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The importance of museums
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 08 - 03 - 2016

A country that does not have museums suffers from Alzheimer's, because it has no recollection of the past.
While a book is a vessel for recording these memories, and displaying the history of nations, peoples, and their stories, it remains a mental task. A writer might describe a shield or spear, but in the museum the spear is displayed right before you, and you can see and even touch and smell it.
For this reason, the world's advanced countries have accorded museums a lot of care. They have set up many magnificent museums that are updated constantly with new exhibitions and displays. All people, civilizations and nations have their museums. Not only this, but the arts have their special museums for their leading artists and sculptors. Where are the museums in the Kingdom? We have not allocated any part of our national museum for the works of these pioneer artists, men and women of art and letters.
Despite this, we must praise the efforts of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH) for its cooperation with German museums. This cooperation comes within the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques project to care for cultural heritage.
The project aims to bolster cultural relations between the Kingdom and different countries of the world, especially through the exhibition, the first Islamic culture capitals, that was held recently in the National Museum. The exhibition showcased artifacts from over 100 Islamic civilizations. Among them were artifacts that were displayed in the German Museum, Pergamon. Earlier, some artifacts were taken from the Kingdom and displayed in the world's museums so as to acquaint visitors and foreign specialists with these antiques.
As to the artifacts that we send to the international museums to be displayed for a period of time, they receive a lot of attention and follow-up. But what about the objects that we bring from international museums to our national museum? Is there anyone who cares to visit the museum so as to see them? This is an important question that the SCTNH must answer. It should also probe the reasons why the citizens here boycott museums. This is despite the fact that a percentage of citizens, even though small, are keen to visit international museums. Why are they keen to visit museums internationally but not in the Kingdom?
I think the SCTNH has a tough task in increasing media and publicity coverage of museums, providing all the means of comfort, and constantly updating the museums. It should also encourage the existence of arts exhibitions in museums, as permanent exhibitions for works of art and sculpture, among others.
Away from this small segment of people interested in visiting museums when they travel abroad, we should ask questions, such as: why isn't the ordinary citizen interested in museums? What is causing them to distance themselves from one of the most important sources of culture, in the same way as they are distancing themselves from libraries? Are not they concerned with books and culture in general? I think they are. The evidence for this is the visits paid by thousands of citizens to the Riyadh International Book Fair and the Janadriyah Festival. I believe there are some shortcomings in the promotion of the activities of museums and exhibitions.
We should focus on schoolchildren by organizing their visits to museums and exhibitions. This should be a daily concern for them. Raising these children since childhood to love museums and exhibitions and narrating the story of each artifact in an attractive fashion will lead them to love museums.
In the West, parents work hard to provide their children with a proper upbringing. They form their education and culture, tastes and interests, in early childhood by making the museum, gallery, theater and cinema a part of their daily life. This is different from making the mall and restaurant a part our children's daily life. Regrettably, children here have grown to become obese and mentally superficial to a great extent.
For this reason, it is not enough to bring back the magnificent antiques of Islamic civilization from the world museums, but we must work hard to attract the citizens' attention and cajole them to visit museums.


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