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New funding available now from the Cultural Protection Fund

The British Council and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are delighted to announce the continuation of the Cultural Protection Fund with a new round of funding (up to £100k) now available for projects relating to Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Thanks to additional Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding allocated for 2020-2021, we are able to continue to support organisations to protect cultural heritage that is at risk of being lost forever.

Read more about the funding available at


Expressions of interest now open for projects relating to Libya, Syria and Yemen

We are now accepting expressions of interest for projects (up to £100k) that will encourage creative solutions to protect heritage at risk in these countries.

Deadline for expressions of interest: 23 December 2019

Find out more and submit your proposal at


Information sessions for applicants

Have an idea for a project relating to Libya, Syria and Yemen? Join one of our online information sessions to speak to the team and find out more about the application process. The first session will be hosted on the 19th November 2019.

Find out more and sign up at


About the Cultural Protection Fund

The £30m Cultural Protection Fund, a partnership between the British Council and the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), was established in 2016 to protect heritage at risk in 12 countries in and around the Middle East and North Africa. Since then, 51 grants have been awarded to protect heritage and support communities.

Get set for the ‘Oscars’ of the museum world

The annual Museums + Heritage Awards, now in their eighteenth year, recognise projects of excellence – innovative and ground-breaking exhibitions from museums, galleries and visitor attractions across the globe. These range from remarkable achievements of national institutions to projects crafted with limited resources and those championing their staff and volunteers who work hard to deliver inspiring visitor experiences. These Awards are the very best way to shine the spotlight on your projects and to get your team the recognition they deserve!

The Awards are judged by a panel of the sector’s leading lights including, Maggie Appleton, Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Air Force Museum; Diane Lees CBE, Director General, Imperial War Museum; Bernard Donoghue, Director, Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) and other leading sector professionals.

The 2020 Awards have thirteen categories, including Two International Project of the Year Awards and are open to all museums, galleries, cultural and heritage visitor attractions and their suppliers, no matter what size or budget. They offer an unrivalled opportunity for everyone in this sector to celebrate their successes – see what one of our 2019 winners had to say “Thank you so much for this award it is absolutely thrilling for a small team like us. Absolutely thrilled.” Florence Nightingale Museum, Winners of two awards at the 2019 Awards

More information and helpful resources can be found on the website here –

UK loses soft power crown

This article was first published by Arts Professional online

The UK has lost the top spot in an annual index of global soft power, despite being praised for the strength of its culture.

The country has slipped to second place behind France in the overall ranking of 30 nations, in part due to uncertainty resulting from the Brexit vote.

The Soft Power 30 ranking, compiled by the strategic communications consultancy Portland, assesses countries based on objective data in six categories – culture, digital, enterprise, engagement, education and government – and subjective public polling data.

The UK retained its second place from 2018 for culture, based on quality, international reach and appeal.

Global appeal

The country sits behind the US and ahead of France in this category. The report highlights the “enormous global appeal” of British art film, music and sport. “British music, in particular, has captured an outsized share of the world’s listening, largely credited to Ed Sheeran,” it says.

The report notes that the success of British pop culture extends beyond music. “British television and film have had a strong decade with Harry Potter, Sherlock, The Crown, Downton Abbey, and James Bond all attracting huge global audiences,” it says. “Even Game of Thrones has been a boon for British tourism, drawing international visitors to previously under-visited corners of Northern Ireland.”

The report adds that UK tourism continues to flourish thanks to the “abundance of museums, galleries, and theatres”.

It says British soft power is cultivated through institutions such as the British Council and the BBC World Service.

Sir Ciarán Devane, chief executive of the British Council, said the fact that the UK has remained in the top two in the overall ranking for a fourth year demonstrated that soft power was “about much more than current politics”.

“Our universities and our arts organisations, our creativity and our entrepreneurship, our language, technology and our culture, they all help the UK be seen as a place to be admired, respected and trusted,” he said.

“Sustaining that trust however means we need to be active on the global stage, contributing to societies around the world. Just as important, we must provide our young people with international experiences to support them to be truly global in outlook, proud of who they are while open to new ideas and experiences.”

Political co-operation

France reclaimed the overall lead it last held in 2017. Devane said its first place was “well-deserved”.

“It values international political cooperation, but also shares its enthusiasm for arts and culture through its extensive cultural and language teaching centres,” he said. “The effect is to build its reputation as a country to be respected around the world.”

