I have been observing museum practice, or rather the changes in cultural policies, in The Netherlands for the last five years ever since the economic crisis hit Europe in late 2009. What this crisis means for the cultural sector is that the government will need to shift around on what the country is spending as means to strategise and cope with the crisis for the next five years (at least). The budget cuts was pretty severe that demonstration from various cultural sector plus sympathetic citizens occurs in waves throughout the Netherlands.
While the budget cuts in culture affects many aspects of organisations, projects, people and in many ways changes the cultural landscape in the Netherlands and beyond, this issue becomes particularly a concern to me because there are hundreds of thousands museum collection that has to do with the Indonesian archipelago which will be and is affected along the way. What will happen to them?
A few years back Nusantara Museum in Delft was closed prior to the closure of Museum Maluku and then followed with merging of Tropenmuseum, Volkenkunde and Africa Museum . So, you can already see these collections are now shifted around and now mostly kept behind the storage doors inside rows of shelves and drawers. These storage won’t just open its doors unless you are a historian, curator or someone with means of power. This means it will become increasingly difficult for most people to just see the objects let alone study the collection up close. Will this mean that even more part of Indonesian archipelago history disappear as time passes? Does it even has importance? To whom?
I suppose this is a different case with what happen with Museum of Baghdad in 2003, where war in Iraq lead to looting and destruction of its collections. The case raise international concerns and efforts since the chance of these historical objects including knowledge that comes with it vanishing are obvious. However, taking the possibility of historical loss into account, the case with the mutual heritage objects between Indonesia and The Netherlands has quite an urgency in it as well : Who, today, knows how many collections of mutual heritage is there? What kind of objects are there? How much do we know about them? What can we learn from them?
Most importantly, is anyone going to do anything about it?
The rise of online database
Within the last decade digitalisation of collection and making them available online are indeed happening all over the world, including museums in the Netherlands and Indonesia. The latter being slower in process simply because working culture in Indonesia is, well, slow. But the good news is that its happening. Another good news is that these mutual historical objects will not just easily disappear. More and more online collection database are updated accordingly. So at least we can count that it is there. But, is it enough just knowing that it is there?
Mutual Heritage Portal, it isn’t questioning what belongs to who but how to provide access to these objects.
Online interface and internet access provides a range of new possibilities with what we can do with digital data in a relatively democratic manner (to an extent). This enables a great chance for countries with lesser economies (like Indonesia) to ‘catch up’ in building structure for their history. We can very much learn the technicalities from portals like Google Art Project and Europeana who have been leading in the aggregation of multiple online museum and other institutional databases. I think there is a good chance for a curated mutual heritage portal to have a life, too. Clearly from Indonesia point of view, the mutual heritage is not only between Indonesia and The Netherlands, but also other countries like Japan, France, the United Kingdom and to quite an extent the Arab world, too. The potential is great, we just need someone to actually do it.