Public museums in HCM City attracted around 2.6 million visitors last year, with the five museums administered by private organisations and individuals getting thousands more.
Rusty relics: The War Remnants Museum in HCM City attracted more than 105,000 domestic and international tourists during the first three months of 2010. It is one of the most visited destinations in the city. (Photo: VNS)
But the number remains far short of the potential despite efforts to attract visitors because the museums have not been modernised.
Authorities have tried to improve quality and enhance people's awareness of culture and traditions by organising mobile exhibitions aimed at students, workers, and rural residents.
Nevertheless, the city branch of the Ho Chi Minh Museum, the War Remnants Museum, the HCM City Museum, and the Viet Nam History Museum are the only ones out of the 11 in the city that are reasonably interesting.
The lack of interest in the other museums can be attributed to the shortage of exhibits, boring and shopworn displays, and poor infrastructure and premises.
Hua Ngoc Thuan, vice chairman of the city People's Committee, said: "Museums in the city have lots of valuable exhibits but they cannot be successfully publicised due to a shortage of specialists and facilities."
Indeed, infrastructure at almost all museums fail to measure up to international specifications.
Uyen Huy, an artist and chairman of the HCM City Fine Arts Association, was quoted by Sai Gon Giai phong (Liberated Sai Gon) newspaper as saying: "In most countries, museums are designed based on several standards including architecture, materials, aesthetics, and technique as well as premises, colour, and light."
"But in Viet Nam the common trend is to upgrade available buildings into museums."
Museums in the city should have attracted larger investments since HCM City is one of the country's major commercial hubs and has the largest number of museums. But in reality their development has been unplanned and capricious.
Light at the end of the tunnel
In 2011 things began to look up as the city People's Committee approved an investment of VND7 billion (US$47,800) to equip seven museums with firefighting and security systems.
The plan also seeks to add many exhibits to the museums and provide allowances to their staff.
Three of them – the War Remnants Museum, HCM City Fine Arts Museum, and Ho Chi Minh Museum – have already been upgraded and expanded under the programme, while the work is under way at the others.
Under another programme funded by the France Government, two exhibits at the Viet Nam History Museum, on the ancient Oc Eo and the medieval Champa cultures, have attained contemporary international standards.
They have around 500 precious items that are being publicly displayed for the first time, including artworks and sculptures made of gold, silver, copper, gemstone, pottery, wood, and sandstone.
The exhibits follow modern museology norms like choice of exhibits, display designs, lighting, and graphic design.
A source at the city Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said authorities planned to modernise all the museums in the city without revealing more details.
The department and other relevant agencies have been entrusted with the task.
There is finally hope that the city's museums will soon match those in neighbouring countries, and even elsewhere.
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