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December 13, 2011

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Home » Metro » Entertainment and Culture

Shanghai's private museums, thriving before, shutting doors

AMID soaring rents and labor costs, private museums are facing tremendous hardships and many have closed under the pressure.

Shanghai has set up a special fund to aid private museums, especially those open to the public for free.

The fund will provide 10 million yuan (US$1.6 million) annually to subsidize private museums' daily operation, exhibition and research work. But collection experts said the fund is inadequate and called on enterprises to join in by setting up industry museums for the public.

Private museums emerged in the city in the mid-1980s and thrived in the 1990s. More than 200 family-run museums have appeared in the city. But they have met harder times since 2000 and half have died out, said the Shanghai Collection Association.

The historic Duolun Road, which offers cheap rents to collectors, once attracted more than 10 museums or exhibition rooms but most of them have closed.

"Tight budgets, lack of successors and relocation to rural areas in the urban construction campaign caused the closure of private museums, including the abacus museum and postcard museum," said Wu Shaohua, director of the association.

"Many family-owned museums have few visitors after the family move to the suburbs from the downtown area," he said.

Wu had convinced a lottery collector, Cai Bochang, to launch a museum free to the public in 2006. The museum featuring 1,000 copies of lotteries dating back to the Qing Dynasty(1644-1911) received nearly 10,000 visitors monthly. But it closed about two years ago as the building in Pudong's Zhangjiang area was pulled down in a city reconstruction project.

The Zhangjiang Town government has arranged a similar place for Cai to reopen his museum next year and promised to pay the rent for him in the first three years. But Cai worries about the decoration fees, expected to reach 1 million yuan to meet the safety and display criteria of a museum.

Cai, owner of a printing factory and a plastic product factory, spent 200,000 yuan a year on the museum's daily maintenance and operation. He employed seven staff, including several security guards.

"The labor cost is rising and my factories' profits are decreasing," he said.

Cai received a letter from the Shanghai Administration of Culture Heritage recently, inviting him to apply for the special fund intended for private museums.

A private museum can receive up to an 800,000 yuan subsidy for free admission, Cai read in the letter. Moreover, museums can apply to the fund for subsidies to launch exhibitions, renovation and upgrades, or to publish books or promotion pamphlets.

"The subsidies will vary according to each museum's scale, collections and visitor volume," said Zhao Tianjun, an official with the administration.

Moreover, the city has made state-owned museums team up with private ones to provide professional training and guidance for them in the protection and recording of collections.

However, Wu said the fund is still far from enough to cover the expense of the private museums.

The association called on responsible entrepreneurs to join in the charity course and launch industry museums for the public.

"The private museum development has reached a turning point from family-run museums to company-run museums and association-run museums," Wu said. "It's hard for a family to run a big museum and it's unreasonable to put the social responsibilities and burdens on individuals."

Many industry museums, including textile museums and clothing museums, are popping up in the city. Wu estimated their number to be 100.

Under the government efforts, a security museum, called the Huaneng Museum, opened to the public for free in October.

Meanwhile, the Shanghai Banking Museum, launched by the Shanghai branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, will be moved from the company building to a house in Lujiazui's North Riverfront area in a 160 million yuan relocation project. This will make for more convenient public visiting and improve the allure of the business zone.


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