The UK retained its third place ranking in the digital category and rose from third to second in education.

But a weaker polling performance – the UK dropped from sixth to 10th – contributed to the country’s slip in the overall ranking. International polling data, which includes public perceptions of culture, cuisine, tech products, friendliness, luxury goods, foreign policy and liveability, is weighted to make up 35 per cent of a country’s overall score.

The UK also lost ground on last year in the enterprise, government and engagement categories.

Jonathan McClory, lead author of the Soft Power 30 report and Portland’s General Manager for Asia, said: “Ever since the UK voted to leave the European Union, Brexit has overtaken British politics, dominating news headlines and stifling the UK’s economy.

“The political turmoil around the UK’s upcoming exit from the Union has had a clear, negative impact on its global reputation, which is likely to worsen further while uncertainty around the country’s global position remains.”

The US fell to fifth place, its lowest-ever ranking in the Soft Power 30, while Sweden broke into the top five for the first time.

Author: Kate Youde
If you are interested in the topic of soft power and museums, reserve your place at the 2020 Working Internationally Conference at Leeds Art Gallery on Thursday 12 March.  ICOM UK members can purchase tickets at a discounted rate of £49 via the Eventbrite page

Great Leap Forward 2.0—”Internet +” and the Rapid Integration of Digital Technology in Chinese Museums

The article was first published on the British Council’s China Now website

China is currently undergoing what de Kloet et al. describe as a “platformisation of society,” whereby a growing percentage of social and economic interactions now occur through platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, Zhifubao, Didi, Eleme, Youku, and Tudou. “This development,” he writes, “is strongly aligned with the infrastructural ambitions of the Chinese authorities, clearly aiming to leapfrog into an advanced technological future.” [i]

These ambitions were outlined by Li Keqiang at the National People’s Congress in 2015, where he introduced the concept of “Internet Plus” 互联网络+ (also sometimes written as “Internet+”)—“an ambitious agenda that leverages the power of information technology for economic growth and development,”[ii] according to de Kloet. In the realm of Museums and culture, “Internet Plus” pushes for the integration of technologies such internet, mobile tech, big data, AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) into the brick and mortar operations of museums.

When “Internet Plus” was first announced, references to the policy began to show up in all kinds of literature about museums, authored by museum directors and outside commentators. Often it seemed to be mentioned in passing, with little or no background information, which made it seem little more than a fashionable buzzword, yet in the five years which have passed, Chinese museums went from having barely-functioning websites to presenting highly-sophisticated AR and VR content, developing a roaring business in e-commerce and creating numerous apps to help the non-visiting public to enjoy their collections online.

These rapid improvements have nudged many museums closer to the international standard—that is at least for the top-ten well-funded state museums which include the Palace Museum, National Museum of China, Beijing Capital Museum, Hunan Museum, Shanghai Museum, and the Guangdong Museum. Unfortunately, this zeal for technology is not always evenly distributed as tech tends to be less of a priority for private museums, contemporary art museums, and smaller poorly-funded institutions. In these situations, the use of technology may be limited to having an active WeChat account, one which allows the visitors to purchase tickets online, or the use of QR codes in exhibition spaces allowing viewers to scan QR codes to pull up more information. Yet despite the impressive adoption of digital and internet-based technology, many in the tech industry complain about the quality of digital content, not only bugs but weak storylines, poor graphics or poorly-maintained technology. Still, Chinese museums are making legitimate leaps forward which provide not only examples to learn from but also opportunities to provide services where gaps may exist.

Digitising Collections—For Posterity, Preservation and Democratisation of Information

Generally, in the hierarchy of needs, Chinese museums put “preservation” as the key mission. The Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 revived the urgency of protecting collections when some clay objects were damaged by the tremors at the Sanxingdui archaeological site in Guanghan, Sichuan.[iii] The site contains buried relics of the Shu Culture—an important Bronze Age civilisation, the existence of which has challenged the usual narrative of the spread and development of Han culture throughout China. Following the earthquake, the museum embarked on a large investment in 3D scanning technology to preserve its collection and 3D printing technology to assist in the repair of broken objects. The 3D scanners and printers can be used to make molds of objects to produce lifelike replicas and repair certain parts of broken artefacts. The technology is preservative in another way in that it avoids damage to the artefacts through the traditional mold-making process, and makes for a swifter more efficient conservation process. For instance, the staff selected a bronze mask missing an ear for repair. The mask was symmetrical so they employed 3D scanning and printing technology to replace the missing ear but also produced a complete replica which was displayed alongside the repaired mask.[iv]

