Working in a museum like the Ayala museum has always been a dream for me. For a person passionate in art, history and culture, working at a museum daily seemed like a dream job. To be surrounded by Amorsolos, Lunas, Zóbels and other works of artists was really inviting. I also liked the idea of being surrounded by people ought to be as verbose and adept in history and culture.
However, after volunteering for the museum, I realized that there were more things that come into play in a museum. It’s not all about the sculptures or the dioramas. There were also audience education, scrupulous security, funding and marketing concerns and even social relevance. At the end of my short stint with the Ayala Museum, I came to truly experience and witness the importance of museums.
It wasn’t easy reaching such a realization. At first, I thought it was merely touring people around the museum, describing to them the artifacts and the circumstances surrounding these. I thought it was simply talking to people who would understand what I was saying. But the museum, apparently, is a venue for different kinds of people with different purposes.
There were the most ubiquitous guests: students on field trips. In large numbers, they storm the museum with different characteristics and different moods. Some come and leave bored, while others go through the entire trip highly energized. Logistical nightmares, these groups wrongly bring with them hundreds of people all with different ages. For example, small private schools would bring all of their students from Grades 1 to 6 to the museum in one time slot. These were the most difficult ones because not only are they many in number, the information and wealth of knowledge deposited in the museum are never fully dispensed. And because there are times when there would be two very large groups in the museum in one time, the tendency would be to rush either one to accommodate the other group. And this is not even including the smaller and unplanned groups of families, friends and tourists which visit during those hours! With only a number of staff people, how could the museum try to teach and educate when schools bring in all of their students? It’s impossible.
It is with these large groups that museum staff members face a myriad of situations. There are the restless kids, bored because of the long queues that are formed. At the same time, there are also the naturally unruly students who go about their rowdy behavior without being scolded by their tourist operators or own teachers and guardians. These same students taunt museum staff by looking at a museum staff member right at the eye while they “threaten” to touch Luna’s La Marquesa de Monte Olivar or loudly call Amorsolo’s Angela Rico de McMicking “panget”. I myself experienced this many times, hearing ill-informed tourist operators comment on Zóbel’s works as mere “splashes of paint”, and that the reason why the pioneer modern artist’s paintings are on display despite them being “awful” is because the Zóbel de Ayalas own the museum.
I may not be related to these artists but I am a Filipino fully aware that these beautiful products of talent and intellect form our shared cultural heritage, and thus, should be a source of pride and inspiration. How could we aid and enrich the cultural tastes of fellow Filipinos if we dismiss and simply walk by the paintings in an effort to go to the next venue of the field trip? How do we ensure that the students have quality time if the tour operators claim that the ships on display in the 2nd floor are the galleons of Magellan or that the galleons of Magellan were named after Rizal’s sisters?
But not all moments in the museum are awful. Far from it.
This is because, whether we take it for granted or not, there is an emerging interest and a conscious effort among Filipinos to visit and engage with museums. Mornings may be hectic with hundreds of school children noisily walking the corridors but days never end without curious individuals and excited families purchasing tickets to spend entire quiet afternoons in the museum. There is hope precisely because of these people who really aspire to visit and learn from the museum.
There were many times when I saw inspiring moments in the museum. I witnessed a father and son take their sweet time in the museum. They watched the video on the gold collection with the boy sitting on his father’s lap. The two spent their entire afternoon in the museum walking slowly together, hands held. Likewise, I also found joy in the groups of foreigners who spent time in the museum, vigorously reading each and every piece of information found in the many panels inside the museum’s four exhibit floors. I always smile too when I see male foreigners and their female Filipina partners spending many hours in the museum, allotting time for art, culture and history between their other itineraries.
I realized then that the museum is not simply another destination. It is contrary to the feeble belief of revenue-seeking tour operators who convince their clients to bring as many people to the museum in one moment “para makasulit sa oras”. I realized that the museum isn’t simply a “stop” or some other destination that serves as one of the venues for a field trip. It is, on the other hand, a repository that tries to share and reach out, actively promoting the arts and history as well as the sciences in an effort to unite people. To go to a museum is an act of the will and to appreciate a museum is also an act of the will. You approach the museum not with a mind that is unfocused and ill-prepared but with a heart that is open and willing to engage. This is because the museum as an institution is not a mere lifeless, stagnant venue of old and dusty remnants of the past but a real organization that bridges that present with the past and the past with the future. There is much dynamism taking place that one cannot afford to go to a museum to simply walk and pass-by the pieces. One must gaze, read, think and reflect.
This is the very reason as to why museums display their collections or resources: these objects are witnesses to innovations of the human mind as well as the triumphs and losses of the human spirit. The Ayala Museum, for that matter, with its critical resources and particular collections, is a fine example of bridging Filipinos to their past as an innovative people to the demands of the future for more creative and numerous visionaries. The artworks by Damian Domingo, Juan Luna y Novicio, Fernando Cueto Amorsolo and Fernando Zóbel de Ayala y Montojo are fine examples of how Filipinos with vision and guts leave their marks in society, serving as inspiration and hope for many disciples, admirers and patrons. Together, a museum’s administration, partners and guests all try to pursue a society that is appreciative of the wisdom of the past and proud of its tangible and intangible cultural assets. To reach these noble goals, both museum and public have to participate in dialogue. Some claim that today, the museum no longer influences the public, and that the relationship is now the other way around. However, since museums are pretty much new in the Philippines, I think museums would still hold the privileged position of teaching and instructing the public on many matters.
As I end my two-week stay as a student intern at the Ayala Museum, I say “thank you very much” to my colleagues there, young men and women who try to grapple with the lofty ideals of a museum and also the business side of the institution.
As I made my last rove around the museum, I said a prayer of thanks to the Zóbels, the Locsins, the Villanuevas and all those other lettered and unlettered names who helped in the establishment and who continue to support the maintenance of such an institution. But more importantly, it is my own fervent hope that the many visitors who come into the museum whether they be an entire school, a group of tourists or a family enjoy, learn and become interested in the story of the Filipino people. The museum, I believe, succeeds in its goal when upon its visitors’ departure, her artifacts and activities are talked about, analyzed and re-visited. Indeed, my own time in the museum has all the more encouraged me to visit the Ayala Museum more in the future.