Museums plan to sell collections to survive

museum, museums
Museums in The Netherlands have received some bad news–national funding for arts and culture will drop from 900 million euros to 700 million in 2013. Now museums and other institutions are scrambling to figure out how to survive.

The Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam has come up with a controversial plan. They’re going to sell off their African and American collections in order to raise money.

While this has caused an understandable uproar, it makes sense in some ways. The Wereldmuseum’s main collections are in Asian and Pacific art, such as the Korwar figurines from New Guinea pictured above courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. These will not be sold. Other museums in the country are known for African and American art, so the Dutch and the tourists won’t be left without. It’s also a major opportunity for museums that still have decent funding for new acquisitions, assuming there are any.

There are still plenty of downsides. The Wereldmuseum and any other institution that tries this tactic will lose some of the diversity of their collections. It makes it harder for them to participate in the exchanges of artwork that help create bonds between different museums and the creation of major exhibitions. The sale will probably also see some of artifacts leave the country or go into private hands, and out of sight of the general public.

For the Wereldmuseum in particular it means losing some of its unique character. The collection is partially made up of objects brought back by Dutch traders, who in past centuries were one of the major economic powers on the high seas and traded to all corners of the globe. At the moment the collection reflects that. To secure its future, the Wereldmuseum will have to discard some of its past.

It may even undermine its own name. Wereldmuseum translates to “World Museum”.