The widespread use of these technologies in museums, however, is significantly held back by the lack of technical skills in this emerging technology. Other barriers include the cost of the materials and the fact that the broken parts of objects which are 3D printed then need to be sutured onto the original object. Another hurdle lies in the fact that the 3D-printed sections must be painted because the 3D printing materials are only available in a uniform colour. [v]

In the case of open-air archaeological sites, the issue of preservation has become severely pressing. The Mogao Caves, near Dunhuang, Gansu which lie along the old Silk Road have been subject to a history of plunder and pillage. The site consists of a complex of 462 temples which date back to 336 AD and contain lively ornate decorations, numerous Buddha statues, and many important scriptures. Today, the biggest threat to their existence is the 6,000 visitors whose entry and exit wreak havoc with climate control. In order, to first preserve the murals, detailed scans were made of the cave which form the bases of a website-based virtual tour and two films which are projected on an immersive dome screen in the cinema on site.

This approach serves multiple benefits. Not only does it create a “captive audience” for the museum team to properly introduce the history of the caves, but it also allows viewers to soak in the details and majesty of the murals given that the images are significantly more dramatic in their cinematic incarnation than they are within the gloom of the caves.

Onsite AR, VR and MR Experiences

While Chinese museums have traditionally been fixated on having the best objects and collections, VR demonstrates that learning and engagement can happen even without the robust collection of a super museum. Especially since many smaller Chinese museums tend to be “collection poor”—the pivot towards more experiential, information, and narrative-driven exhibition-making is a sensible strategy. In the past five years, there has been a virtual explosion of AR, MR and VR technology.

For instance, the Hunan Museum which did not have much in the way of Egyptian artefacts, collaborated with the Egyptian Museum in Turin to present an exhibition of both artefacts and experiences. The exhibition, “Pharos, Gods, and Mummies,” was launched on September 29, 2018, with 230 pieces from Turin and a VR experience which helped visitors envision the tomb of Nefertiti—its cavern-like architecture decorated with mysterious symbols.

Archaeological sites, with their inherent lack of color, make good candidates for VR experiences, especially when the sites are no-longer viewable in person as with the Baiheliang Underwater Museum—now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Before the building of the Three Gorges Dam, Baiheliang was a cliff which was submerged during most of the year and would only resurface every few years in Winter when water levels of the Yangtze dropped. The cliff is inscribed with images of fish, cranes, and Bodhisattvas dating back to the Tang Dynasty which recorded events such as good harvests. The construction of the Three Gorges Dam put the cliff under water for good, but the Baiheliang Underwater Museum VR Experience 白鹤梁水下博物馆VR体验 attempted to recreate what was lost beneath the waters, through an interactive experience of the former site.

Elsewhere in the museum, MR was used to recreate a porcelain studio. The “A Millennia of Kiln Technology, MR, Experience Zone” [translation mine] 千年’窑’望MR体验区allowed visitors to navigate the process of porcelain making as though they were potters working with clay and glazes. Meanwhile in Chongqing, “The Old Maps of Old Chongqing Mixed Reality Experience” [translation mine] 老地图·老重庆MR体验”transported viewers into a wildly different version of their home city. Hosted at the Baiheliang Underwater Museum, this mixed reality experience involved a HoloLens headset, which allowed visitors to look at a physical map in front of them and also see animations of the streets filled with mandarins in Qing Dynasty garb and long trailing queues. In this MR experience, the mandarins are at the service of the viewer explaining the significance of the city’s many gates and landmarks. Visitors used voice commands and gestures to guide their own experience—for instance, in an apothecary in Chuqimen—a district steeped in a strong TCM culture—they could use their hands to reach out and select different herbs.[vi] The Museum was featured in the 2018 Best in Heritage Conference as a Project of Influence, for its work with AR and VR and is a rare example of this kind of application in a smaller provincial museum.

Reaching Young Audiences through Digital Channels – Palace Museum

As with China’s special economic zones, certain high-level state institutions can become laboratories for musicological practice receiving funding and support to embark on ambitious initiatives which can serve as examples for the not only the domestic but the global museum industry. The Palace Museum has become this kind of “flagship” museum and with 17 million visitors a year in 2018, its successes are widely visible, making it an important pillar of domestic and international soft power. The museum’s relatively few exhibition halls and scant interpretive material also make it a good candidate for the delivery of interpretation through a museum guide app framework.

