will actively implement such measures.

But even if the number of registered museums is increased, facilities can only be vitalized to a limited extent if budget and taxation support are insufficient. It is essential for the central and local governments to promote such efforts.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 11, 2022.