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  • Dec 24, 2014
  • Updated: 11:29pm
Culture Club
PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 6:25pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 6:37pm

Time to take museums seriously in Hong Kong


Vivienne has been a cultural journalist and critic for over a decade and was named one of the world’s best young journalists and critics while representing Hong Kong at the 2004 inaugural Berlinale Talent Press at the Berlin International Film Festival. She has written extensively on culture and entertainment for publications locally and abroad and has covered major international events from film festivals to art fairs. Vivienne also covers Hong Kong and global cultural policy development and publishes a blog, Culture Shock, at www.viviennechow.com. She is the culture beat senior reporter at the South China Morning Post and can be followed on Twitter @VivienneChow.

Hong Kong is a city of endless possibilities. There are countless restaurants and bars serving a great variety of cuisines, and you can buy anything at almost any time you want.

Most amazing of all is that you can call any place a museum – as long as you have a roof housing a bunch of stuff that people can see. 

The ground floor of a rundown house in the fishing village of Tai O displaying artefacts under no curatorial direction and proper protection calls itself a “museum”. It allows people to visit for free, although it has a lady living upstairs.

Luxury car brand Lamborghini calls its Causeway Bay showroom a “pop-up museum”, because it is showing some multimillion-dollar Italian supercars that they are luring people to buy next to a whole bunch of photos.

Not forgetting the “3D museum”, an amusement park for photo-obsessed visitors to take smartphone pictures and then get “Likes” on social media.

Why are they qualified to be called museums? 

Some at least attempt to do things properly. The Liang Yi Museum on Hollywood Road, which opened this year, tries to present a private collection of antique Chinese furniture and Chinese works of art and runs itself like a real museum.

The Imperial Museum in Garden Road, also opened this year, shows a Chinese imperial collection of art and furniture. It even has an organisation chart detailing the museum’s management and board of governance. Bookings are required to visit these private museums.

It is an indisputable fact that the pace of development of museums in Hong Kong is painfully slow. A key problem has been the absence of a clear definition of what a museum is.

Most museums – 15 plus the Hong Kong Film Archive – are managed by the government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department. There are only a handful of private museums set up by organisations such as universities and non-profit private organisations.

A proposal to establish a museums law in Hong Kong was raised when the then Committee on Museums submitted a report in 2007 calling for the corporatisation of public museums. Apparently the proposal was rejected.

More collectors and artists – such as Cui Ruzhuo, who I interviewed the other day – are eyeing setting up private museums to show, well, whatever they want to show.

With the potential growth of these private museums, and the arrival of the West Kowloon Cultural District, is this the time for Hong Kong to reevaluate the need to draft our own museum law? One that would not only clearly define what a museum is, but would also allow museums to operate in a way that will help them raise funds, manage collections professionally and even encourage more rich collectors to share their knowledge and collection with the public for the greater good?

Museums are clearly defined in many parts of the world. The International Council of Museums said a museum is “a non-profit-making, permanent institution, in the service of society and of its development, and open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”

Museums are also defined in a legal context in many parts of the world, including the US and Taiwan. Just yesterday, August 7, the Executive Yuan of Taiwan passed a Museum Law drafted by the Ministry of Culture.

At a press conference yesterday, culture minister Lung Ying-tai said Taiwan has 746 museums of various sizes but it has taken 30 years for Taiwan to draft the Museum Law. She said museums registered under the law will not only earn proper recognition, the law will boost the development of private museums.

West Kowloon is proposing to set up a separate legal entity to govern the visual culture museum M+, which already has a lengthy 18-page acquisition policy. Perhaps it is time to revisit the discussion of museum law in Hong Kong, or at least educate the public that you can’t just call anything a museum. The word museum deserves to be used properly.


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This article is now closed to comments

The writer makes an important point: A well-drafted museum law would encourage greater public support for non-profit exhibit spaces deemed to meet the "museum" definition. Such a law would ideally bring more transparency regarding funding sources/museum board members' obligations/tax holidays and the like. Ultimately, such a law could encourage HK collectors to donate and/or loan artwork to local HK museums, thus keeping works in HK for public viewing.
A showroom selling HKD 1M+ cars is not a museum. Period.
Here VC may not be totally not timely salvaging the negative sentiment against the Kowloon Cultural Center District Authority in asking for by-laws for the park where the future museum is located.
If there is any law to define what a museum is which most people in Hong Kong I surmise quite familiar, a legal construct for the definition (museum law) seems will not add more knowledge what museum is.
Law is inappropriate and even can’t create a museum. On the contrary, it can diminish the purposeful nature of museum. Any law must not intrude into the right of creating and sustaining all museums.
I suspect the US museums if any law that governing them have one objective in mind. It is mainly to qualify museum status for tax purpose -- exemption from any profit and deduction for donors to museum.
Hong Kong must not let legality of a museum to effect a killing of those existing and future ‘museum’ that is located outside of West Kowloon Cultural Center.
The writer keeps saying "you can’t just call anything a museum". Why not? To protect the public from scams? To encourage more museums? To discourage more museums?
Call it what you want, a gallery, an exhibition hall. As long as people are interested in the content, why does it matter? More laws and regulations for the use of the word 'museum'? Let's not have more regulations just for the sake of having them.


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