Beginning in 2013, the Palace Museum, collaborating with both tech (Tencent) and cultural entities (China Academy of Fine Arts Digital Media Studio), began to produce a number of surprisingly-good apps, a total of nine to date, which offer a smooth user experience, a refined graphic style, and interesting content. The first app to be launched was 12 Beauties, which explores the Qing Dynasty genre painting of “shinu hua”—idealised portraits of women painted for an audience of largely male admirers. Looking past the element of “male gaze” in the naming of the app (after all this was before “me-too”), we find that the app allows viewers to immerse themselves inside the world of palace life with 360 interactive views and close-ups of select objects from the museum’s collection. In fact, many of the apps created by the museum focus on a sensual enjoyment of the beauty of the collection—allowing viewers to casually soak in the ideas and aesthetics of the palace without the elbows and megaphones of the tourist stampede.

Another app Palace Museum Every Day 每日故宫allows viewers to casually explore the collection through a kind of calendar-based app which features an artefact each day, with high-res images and didactics, plus note taking and sharing functions. Users looking for a more active learning experience can download, Auspicious Symbols of the Forbidden City 紫禁城祥瑞 which guides the viewer through the collection in a more directed fashion. Done in a tasteful muted palette, like most of the palace museum apps, it uses the Forbidden City as a backdrop for cartoon animated animals such as dragons, and phoenixes endearing characters rendered in a refined style (not the clunky graphics found in Chinese mainstream games or cartoons such as Pleasant Sheep 喜洋洋). The user first selects a symbol—let’s say a dragon—and then is presented with items of the collection which pertain to the selected animal, for instance, a “hongshan” jade dragon from the Neolithic Era or a blue and white Yuan Dynasty vase with a dragon pattern crawling across its shiny surface. Meanwhile clicking on the Phoenix—an auspicious symbol for brides—sends the reader into an exploration of the wedding rituals of the palace. Created specifically for children, the Emperor for a Day皇帝的一天 app features a colourful animation style which takes visitors on a romp through the Forbidden City with a baby lion prompting them to tackle a series of challenges which pertain to life within the palace. Upon completing the challenges, the player collects different artefacts. As we have seen with the Hangzhou Kiln Museum app, “gamification” can be a powerful pedagogical tool.

The apps created by the palace museum also vary along the public/private spectrum. Some encourage private experiences and contemplation of the artefacts as an experience in itself, completely walled off from the “in real life” (IRL) experience of visiting the Forbidden City, while others such as Palace Community 故宫社区 promote social interaction with certain functions (information about exhibitions etc.) to encourage the visitor to visit in person. Palace Community is sort of like a “sim” palace where participants can build their own grand residence and visit the houses of other users. This suite of apps is unique among museum-commissioned apps in China in that it seeks to create a “community of culture-lovers” rather than act as a shop, ticket sales channel or museum guide. In this sense, the Palace Museum remains relatively unique, but if given the resources, other Chinese museums may be able to pursue similar strategies.

Beyond these apps, the Palace Museum has tried various other means to reach out to younger viewers, for instance, through animated GIFs—actually stickers which can be used within the WeChat platform. These “stickers” include images of emperors wearing sunglasses with the word “super” in the background, or emperors with lasers shooting out of their fingers with words, “I am a ray of light.” Other initiatives include commissioning popstars to make thematic songs about traditional subjects. Though this may seem like an ailing church hiring a Christian rock band to draw the next generation into the pews, it’s a remarkable way to bring the museum into the minds of younger non-visitors. Teaming up with music streaming platform QQ Music and tech giant Tencent, the Palace Museum launched the youth talent initiative NEXT IDEA, which resulted in a newly-commissioned song by Jackson Yee[vii]—a willowy young singer with a kind of feigned solemnity, a member of the Chinese boy band TFboys. Yi’s slightly-syrupy folk-pop tune, “Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains” inspired by a Song Dynasty Painting, got no less than 34 million plays.

