These past few weeks, I’ve been seeing wonderful photos of people visiting the National Museum. Posting their shots of precious Lunas, Hidalgos, Amorsolos and whatnots, these people took advantage of the free entrance to the National Museum’s galleries and exhibits because the fee was waived in celebration of the Museums and Galleries Month of the Philippines.
Signed into law by the late former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino as Proclamation No. 798 s. 1991, I presume it was meant to bolster awareness, appreciation and support for our country’s museums and galleries. But since 1991, I think it was only fairly recent when going to museums and art galleries became in vogue especially among the country’s middleclass.
With more and more people being able to travel abroad, where they are exposed to a barrage of museums and galleries, they come back to the country with some hunger for reconnecting with their own history and culture. I can be wrong but I think foreign travel has indeed shaped today’s generation of Filipinos into individuals in search for their own identity amidst a highly-globalized world.
On the flip side, I’ve developed some melancholy with the impression that despite the affordability of these museums, the influx of visitors only occurs when the modest entrance fee is waived. At 150 Pesos, one can already access the Natural Sciences and Fine Arts museums of the National Museum, both housed in two period neo-classical buildings.
Why visit a museum when it’s free when the entrance fee is your means of helping in the upkeep of our National Museum? We shouldn’t go cheap on government agencies like the National Museum precisely because of the intrinsically important assets they preserve and showcase: our national identity and local history. I know this is a good means to bring in people to be at least acquainted with our National Museum, and there is nothing wrong with that. But I just hope people go beyond this “free trip”, and truly make trips to our museums and galleries a normal part of their lives.
A museum is not only a building. An art gallery is not only a room. Museums, in this case, the National Museum, is a repository of things that have witnessed important chapters of our story as a people. The things you see hung on the walls or kept in shelves are not just “old” things; they are tangible bearers of our country’s soul. They communicate our past, and what is the past but the wisdom of time? The past is like a cave that conceals stories, problems, scandals, triumphs, embarrassments and other human follies, which current and future generations should discover in order for them to live more meaningful lives and plan for a better, informed future.
The museum is the torch you use to enter that cave, which is the past. Holding high the light of museum commentaries, research, exhibits and even events such as talks, symposia and launches, the flame which emanates from a museum – typically perceived as a temple for the archaic – is the beacon that will help us navigate through our current problems and future endeavors. The dynamics of museum operations such as research, conservation, audience engagement and marketing all add to that flame. They need to continue feeding the flame or else your museum ends up but nothing more than a stockroom or warehouse of dusty items.
The reason why I feel uneasy with this periodic descent of people to the National Museum is precisely because they are motivated by the most shallow of things: it’s a free trip. Because they won’t spend a single centavo, people go to the museum. My hastiest and perhaps most flawed impression is that the free entrance motivates them to have a “selfie” at a beautiful place. Instead of going there because they’ve had a fatigue with horrendous malls and mall parking complexes, they go there with the same consumerist mindset, seeing the “free entrance” as if it’s a store sale. I hope I am completely mistaken.
Museums matter even if the entrance is not free because it is home to a people’s soul. Its halls are hallowed not because of visitors but because they are filled with items which reflect the struggle of humanity to settle some of the most basic questions it has always tried to resolve. An appreciation for museums, for art pieces, for relics, for artifacts is a sign of deep love for human life! If one finds himself thirsty to touch base with these beautiful things, it means one is searching for proof of what is true, good and beautiful.
By gazing at a painting or by reading through the descriptions on a particular artifact, you are connecting with the story of the past, and by doing so, you are uniting yourself – mind and heart – to the story of our race.
The beauty of museums is that so many emotional and intellectual stirrings happen within it. Curiosity is piqued, interest is generated and a hunger for knowledge is sparked just by strategically displaying pieces and curating a menu of relics for people to view.
Museum management is hard-work and is an enterprise both of artistic vision and tactical planning. Kaya, please, huwag mo ng ipagdamot ‘yang 150 mo na pinang fafafastfood mo naman araw araw. Spend your money where it matters and help our museums and galleries continue enflaming our hearts to love our people, our story and our identities.
Continue visiting museums and galleries to nourish your mind, heart and even, spirit and fill it with things that are lasting, true, good and beautiful. Ditch the materialism of malls every now and then and troop to your local gallery and splurge on things that make you smarter, more cultured and more appreciative of things that are really free.
As a related article, read my experience as an Ayala Museum volunteer here: https://hechoayer.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/museum-musings-work-at-the-ayala-museum/