Govt Should Take Responsibility for Maintaining Cultural Facilities

Satisfaction with museums and art galleries is an indicator of the cultural level of a country. The government must support these cultural facilities to ensure that they can operate stably.

The National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo’s Ueno district turned to online crowdfunding to solicit donations, and raised a total of ¥920 million from 57,000 people. This far exceeded its goal of ¥100 million and marked the highest-ever amount raised via this method in Japan.

The museum’s revenue from admission fees had plummeted due to a drop in visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, recent price increases took a toll, plunging the facility into a crisis.

The museum preserves specimens of plants, animals and fossils in a storage facility in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, where the control of temperature and humidity is indispensable. This fiscal year, utility-related expenditures are estimated to total ¥382 million, nearly double the amount from two years ago.

The success of the crowdfunding project was likely due to the fact that the public widely learned about the museum’s hardship.

As an independent administrative institution, subsidies from the Cultural Affairs Agency account for much of the museum’s budget. It is important for the facility to increase income from admission fees and sell more products to secure its own financial resources.

Nevertheless, it is shameful that one of Japan’s leading museums cannot afford to pay its electricity bill and is having difficulty in its fundamental function of managing specimens and other materials. This is a problem that normally should be dealt with in the central government budget.

The museum has a vast collection of popular items, such as dinosaur fossils and meteorites. In asking for donations, it offered admission tickets and other goods as thank-you gifts, which may have contributed to the overwhelming response. It is questionable whether such an approach as crowdfunding can work at small and midsize museums around the country.

Facilities in regional areas are suffering from chronic budget shortfalls and staffing shortages. Many have been open for several decades and their buildings and equipment are showing sign of wear and age. Such facilities are unable to conduct research activities, and it is said many have not changed their exhibits for over 10 years.

The National Museum of Nature and Science has a collection of 5 million items, a significantly large number in Japan but meager compared with the 150 million at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the United States or the 80 million at Britain’s Natural History Museum. The Japanese government’s spending on culture lags far behind that in Europe and the United States.

The government should secure a steady source of the funds necessary for the activities of cultural facilities over the long term. It needs to consider tax incentives and other measures that encourage large donations from corporations and wealthy individuals.

Meanwhile, facilities across the nation should use their ingenuity to come up with ways to raise funds. As they become more financially stable, they can conduct new research projects and educational activities, and thus expect an increase in the number of visitors.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 11, 2023)