All of this content, social media campaigns and sales are streamed out through the museum’s Official WeChat account which has 10 million followers. The services of the Palace Museum Official Account are grouped into several different categories: “have a look” 看一看, “browse” 逛一逛, and “get together” 聚一聚. Within these menu options one can find the basic exhibition information, virtual tours 玩转故宫, very-detailed digital guides to be used onsite including interpretation about the architecture, the location of the bathrooms, exits, concessions, book shops, ticket counters, and the individual exhibitions with audio and text explanations. There are also online WeChat stores—the Forbidden City Cultural Products Store [translation mine] 故宫博物馆文创店 and the Forbidden City WeChat Store [translation mine] 故宫微店, selling a vast array of products, everything from 200 RMB Palace Museum-branded lipsticks to Qing Dynasty divans for 118,000 RMB.

A Fetishization of Technology

Though technology has been used effectively in many cases to improve many critical functions of the museum including visitor experience, sometimes the fetishization of technology over other more basic concerns such as exhibition design and storytelling—leads to dead ends. For instance, on a virtual wander through an exhibition of Korean artifacts at the Zhejiang Museum, we see lifeless images of objects in glass cases and didactic on the walls. The exhibition design is very traditional, just vitrines and didactic, the text of which cannot be read from the virtual tour. Frankly, this lackluster exhibition seems barely worth visiting in person, let alone through the distorted fish-eye lens of the 3D cameras. These 360 virtual tours tend to work best when applied to architectural landmarks and outdoor heritage sites and as the technology develops, we need to continue to ask the question, “How is a virtual tour better than a traditional website in terms of visitor enjoyment, learning outcomes and immersivity?” Sometimes it seems like a case of “chariots before horses,” the basic techniques of exhibition design, narrative flow, thematic coherence, and digital interactive still have a long way to go, but because of the state focus on technology, it is difficult for museums to decouple themselves from this technological trajectory. As de Kloet writes in his discussion of the “platformization of society” “this entanglement between state and corporations appears to accelerate and intensify this process, enhancing the penetration of platform infrastructures in every sphere of life.” This tech focus is, of course, a way for museums to achieve certain benchmarks and KPIs, without really addressing the systematic problems at the root of the Chinese museum experience.

Business Opportunities

What many museums have yet to realize is that AR, VR, MR, all of these technologies, are merely vehicles, like a chariot, which can be used to take the viewer to any location. But the destination is not always clear. UK creators of multimedia digital experiences, animators, and exhibition designers could provide vital guidance in the creation and development of storylines, the overlay of themes and help improve the quality of exhibition design and graphics.

For the creators of digital content, VR and AR designers, equipment manufacturers of various kinds of smart systems for surveillance and collections management, there appear to be many opportunities. China has several expos which focus on museum technology such as the MPT Expo in Fuzhou, where not only tech providers but many of China’s most prominent museums participate with elaborate booths. There is also the Smart Museum Expo智慧博物馆in Chongqing which focuses on museum technology.

To get an idea of the demand for services of Chinese museums, the website publishes all public tenders from many of China’s state museums. For instance, a random search turned up a museum in Foshan which was looking for a vendor to help them with audience analysis and data gathering. The budget was 1 million RMB. Just searching the “Tenders” section of the website with the keyword of “VR” returns over 120 search results from museums all around China. That said, it is no simple process to get into the Chinese market as there is significant effort which goes into the pitching process which may require numerous rounds of gymnastics and vetting before any contracts are inked. Given the delicacy of managing client relationships, interested parties may look for Chinese partners who seek to collaborate with international teams. Museums, as well, who are actively looking for engaging international touring exhibitions from UK partners, will also be keen to explore offerings with digital interactive components which would make them more appealing to a younger demographic. In any case, what should become clear from this article is that we should have no illusions about Chinese museums as being pokey 1.0 sorts of institutions. How many museums in the West can create multiple VR experiences, run multiple apps and online stores at once, generating thousands of new products on a yearly basis and billions of RMB in profits?  The Palace Museum may be an outlier, but it’s an example of what can be achieved when government invests in culture in a strategic, albeit not very egalitarian way.


Tickets now on sale for 2020 Working Internationally Conference, 12 March, Leeds Art Gallery

Tickets are now on sale for the 2020 Working Internationally Conference taking place at Leeds Art Gallery on Thursday 12 March.  ICOM members can purchase tickets at the discounted price of £49 (non-members price is £79).  Book tickets now at

The theme for the conference is Can Museums and Galleries Save UK Diplomacy? Soft Power in Turbulent Times.  It is organised by ICOM UK and the National Museums Directors’ Council with support from the British Council.

The UK lost its #1 ranking in this year’s Soft Power 30 index. Why? Brexit and the internal turbulence that has dominated headlines and shifted time and energy away from international diplomacy. According to the authors of the index, the UK clung to the #2 spot due to its high performance in the ‘engagement, culture, education, and digital’ categories, which made up for lacklustre performance in the government and enterprise categories.

As Brexit rumbles on, the 2020 Working Internationally conference will examine the role museums and galleries can play in supporting UK soft power. The 2017 report Britain’s Global Future: Harnessing the soft power capital of UK institutions made a powerful case for the role of museums in promoting the nation’s cultural values and contributing to its economy. Recognizing the international significance of culture, the Mendoza Review looked at how museums might support soft power and the British Council published research in 2018 that showed that what people love about a country are not products of governments but of people and institutions like museums.

The conference will examine the variety of ways in which museums and galleries create and influence soft power. We will hear from a range of representatives from museums and galleries, government agencies and NGOs to understand the interplay between policy, business and culture in the shaping of diplomacy. The conference will also explore the relationship between soft power and museum sector issues such as decolonization and digital engagement.


10:30 – 11:00 Registration, refreshments, networking

11:00 – 11:10 Welcome and Introduction

11:10 – 11:55 Session 1: Setting the Scene

11:55 – 12:40 Session 2: Restitution and Decolonisation through the lens of soft power

12:40 – 13:55 Lunch and networking

13:25 – 13:55 ICOM UK Annual General Meeting

13:55 – 14:35 Session 3: Digital soft power

14:35 – 15:15 Session 4: Soft power in the next decade

15:15 – 15:35 Break, refreshments, networking

15:35 – 16:10 Session 5: Soft power in action

16:10 – 16:40 Session 6: Where do we go from here?

16:40 – 16:45 Thank you and close of conference

Speakers for each session will be announced over the coming weeks.  Keep an eye on the WI2020 Eventbrite page and the ICOM UK news for updates.

Join the ICOM Family and connect with members all over the world

Many museum professionals are connected through ICOM. They enjoy working in their museum and they are interested in meeting their colleagues. Sharing our knowledge and experience gives an extra value to being an ICOM member.

National Committee ICOM The Netherlands initiated the ICOM Family website to facilitate the personal connection between ICOM members worldwide. They invite you to add your profile and contact your fellow ICOM members when travelling abroad.

Your log in will be your ICOM number. Your information will not be shared with anyone outside the community, your e-mail address will be hidden and only used for making contact with other ICOM Family members. Then you will become part of the family too with the opportunity to meet ICOM colleagues form other countries online as well as in person!

Sign up now via the ICOM Family website

Publication: Bridges Over Brexit

Since the decision of the UK to withdraw from the EU was announced in 2016, the Irish Museums Association has been actively exploring the potential effect of Brexit on the museum and cultural sectors under the overarching concept of ‘Bridge over Brexit’ with our partners at Ulster University.

In doing so, it has uncovered fascinating projects led by our museum members which have made a real contribution at grass-roots level towards peace and reconciliation within our communities on both sides of the border.

We have drawn together a selection of these in this short publication, Bridges over Brexit, as these case studies provide powerful evidence of the ability of museums to bring creativity and imagination to the narratives of our past and present. They demonstrate how museums help us to better understand both our weave of diversity and our shared heritage and the positive impact of the museum’s activity in our communities.

Click here to view the publication on

Click here to download a PDF of the publication from our Publications page.

A sincere thank you to the museums who contributed to this publication and to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht who have funded both this publication and our wider Bridge over Brexit: exploring commonalities programme through their Cooperation with NI sheme.

Saudi Arabia Joins The Gulf’s Culture Race With Plans For Modern Art Museum

This article was first published on the Forbes website:

Saudi Arabia is to build a modern art museum on the outskirts of the capital Riyadh, in the latest stage of the race among Gulf states to develop cultural icons to burnish their image on the international stage.

According to an official statement issued this week, the Ministry of Culture and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority are working together to set up the museum in the Bujairi neighborhood of the capital, close to the UNESCO world heritage site of At-Turaif, where the Saudi dynasty had its first capital.

The Saudi Museum of Modern Art will be “designed according to a modern creative concept influenced by the traditional local architectural style,” according to the statement.

Beyond that brief outline, there are few details available. It is not yet clear what exhibits will be on display in the museum, who might design it, or whether the authorities will seek to work with international partners or try to do it all themselves.

Whatever it decides, Riyadh will face stiff competition in the region, given the plethora of expensively-designed museums that have opened in recent years or are currently being built – a trend which led The New York Times to refer to a golden age for museums in the Gulf.

In the UAE capital, the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened in 2017 to much acclaim, in a building designed by French architect Jean Nouvel which features a huge canopy and the waters of the Gulf lapping up against its base. The museum seeks to tell the story of human civilization from prehistory to the modern day, although in an embarrassing episode soon after it opened it was forced to replace a map that had omitted the UAE’s rival Qatar.

Nearby, a branch of the Guggenheim is due to open in 2023 with a collection of contemporary art and there are also plans for the Zayed National Museum – both institutions are set to have eye-catching designs by Frank Gehry and Foster and Partners respectively.

Down the road in Dubai, the Museum of the Future is under construction with a budget of some $300 million. Its striking building – hollow in the centre – is currently rising up alongside the city’s main thoroughfare Sheikh Zayed Road.

Doha / Qatar – September 30, 2019: A local woman walks through the main courtyard of the National Museum of Qatar (Photo: Dominic Dudley)

Doha / Qatar – September 30, 2019: A local woman walks through the main courtyard of the National Museum of Qatar (Photo: Dominic Dudley)

Further up the Gulf, Qatar has invested heavily in cultural landmarks, since opening the Museum of Islamic Art, in a cuboid building designed by I. M. Pei. Last year it opened the Qatar National Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas – a giant wedge which sits on the edge of Education City, not far from the Damien Hirst installation, The Miraculous Journey. The most recent addition to Doha’s cultural landscape is the Qatar National Museum, housed in another remarkable building by Jean Nouvel designed to look like the gypsum discs known locally as desert roses.

Such high-profile architects are a sign that creating a splash with the shape of the buildings often feels as important as the collections on display inside. Such cutting-edge architecture does not come cheap though.

High art, high cost

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi cost some $680 million and the Zayed National Museum has a budget of around $270 million, according to MEED Projects, which tracks project activity around the region. The Qatar National Museum had a budget of around $500 million, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi cost around $650 million.

Saudi Arabia has had some recent experience of expensive interventions in the art world. In 2017, Prince Badr bin Abdullah al-Saud set a world record with his $450 million purchase of the Leonardo da Vinci painting Salvator Mundi. It was soon reported that the painting was destined to be displayed in the Louvre Abu Dhabi. However, two years on, it has still not appeared in public and there have been suggestions it is now being kept on the Saudi crown prince’s yacht, Serene.

The Saudi authorities also have some understanding of developing cultural monuments. In 2018, the Saudi Aramco-funded King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture was completed in Dhahran, in the east of the country. It was designed by Norwegian architectural practice Snohetta to resemble a collection of stones, cloaked in stainless steel tubes.

Around the rest of the region, some have taken a more modest approach to developing cultural landmarks. In keeping with its low-key attitude to development, Oman opted for a more traditional aesthetic for its recent additions such as the Royal Opera House Muscat and the National Museum of Oman, which opened in 2011 and 2016 respectively.

As the region continues to race ahead with developing modern cultural icons, some concerns have been raised about the price being paid by those turning the fantastical designs into reality. In particular, critics have long pointed to the harsh working conditions endured by those building the structures. Such issues have led to calls for international partners such as the British Museum to change their minds about lending exhibits to the new institutions.

Introduction to the Sustainable Development Goals from a museum perspective

This article was first published on the NEMO website

Leading up to NEMO’s European Museum Conference, they invited Jasper Visser, Strategy Consultant at the Museum of the Future and VISSCH+STAM, to give an introduction to the SDGs and offer some hands-on tips on how museums can incorporate these into their work. NEMO recorded the webinar to make it, and its important message, as accessible as possible.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include zero hunger, reduced inequality, and climate action, can only be achieved if the world comes together and everyone takes action. Museums – and other cultural partners – are starting to act. In this webinar, we will explore the SDGs and learn from museums that are already taking action about how everyone can contribute to the global goals. We will also discover that the SDGs are an opportunity both for the world and for museums that wish to have a real impact in their communities and on the society they are part of.

Join us at NEMO’s European Museum Conference 2019 from 7-10 November 2019 in Tartu, Estonia, to explore how museums can contribute to achieving the UN’s SDGs further.

>> Download the presentation